Austin’s Distance Challenge Presented by Austin Fit Magazine

The Austin Runners Club keeps the town running with affordable training and a six-month long road racing challenge.



Austin is crazy for runners, and there are many group options—competitive and fitness focused—available for those who love the sport. The Austin Runners Club (ARC) is an affordable, friendly option and a great resource for a challenge.

The nonprofit, all-volunteer club was founded in 1974, its mission to “promote and encourage running, walking, wheelchair racing, and related activities, and to promote and maintain running activities for its membership and the general public.” The organization maintains a website (austinrunners.org) and provides several free weekly workouts—attendance ranges, on average, from 20–30 runners—that are open to all. ARC’s signature event is the Decker Challenge Half Marathon, a hilly and challenging race that derived from some University of Texas athletes’ regular run route. In 2013, more than 100 volunteers assisted with the race, many of them club members.

Some 18 years ago, Austin running icon John Conley put together a string of local races to build interest while recognizing and ranking runners who completed all; the series, directed by another Austin legend, Paul Carrozza, became known as the Distance Challenge, and the Decker Challenge (then a 20K or thereabouts—the distance has changed several times over the years) was included. In 2011, ARC took over management of the series, and Austin Fit Magazine came on board as the presenting sponsor.

The current iteration of the Austin Distance Challenge presented by Austin Fit Magazine spans six races and six months, from the new Run Free Texas 8K in September to the venerable Austin Marathon and Half Marathon in February 2015. Approximately 30 percent of participants in the series is made up of ARC members, and the number of folks taking part in the club’s weekly runs swells to around 50 per workout during the season. The official training program is run by local legend Al Cumming, who also guides a group known as “Al’s Ship of Fools” (see this month’s Discover! page for one of the Ship’s regular routes). Cumming, who has provided the “Run Less Run Faster” training since ARC became involved in the series, said in a 2011 AFM article, “I’m just a runner like everyone else. Where I have something of value to add is I’m an encourager, if you will. I like to give positive affirmations.” The training, which is based on the Furman First Training Program, is free for ARC members (ARC membership is $30 annually, though the entry fee of $55 in the ADC presented by AFM provides a free one-year membership to the club as a perk).

Those positive affirmations fit in nicely with ARC’s primary goal for managing this series; club president Nick Schultz explained, “Our primary goal is to create a rewarding experience for our runners and raise funds for our charity beneficiary, while helping to promote local races and share membership experiences in ARC.” This year’s charity beneficiary is once again The Trail Foundation (TTF), which has used funds most recently to complete the new boardwalk section at Lady Bird Lake and is working on a new pedestrian bridge project to span the lake near the eastside trailhead at Peace Point.

The first step in becoming part of the ADC presented by AFM is to take part in the Run Free Texas 8K on Sept. 14 (an 8K is just shy of 5 miles long). If participating in the series, it’s important to register separately for the ADC presented by AFM, and those who run the Run Free Texas 8K have until Oct. 15 to get signed up.

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