I remember the first time I ever ran on Austin’s downtown trail. At that time, the lake was called Town Lake, and the crushed granite path that ran most of the way around it was known as Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail.
This was the year that a neighbor and friend, Sheree, talked a group of us girls into doing the five-person relay for the Austin Marathon, then the Motorola Marathon. (Much like Austin’s streets, which can have as many as four different monikers, these places and events have all been known by various names. Confusing, I know.)
As our team name, we opted for a clever play on words. See, there was this new-fangled company, and we decided to call ourselves Amazon.Women — get it? Sheree put together a great group of neighborhood friends, all moms, to complete the relay.
I had recently undertaken running in a serious way, inspired by Oprah’s book, Make the Connection. So I’d worked out plans and exercises and stretches to prepare for the relay, drawn largely from reading Runner’s World and a few other publications. My friend Tara, who had actually run track in high school, trained with me. Tara is tall and speedy, with mile-long legs; I am short with relatively proportional legs, and had never thought about running track in high school at all, much less as a particularly sane endeavor.
As part of our training, we’d decided to try out that trail downtown. Now, this was also in the young days of the Internet, pre-Google even, so we simply piled in the car with a vague understanding of what we were doing. I remember studying the map posted under the MoPac bridge near the Rock (so named for a chunk of decorative granite where runners placed lost keys and other detritus). Our goal was to run the 3-mile loop, and we thought we’d need to take the Congress Ave. bridge to accomplish that.
These days, I am well aware that, from MoPac, the 3-mile loop means opting for the Lamar Street bridge crossing; going to Congress Ave. is closer to a 5-mile loop. It was a poor sign, and we were a bit confused on just which bridge indicated what distance…and even, since no one in those days actually went downtown, which bridge was which. Especially as we passed underneath them without benefit of signage.
The trail was also not in the wonderful condition it is today. It was scruffier, closer to the road, less tended, and not as well marked. Tara and I weren’t exactly happy by the time we finished, having wandered over hot, unfamiliar ground for a mucher lengthier period than we’d intended. Not our finest runner moment.
I’m happy to say that I’ve learned a lot about Austin’s trails since those days. It’s now known as the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, and has become a crowning aspect of downtown Austin. The lake has changed names, too; it’s Lady Bird Lake, after Texas’ wonderful first lady, wife to President Lyndon B. Johnson, and national treasure.
As I’ve run throughout the 20 years or so since then, I’ve come to learn many more trails in the area. My passion lately is writing about these resources so that others can learn and use them. Here are a few of my articles in a variety of publications that can introduce you to Austin’s wonderful trails. (And hopefully help you avoid mine and Tara’s rookie mistakes.)