This Halloween-themed race embodies small, local races at their finest. Read all about it in my Hill Country Halloween Half Marathon Race Recap.
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When I found out I was moving to Austin two years ago, one of the first things I did was research the running scene. Austin is a pretty fit city, but I discovered there aren’t a ton of races. Granted, I’m spoiled coming from New York City where you can find a race pretty much any weekend you want to run one.
Now that I’ve been through a couple Austin summers, I realized there aren’t as many races because it’s just too darn hot to race five months out of the year. Fortunately, summer is winding down (yes, it’s the end of October and summer is just starting to “wind down”). The mornings are getting cooler, and more and more races are popping onto my radar.
The Hill Country Halloween Half Marathon came to my attention by way of Instagram a few months back. When I saw that it was only 20 minutes from my house, I jumped on that registration.
I’ve run a few smaller races and had pleasant experiences at each of them, so I had high hopes that this one would live up to my small race expectations. I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint. Without further ado: the Hill Country Halloween Half Marathon Race Recap.
The Morning Of
The Haunted Halloween Half offered day-of pickup, which is an awesome perk of smaller races. I’m not big on expos, so I was thankful not to have to make an extra trip just to pick up my bib. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30, so I planned to get to the race at 6:45 to give myself time to pick up my bib and hopefully pee beforehand.
I set my alarm for 5:45am (not much earlier than I wake up on weekdays), got my gear on, made my pre-race oatmeal and hopped in my car. It was still pitch black out, but the drive to Cedar Park (a town just outside of Austin limits where the race was) was easy to get to. The race started and ended at a huge H.E.B (that’s a grocery store for those not familiar). I pulled into the parking lot and easily found a spot that was, no joke, about 100 feet from the starting/finishing line.It doesn’t get much easier than that, especially when compared to the Rock’n’Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon parking fiasco.
The bib pickup booth was well marked, and there were about 20 people in line ahead of me. The race volunteers had it moving very efficiently, and five minutes later, I had my bib, race shirt and bag of candy (it was a Haunted Halloween Half, after all). There was no gear check, but since my car was 100 feet away, I just popped back over and put my shirt and swag bag in the car. So. Easy.
Then, I went in search of porta potties. I didn’t see any, so I asked a race volunteer. He directed me to the aforementioned huge H.E.B.
“The bathrooms are inside,” he said.
I’m sorry. Inside? No porta potties? Is this heaven?
I walked inside and got in the bathroom line. It seemed long, but it moved quickly because the bathroom had so many stalls. I got to flush. I got to wash my hands with real soap and water. It was awesome.
After picking up my bib and peeing, I still had 10 minutes to spare. Someone was leading a little warmup stretch group at the starting line, so I joined in. I looked around to see if anyone got really into their costumes. Most people were in simple, easy-to-run-in costumes (a Wonder Woman sports bra with blue shorts, a yellow tutu with black antenna headband for a bumblebee), but one guy went all out as Maui from Moana. He had the magic fish hook and everything. I wish I’d snagged a picture.
Before long the announcer came on and told us it was time to line up for the start. There weren’t corrals since the race was so small (just shy of 500 people), so I was surprised to see pace groups. I didn’t have PR goals, but I did want to finish under two hours. I lined up with the 1:50 pacer and made it my goal not to let the 2:00 pacer pass me.
At 7:30 on the dot, we were off!
The race started by looping around the parking lot and then heading out on a main road. The entire course was lined with cones, which was helpful for both staying on course and staying safe from the cars driving by.
I usually run without music/podcasts for the first few miles (sometimes a whole race if I’m running with a friend or just really feeling it). There’s usually music at the starting line and the crowds fill me with energy. Since this was such a small race, there wasn’t much of a crowd at the start. I won’t say the starting line energy was lacking, but I definitely didn’t have that boost from bigger races. I put on Serial and fell into a good pace. Also, thanks to the small size of the race, I found my space pretty quickly and didn’t have to dodge or weave much.
We started along a semi-busy road before turning down a residential block. I almost felt like I was just going for a long run with a running group.
At the two mile mark, the 1:50 pacer dropped back. It looked like he twisted his ankle, I hoped he was ok! Everyone seemed to keep up the pace, and about half a mile later a new pacer came whizzing by with the 1:50 sign. I didn’t want to sprint to keep up with her, so I just settled into my own zone and decided to try to keep pace with the people around me.
The course is relatively flat with a few tricky hills (especially between miles 7-9), but the most challenging part of the course was trying not to get stopped by the cops. I don’t mean because I was going so fast.
The race crossed over a few busy intersections, especially as you run along the highway (183) during the second part of the race. Police are there to manage traffic and keep it safe for the runners, but there were a few times they’d stop runners to give the cars a chance to pass through. Whenever I was approaching a cop-manned intersection, I found myself sprinting so as not to have to stop. Ain’t nobody got time for that! If you’re looking to PR, this course is great for it, but beware of possible cop stoppage.
I noticed fewer runners around me once I reached mile 7. I could see a a few people ahead of me and not a soul passed me for miles. I felt like I was in the leaders pack (I wasn’t). Fortunately, the cones along the course kept me from getting lost. The sun had also come up at that point, so even though I had my hydration pack with me, I was grateful for the water stations planted every two miles (on the dot) along the course. I grabbed a cup at mile 9 to pour into my visor and cool off a bit. On that note, the course isn’t particularly shaded, so bring a hat!
I was starting to get tired at mile 11. Then N’SYNC’s “It’s Gunna Be Me,” came on. Nothing like a little JT throwback to get me back in the zone. I was moving and groving, and was PUMPED when I hit mile 12. I knew I wasn’t going to PR, but I was on track to finish with a top 3 (for me) time. And then… my music stopped.
I had a mile to go! Just give me some jammmmssss! I messed with my phone for a bit, but nothing would play. I didn’t want to end this race on a frustrated note, so I just put it away and started repeating mantras to myself.
You got this.
One mile to go.
You don’t need music. You’re a rock star on your own!
Fortunately, my music kicked back in half a mile later, so I could stop feeling like a cheesy motivational speaker.
I entered the home stretch. The small crowd at the finish line cheered me on (seriously, they were cheering for just me because no one else was around me). The announcer called out my name (well, my maiden name because I registered pre-wedding), and I crossed the finish line with arms in the air in 1:54:01. Boom, baby! Medal earned!
And what a cool medal it is!
I stretched, took a few more pictures of the cool medal, and looked online for my official results. That’s when I realized I placed 9th in my age group! It didn’t earn me an award, but I thought that was pretty cool! The little things, right?
I walked my top-10-in-her-age-group self the full 100 feet back to my car. I thought I’d have to wait a bit to exit the lot with everyone finishing, but there was zero congestion or traffic leaving. I was home half an hour later. This was legitimately the smoothest race day experience of all time, and I will definitely be doing it again!
Overall Hill Country Halloween Half Marathon Pros
- extremely well organized
- day of bib pick-up
- indoor bathrooms
- water every 2 miles on the dot
- easy parking
- cool medal
Overall Hill Country Halloween Half Marathon Cons
- no crowd support
- running along busy roads and may have to stop for traffic
Do you prefer large races or small, local ones?