Running Austin

By Jess Archer – February 1, 2020

Austin’s annual Ascension Seton Marathon has grown to become the 25th largest race in the United States. Elite runners from all over the world flock to experience the route that takes them by some of Austin’s most iconic landmarks such as the UT Tower, Lady Bird Lake and South Congress Avenue. Over 17,000 runners will cross the finish line on Congress Avenue with the Texas State Capitol building as the handsome backdrop to their feat.

But what about local representation at the race? Who are some of Austin’s  residents who have signed up for the 26.2-mile challenge? We interviewed four Austinites — two men and two women — who will be running the 29th annual marathon on February 16. We asked them about their training, their history with running and how they plan to stay motivated during the most grueling parts of the race. While these four people lead different lives, they all have one thing in common: running has become a vital part of their wellness lifestyle, and racing is how they plan to celebrate that.

Stephen Wright, 42, Union organizer for Education Austin

“I’m competitive and very obsessed with running at this point in my life. I’ve been running since I was a kid in middle school, but I’ve had a nice resurgence during the last two years. My goal is to run one marathon every year. I’ve run four marathons so far, and I’m using the Austin Half Marathon as sort of a training for the Fort Worth Cowtown Marathon at the end of February.

Running is the one time during the day when I’m truly unplugged, since I don’t run with headphones. I’ve had some difficult circumstances in my life during the last couple of years, and running has become very therapeutic for me. I never regret it after a run and feel like a better person when I’m done.

Maybe some people think you can just wake up and run a marathon. But for me, there is so much training involved. I run at least a mile every day, and I do three targeted runs during the week. Saturday is my long run, about 10-22 miles. I like to run in the mornings up in the hills behind 360 where it’s quiet. Austin has some great running clubs that I used to be part of, but right now I like to run alone. For people who want to start running, they should know that it doesn’t take very long to build your stamina. And you’ll learn over time and practice how to run a race, how to train better. Running is so accessible. It’s a physical activity most people can do their whole lives.”

Tracie Upham, 56, Former Austin Educator

“I’m 56 years old. I was a couch potato until 52. I was feeling old and miserable and having back problems. I couldn’t run to my mailbox if you asked me to. Then, one day, for some inexplicable reason, I got up off the couch and started walking outside. Then I started running. Every day I ran a little further. I had no clue what I was doing, so I read some articles and learned how to train. Before I knew it, I could run 15 miles, and I’d lost some weight.

Mostly, I’m a trail runner. Once when my kids were little, we were down by Lady Bird Lake and a trail runner whizzed by us. I thought to myself, ‘that person must be a total lunatic or some really famous athlete.’ Now I am that crazy trail runner. I love running the trails in Austin and just zoning out. No music, no time pressure. I don’t keep track of my pace.

The Austin Marathon will be my first marathon. I’m very nervous about mile 20, since people tell me that’s when it gets really difficult. My friends and family think I’m crazy for registering. I still have trouble identifying as an athlete, maybe because of my age. But running has changed everything. I am totally more confident now. My balance is better, my back is better. It breaks my heart when I hear people my age say they could never start running like I did. But they can. I did it. I can’t wait to cross the finish line at the Austin Marathon. It’s going to feel amazing.”

B. Sterling, 41, Singer-songwriter and Music Teacher

“I started running at age 34 because my doctor said I needed to be doing more cardio. ‘Like what?’ I asked him. He suggested running. I had thought because of my back problems that running wasn’t an option for me. But then I put in some earbuds one day and ran at Lady Bird Lake. ‘This is cool,’ I thought. I was totally into it.

I ran my first 5K at 36 years old and thought it was so difficult! But I loved it. So, when a colleague said she was training for a half marathon, I joined her. She was 10 years older than me. If she could do it, I figured I could, too. I loved running the half. Then, my wife and I had a second child, and my running interests took a back seat. But when I turned 40, I said, ‘This is it. I’m going to run at least one marathon in my life.’

My training for the Austin Marathon has looked like three runs during the work week, two days of cross training, one rest day and a long run at Lady Bird Lake on Saturdays. I love running there — the energy of being downtown, the trails…I’m motivated by all the people on the trails enjoying it just like me.

I have to listen to music when I run. I’ve discovered a bunch of new artists to listen to. I often listen and analyze different mixes of my own music while running.

I’m looking forward to race day in February, especially because it’ll be in a city I love. I’m a little nervous about the aches and pains I have turning into a bigger deal during the race, but with every Saturday long run I feel more confident.”

Leslie Newberry, 39, Owner of Tarrytown Pharmacy

“When I was in third grade, I was in a bad car accident that broke my leg at the growth plate and ended up making my leg grow crooked. This led to several hospitalizations and surgeries throughout childhood. So, when I started running for exercise in 2008, I was so amazed and grateful that my body could do that in spite of physical injury as a child.

When I got serious about running, I joined up with Gilbert’s Gazelles. Gilbert coached me to ‘run with joy.’ With that running group, I learned to push myself and go further and do more than I ever thought I could. Now at age 39, I’ve run eight marathons.

I run sometimes with people and talk as we run. But mostly I like to run alone with no music, just silence. I solve all the day’s problems in my head when I run.

This year’s Austin Marathon is special, because race day is also my 40th birthday. I specifically signed up for the race because it’s such a mile-marker birthday.

I haven’t trained as well as I should have, but I’m not going to push myself. I’m going to run (or, if need be, walk) every mile of the race in gratitude for what got me here. It’s about how you frame the running in your mind. I give myself grace to do the best I can given the circumstances.”


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