There are a few stretches of this city, a few signature streets that make Austin a pretty cool place to get out for a morning 6- to 8-miler. So I thought I’d republish my own list from a few years back celebrating Austin’s street cred: My favorite places to run. (When I’m not injured, that is.)
This list, my list, won’t include trails. And its not that I have anything against trails – though I know the soft surfaces are good for my 44-year-old joints. But the only trail I’ve run with regularity is Town Lake, thus I don’t have much authority to talk about the Greenbelt’s secrets. And besides, I like running most in neighborhoods, and on big city streets. I like to see newspaper-dotted lawns, and delivery trucks idling next to the mom and pop shops. My years of running mornings with, first Rogue, and now Gilbert’s Gazelles, have given me plenty of roads to choose from.
Here then are a few streets you have to run if you run in Austin: (And if you are from Austin reading this, feel free to use the comments section to let me know where you like running most.)
Exposition Boulevard: Austin is known for its hilly terrain and if you want to run hills, you gotta hit this rolling north-south stretch just west of downtown Austin, which runs 2 miles from Lake Austin Boulevard to 35th Street. There are three major bumps – two of which top out near a Shell Station and Good Shepherd Episcopal School that will just take your breath away. It’s easier running south than north. This is Mile 11 through 13 on the official Austin Marathon Course. It’s probably one of the safest big city streets to run on because of the wide bike/running lanes. And it leads to other must-run streets, like Lake Austin Boulevard to the south and Mt. Bonnell (via 35th Street and Old Bull Creek Road) to the north. (Mt. Bonnell to be discussed later).
Duval Street – Again, another stretch of road that is used for the Austin Marathon course. It runs north-south, about 2.25 miles from 56th street on the north to San Jacinto on the south. If you cross Dean Keeton, the Duval turns into San Jacinto Boulevard and takes you through the University of Texas campus, right by the massive 111,000-seat, Darrell K Royal football stadium. Duval street is not as hilly as Exposition and its easier to run south than north. There are a few gas stations along the way in case your bowels can’t wait. And if this is the street your run ends on, there is a Daily Juice and the venerable Hyde Park Grill if you need post-run sustenance.
Mesa Drive – This stretch of road is used for the first few miles of the 3M Half marathon run every January. It runs about 3.5 miles north-south, but the sweet spot, the one used for the half marathon, is a little more than a mile from Jolleyville road on the north near the Arboretum to Spicewood Springs on the south. It’s a street that runs through idyllic neighborhoods in northwest and west Austin. Not many lights. Lots of green lawns. And if you run early enough, you’ll spot a few deer.
Escarpment Boulevard – You want a nice, easy stretch of road with few lights and a lane for runners/bikers? Get to this street, via Mopac and William Cannon. It’s a 4.2-mile, north-south running street on Austin’s southwest side that is like running through butter. It runs from William Cannon on the north end to Texas Highway 45 on the south. Not a lot of traffic, so you actually hear the birds chirping. Most of the road is that blacktop asphalt material that seems to give enough where your knees thank you. Like Mesa Drive, Escarpment takes you through some nice neighborhoods, including the exclusive Circle C. You can smell the money running on parts of this street.
Congress Avenue – This road is used as the start and the end of the Austin Marathon. And yeah, there are a ton of lights, which means a ton of traffic, and the sidewalks are canted, especially downtown. But there is no more majestic run than this stretch of road, majestic because it takes you right by the state capitol building. The must-run part is a 4.3-mile stretch from Speedway on the north to Highway 290 on the south.
Best of the rest:
•Shoal Creek Blvd. – If you are an Austin running veteran, you know you can access this road from downtown, near a place called the Tiniest Bar in Texas. You’ve actually got to run a while through a trail/creek bed before you get to Shoal Creek Boulevard, but it’s a scenic, north-south route that, like most streets in Austin, has plenty of hills.
•Great Northern Boulevard – This street is used for parts of the Austin Marathon, and is actually part of a nice, flat, 3-mile route if you include White Rock Drive and the aforementioned Shoal Creek Boulevard.
•Waller Street – On Austin’s east side, the running group named Rogue usually starts and ends many of its runs on this street, dumping you out on the Lady Bird Lake trail if you hit this road from the north and take it southbound. It runs slightly uphill from the south to the north, which gives the last mile or so of your long run back to Rogue a little challenge.
•Mt. Bonnell– Simply put: This is one of the biggest, most intimidating hills in Austin. Run it if you dare. You go about 200 feet up in oh, about half a mile. You’d be better off cllimbing a 20 story building using the bat rope (Sorry about the old Batman reference.)
This is the elevation map from a 13-mile run I did two weeks ago. See that big wave in the middle? That’s Mt. Bonnell.
•Barton Hills Drive – The Austin veterans like to call this little piece of street just south of Town Lake the “Lollipop,”- it’s nothing but hills.. up and down and up and up again. If you can’t stomach Mt. Bonnell, try this rollercoaster of a road for hill work.