One of the many things I love about Austin is its strong running community. There are running groups and training programs available for every level of runner - from beginner through elite. Many weekends during the spring and fall there are multiple races from which to choose. Even in the heat of the summer there are pick-up track meets and trail races going on. If you can't find a race or a group that suits your needs, you're just not looking hard enough.
The Cap10K draws about 17,000 runners each spring, and the Race for the Cure has almost 22,000 participants each year. A town that can put on races that big obviously has a good running community.
However, all this enthusiasm for the sport is causing some problems, especially in the downtown area where many of the races are staged. A very vocal group of residents and churches has been complaining about the races blocking traffic and shutting down streets early on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, these groups are the only ones getting any media play, for whatever reason.
The city has now formed a task force charged with figuring out how to have races and residents peacefully co-exist. One solution that's already been put into play is setting up several standard race routes that race organizers are being "encouraged" to use. There is a financial incentive for the organizers to use these routes. When these routes were laid out, the task force kept the residents and churches of the areas in mind and tried to plan routes that would block traffic as little as possible.
This still isn't enough for some.
The next task force meeting is next week, and the running community is getting itself organized. According to one member of the task force, who is a long-time race organizer, the previous meetings haven't been attended by anyone from the running community. As a result, the task force hasn't been hearing the other side of the story.
I won't be able to attend the meeting, but I will be sending an e-mail to the members laying out my support for the running community in Austin. I've run in these races, volunteered at them, and gone out to cheer. Plus, I live on the marathon route; I'm directly affected by a race once a year. And I couldn't be happier.
For two years, the marathon route has come right down my street, which in a running-geek way is a dream come true for me. When I ran my first marathon, I loved running down Shoal Creek Blvd. and seeing all the residents hanging out on their front lawns to cheer. I envied their ability to just stroll outside and be part of the action instead of having to drive somewhere and find parking. So when the marathon course changed to its new route, I did backflips.
On race day for the past two years, I've thrown our house open to everyone we know, with coffee and donuts and bagels and clean bathrooms. We make signs and have flags and noise makers. The kids decorate the street with chalk and have a grand time cheering for all the runners.
A few weeks before this year's marathon, someone posted a complaint on our neighborhood listserv about the half marathon, which runs along the edge of our neighborhood. The poster complained about the inconvenience of not being able to get to the coffee shop and having to walk instead of drive and wondered why there hadn't been any prior notice of road closures.
I don't usually post things on the listserv because it often disintegrates into a flame war, and I don't have the time or energy to get involved in such things, but this time I did. In my response I pointed out that there had been signs all along the race route for three weeks leading up to the race warning that there would be road closures and traffic delays. I also pointed out that the half marathon and marathon are becoming premiere races in the US, drawing runners from all over the country and the world, and that they are excellent opportunities for us to show off Austin and our neighborhood. Then I asked everyone in the hood to come out and cheer on marathon day. After I hit send, I sat back and waited for the flames. Instead, I was amazed at how many people posted replies supporting what I had said. Others e-mailed me off list thanking me for my comments. It made me feel good to know I wasn't the only one in the neighborhood who loved having the race route come through.
So we need to rally that support to save races in Austin. The mayor has initiated a campaign to make Austin the fittest city in Texas. Restricting races seems to be counter to that goal. We have a vibrant, active running community, and we need to keep it that way by working with the city and the neighborhoods and churches. Banning or limiting races isn't the way to go.
If you live in Austin and are a part of the running scene, even if you only run once a year in the Cap10K, submit your comments to http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/council/groupemail.htm. The task force needs to hear the other side of the story!