My love for the local running community was affirmed when I watched the 2017 Austin Marathon.

I covered the race for FloTrack, a running news digital platform. I’ve covered several major marathons as a sports journalist but oddly enough, I hadn’t covered a marathon directly from the finish line before. Most marathon race directors shuttle the top athletes from the finish line directly to the media press conference, but because FloTrack was live streaming the Austin Marathon, I was able to interview the winners right after they broke the tape. Thinking back to that day, I feel so grateful that I had that opportunity because I was able to see the power of the Austin running community in action.

Last year, Joe Thorne and Allison Macsas won the individual titles while representing the city of Austin in different ways. Thorne is a University of Texas track and field alum who now lives in Grover Beach, Calif. The former Austinite flew through the campus of his alma mater and crossed the finish line in 2:32:06 to the delight of several Longhorn teammates. Macsas, a graduate of the University of Tampa, trains with Rogue Running in Austin. Macsas ran unchallenged for the majority of the race and completed the course in 2:48:17, 10 minutes ahead of the runner-up. It’s fairly rare to see Macsas in Austin since she travels the world as a tour guide for Rogue Expeditions, but when she does toe the line in a local race, you can always expect her to bring the intensity.

The winners were met with overwhelming support from different groups within the Austin running community. Fellow athletes and coaches congratulated Macsas with high-fives and heartwarming messages. Several former Texas track stars cheered for Thorne as he sprinted into the finish chute. It’s been over 10 years since the UT alums graduated, but based on the cheers for their former teammate, you would have thought they had just raced in uniform together.

What I saw at the finish line last year reminded me that the Austin running community has a deep love for local talent.

This year, I will be covering the race as a blogger for The Loop Running Supply Company. I will be providing live Twitter updates from the lead vehicle and interviewing the winners for a written recap of the race. The course has changed this year with a new route that begins after mile 12, and features a tour of local landmarks like the University of Texas Tower, the historic Hyde Park neighborhood, and the murals of East Austin. This year’s elite field is a mix of local and national talent who will compete for the increased prize purse of $20,000, twice as much as last year’s total. $15,000 of the prize money will be awarded to the top five marathon finishers. The half marathon prize will total $5,000 and award the top three male and female finishers.

The increase in prize money has attracted a talented group of elites, notably 2:13 standout Craig Leon and defending women’s champion Macsas.

Men’s Marathon

Leon will be making his 2018 racing debut in Austin after a 2017 that was highlighted by a 2:13:40 personal best at the California International Marathon in December. The performance marked a breakthrough for the Team Run Eugene standout who hadn’t run faster than 2:14:28 since 2013 when he ran his then-career best of 2:13:52. A college walk-on, Leon has since blossomed into a consistent top finisher in the Abbott World Marathon Major series. He was 11th at the 2016 New York City marathon and eighth in the 2015 race. He finished 11th at the 2014 Boston Marathon and 10th in the 2013 race, the year of the finish line bombings.

In addition to running professionally, Leon also works full-time as the MBA program manager for the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

“I’m excited to be part of the 2018 Austin Marathon elite field and am looking forward to testing myself on a challenging course,” Leon told race organizers.

In the men’s race, Joey Whelan, Sphamandla Nyembe, and David Fuentes will also contend up front.

Whelan won the 3M Half Marathon in 1:09:06 on January 21. He competed for the Syracuse track and cross country team while in college and has since progressed to the marathon distance. In 2017, Whelan made his 26.2 debut with a runner-up finish in 2:25:04 at the Buffalo Marathon. By day, Whelan works as a foreman at Commander Clearing: Commercial Farm & Ranch Restoration in Spring Branch, Texas. Austin will mark Whelan’s second marathon of his career.

South African standout Nyembe completed his first marathon last year when he debuted with a victory in 2:21:26 at The Woodlands Marathon. In October 2017, he competed at the Ethekwini Township To Township Marathon in Umlazi, South Africa where he placed third in 2:25:54.

A local talent, Fuentes has won the Austin Half Marathon three times in his career. He has also represented the United States on two mountain running national teams. Fuentes’ last marathon took place at the 2016 Olympic Trials where he finished 85th in 2:34:46. As Fuentes recounts on his blog, 2017 was a year of recovery after foot surgery. He told race organizers that he hopes to come away with the win this Sunday.

Women’s Marathon

After winning Austin last year, Macsas finished second at the 2017 Vancouver Marathon in a new personal best of 2:39:42, which improved on her previous mark by 17 seconds. The momentum of the last few performances was an extension of an impressive 22nd-place finish at the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials. Macsas just returned from a tour in Patagonia, where she logged some beautiful miles at high altitude.

This pretty much sums up my past four days. #runpatagonia #joblove @roguexpeditions

A post shared by Allison Macsas (@allison_wanders) on

While reporting for FloTrack, I had the pleasure of watching Caitlin Batten win the 2016 Beer Mile World Championships. The 6:29 winning mark made her the No. 5 women’s beer miler of all time. In addition to her impressive drinking while running skills, Batten is also a talented marathoner with a personal best of 2:49. Last fall, she clocked a 2:51 performance at the Chicago Marathon. Batten told race organizers that her goal for Austin is to improve on the mark and run under the 2020 Olympic Trials qualifying standard of 2:45:00.

D’Ann Arthur comes to Austin with the second-fastest career best in the women’s field. The former triathlete-turned competitive runner ran her 26.2 debut at the 2016 Orange Country Marathon where she finished second in 2:46:50. She competed at the 2017 Boston Marathon where she ran 2:53:23 on the notoriously tough course. Arthur balances training with her full-time job as a resident in orthopedic surgery at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Arthur also told race organizers that she is aiming to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials.

To support the competitors of the Austin Marathon, please join The Loop Running Supply Company and Gilbert’s Gazelles HQ at the mile seven cheer station on Sunday at 7a.m. CT. The cheer station will line the entire pedestrian bridge above Cesar Chavez Street and it will definitely feature the best hand-written signs on the course!

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