Running along the “Town Lake” boardwalk on our first night in Austin. Temps were almost 80F when we arrived!
Normally I don’t blog about our vacations, but this was a training vacation with a half marathon thrown in for fun. We are also considering Austin, Texas as a possible place to live in the near future. It’s an eclectic, progressive, forward thinking, athletic, vegan friendly city. Basically Austin is a small blue oasis in a big red state, politically speaking. “Keep Austin Weird” is a popular motto along with “Home of the Hippie”. It is also the live music capital. And as a haven for triathletes, you can imagine why Austin is so attractive to us. It’s still a big city with a rapidly growing population and plenty of traffic and urban sprawl to offset some of the benefits. However, we do love Austin and everything it has to offer for vegans and triathletes. My one regret was only visiting for a week. I recommend more time especially if you are trying to run, bike and swim. This was one of the first vacations where I really didn’t feel like we had enough time do do and see everything.
Scott and I are still training for our first full Ironman in Mont Tremblant in August 2015. And our training has been going well in spite of another brutally cold winter with much snow to make it challenging for outdoor training. Going to Austin in the middle of February was such a welcome break and we enjoyed the warm weather and sun so much! I think the best way to tackle this blog post is to divide it into a section for swimming, cycling, running and of course vegan food and beverages! If you are traveling to Austin I hope you may find this blog post insightful and informative as well as entertaining .
Outdoor Swimming in February!
I loved our condo we rented for the week called the Treehouse. One of the best aspects was being a few blocks from the famous Barton Springs outdoor pool which is less than 2 miles from Austin’s downtown. This is an absolute gem and we had never seen anything like this. The pool is spring fed and remains 68F degrees year round. When swimming laps it does feel like a lake or pond as there is underwater plant life and ducks casually hanging out. I’m a huge fan of open water swimming so this felt very authentic. We swam here while the air temps were in the 60s and 70s. But we did have a couple days at the end of our trip that dipped down to the high 50sF and even mid 40sF (we found heated pools on those days).
One swim that I’ll never forget was at Barton Springs almost immediately after running the Austin Half Marathon on Sunday February 15. I figured it would be great for our legs. And I made the mistake of thinking we should leave the wetsuits in the condo. The water felt VERY cold and I even had trouble breathing the first few yards due to the shock! I’m not kidding! It felt frigid. But I did warm up after a couple laps. However, my body was tired from the hard and hilly 13.1 mile run and my body just couldn’t maintain that warmth. My swim pace was slowing and it felt like my body temp was cooling. After a 30 minute swim I was done. It was still great to swim after the run as I’m sure it helped with the recovery. Scott eased into the water mainly for his legs to recover, but no way was he going to jump in and swim a few laps with me. I’m tougher sometimes…or maybe just crazier!
As I said above we had a few cooler days in Austin. Back home in Vermont the temps were below freezing and Austin went from 60sF and 70sF to mid 40sF on Monday after the half marathon. Luckily this was more of a recovery day. Thanks to one of our new vegan runner friends we got a great tip to check out a town pool called Big Stacy. So on Monday we had a nice morning swim in our first outdoor pool experience. The morning felt cold and when we pulled into the parking lot we could see steam coming off the 100 foot long pool. This was an ancient (but clean) pool maybe decades old and the temperature felt like it was 90F compared to the air. It was almost hot! But honestly it felt so good and we weren’t swimming very hard that morning. It wasn’t crowded but every lane was soon occupied so Scott and I shared a lane. I really enjoyed this swim experience even if we were both still tired from the half marathon.
About to jump into a very warm Big Stacy pool!
On Tuesday it got into the mid 50sF which was still nice compared to what was going down in Vermont! Being a swim and run day we decided to check out another outdoor pool. We drove a few miles outside of Austin to the Hills Health Club and Wellness Center. This was a very nice health club that had a well maintained 3 lane 25 meter pool outside and another 3 lane pool indoors. It was a quiet day and we each got our own lane outside. This pool was not as warm as Big Stacy but warm enough to last a good 2300 meters. The air felt cold on my back even when putting out good hard efforts. But it was still a lovely day and experience. I do love outdoor pools!
Riding Road Bikes in February!
One of the best aspects of our week was renting road bikes from Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop for a few days. Our first ride was right from the shop which was a very hard and hilly ride out towards Bee Cave. We were given a printout with directions of a ride that was 30 miles with 3,000 feet of climbing. I figured how bad could these hills really be? We live in a hilly state where gap rides are the norm. But we both got a pretty good spanking on the constant uphills and downhills. Austin has lots of hills! And being new the the area we shouldn’t have tried to go out riding by ourselves. We had to stop a million times to look at the directions. And having missed a turn in the beginning caused us a lot of stress dealing with roads with more heavy traffic. Once we were back on route it felt safer and there were plenty of bike lanes. One thing I love about Austin is that even though the traffic volume is overwhelming, motorists are used to cyclists and MUCH more polite and accommodating. And this is a very sharp contrast to Vermont drivers who do not like sharing the road with cyclists or runners! Our 30 mile ride ended up being closer to 40 miles as we missed a turn 20 miles into the ride. We had to back track but it was OK and we were still in good spirits. I was still happy to be riding outside in the sun without 3 layers of clothing! At the end of this ride we were beat! But we still got our run done later that day.
The next day we decided to drive 50 minutes northwest of Austin to the Balconnes Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. This was a beautiful place to ride bikes as the scenery was pretty and the roads were much more quiet. We were lucky we rented a Prius as Scott was able to get both road bikes in the back with the seats down. I wanted to do more riding out this way but our days were limited! A picture says a thousand words so I am posting a few from that bike ride.
On Saturday we decided to do a group ride from Mellow Johnny’s called the Middle of the Road ride that went off at 8:30am. I was a bit apprehensive about joining this ride as we hadn’t ridden with a big group since living in San Diego in the late 1990s! We got down there early for soy lattes in the Juan Pelota cafe which is inside the bike shop. The coffee was excellent and we enjoyed chatting with other cyclists, some local and some visiting like ourselves. There was a couple from NYC as well as Newport, Vermont also on vacation! Small world! The ride had about 50 people and it was fast and crazy even while leaving downtown Austin. The ride advertises 17-20mph in the front group which is where we rode for the whole way. My Garmin showed an overall average speed closer to 20mph and this was even with slowing down for red lights in many places! While it was a very fast and furious group ride, everyone was very friendly. We regrouped after about 15 miles at a Walgreens out towards Bee Cave.
Once we got back on the bikes, we did some very fast technical downhills and then a good climb in the same neighborhood we had ridden through the first day. Sadly one person crashed who was a newer rider trying to take a turn too fast. It was scary to see an ambulance drive by as we regrouped at the top of the hill. But cycling is an inherently dangerous sport especially when you have 50 riders who don’t all know each other and everyone is trying to maintain a good position. Overall the ride was an exciting, exhilarating and exhausting experience! We both had to work hard but we did remain with the front group. By the time we were back in downtown Austin, there were only about 15 riders left in our group. I was very proud of myself for not only keeping up with the faster riders, but for remembering how to ride in a large group of cyclists. And I was also reminded of how much I miss riding in a regular organized local group ride. Perhaps Scott and I should seek out a weekly group ride here in Vermont! The only downside to the hard group ride was that we were signed up for a half marathon the next day. Even though it was only going to be a training run, I was worried my legs would be a little shot. Even a few riders thought we were a bit crazy for doing a half marathon after that ride. But it all worked out fine!
The Austin Half Marathon Race Report:
The Austin Marathon and Half Marathon is a really awesome event! When we booked our flights sometime last fall, I didn’t know the marathon would be happening on February 15, 2015. So it was pure luck that we ended up being in Austin the same time as the full and half marathon! Having dealt with a running injury for most of the fall season, I didn’t have a lot of base miles yet. I was nowhere near race shape, but I still wanted to experience the half marathon and the Texas runners. My Sunday long run was up to 14 miles so my coach gave us the green light to do the half marathon as a long run. This is a very hard and hilly course so my coach agreed an overall average pace of 7:30 minutes per mile would be a good conservative tempo run for this stage in my training.
The race started at 7:00am so we arrived close to Congress Street at about 5:30am! This gave us plenty of time to scope out the start, figure out a meeting place and use the porto potties. It was still dark, but I was surprised at how warm and humid the air felt that early. It wasn’t going to be a chilly race start. We both marveled at the loud chorus of birds chirping away in the nearby trees. Soon, we did an easy one mile warm up run around a block a few times. And then we made our way to the start line. We should have gotten to the start a few minutes earlier as we had a hard time making our way up to the 7:30 pace area. We pushed our way through and made it up to the 7:40 pace which was good enough. Our plan was to start slowly on the first four miles which were mostly uphill.
Scott and decided to run together for the first few miles and then do our own thing later on as things got harder. The first mile was flat with a bit of a downhill which was fun. But we knew the next 3 miles would be mostly a gradual 200 feet climb up Congress Street. I was thinking this would feel worse and we would be going much slower. But we were cruising at a comfortable pace of around 7:40 and 7:30 minutes per mile. I was enjoying all the runners around me and we even had another vegan runner compliment my No-Meat Athlete running jersey. And it was really fun to have Scott running with me and experience it together. Normally I loose him after a mile when we are racing.
After we climbed to the top the hill, we got to run back down it on 1st Street which was very enjoyable. We picked things up on miles 5-7 where we were running a pace of around 7:08 to 7:13. We could have gone much faster but I knew there were a lot of hills on the last 5 miles. It was fun to run back over the bridge and into downtown Austin. There were so many people out early to cheer us on! And the best part was that Scott was still with me doing just fine. So we plugged away for a couple more miles together. Scott stayed with me for 9 miles before the hills started taking their toll.
As I ran alone I knew that Scott would be fine doing his own thing. After all that was the plan. And he exceeded my expectations by sticking with me for so long. I really enjoyed the next part of the course with all the hills. It wasn’t easy but I was so happy my legs were cooperating after yesterday’s hard group bike ride. And I was able to run a pace between 7:20 to 7:12 minutes per mile. We never drove the course so I wasn’t quite prepared for so many hills at the end of a half marathon. When I thought the last big hill was over, a very steep hill hit us at the beginning of mile 13. That hurt a little, but I got over it surprisingly well. Luckily I have been running on more hills from our house this winter so I actually did just fine out there. The last half mile was fun and fast and we made a lot of turns even going by the state capital. The stretch before the finish felt so good and I decided to have a nice fast finish at a 6:22 pace. I was very happy to cross the line. I had a decent time considering I wasn’t racing. My official chip time was 1:36:22, overall pace 7:21 (about 7+ minutes slower than my personal best). And when I turned around, there was Scott! I was so proud of him! He ran a 1:37:03. He was less than a minute behind me! He’s really becoming a strong runner! And we weren’t even racing. It was a good morning for the Holstens!
Running in Austin was fantastic and we only got to explore the trails around “Lady Bird” Lake (also known as Town Lake or the Colorado River). We really needed more time to explore all the trails and running paths around Austin. This really is “America’s Fittest City”.
Food and Beverage Report:
Austin is one of America’s best cities for vegan food! It rivals other hip, progressive cities like Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington! It was actually overwhelming trying to decide where to go each day. We didn’t hit all the places we had hoped but we made a good dent in sampling Austin’s best vegan food.
The first night night in Austin we got back from our run a bit later and in the dark. So we hit Whole Foods which was less then 2 miles away from our condo. The flagship store is right in Austin where it all got started. And the flagship store was HUGE! There was a multi-level parking garage underneath with traffic control guiding the non-stop flow of cars coming and going. I’m not kidding. In the store there was even a bar and restaurant with many people drinking wine at hip little cafe tables. And the place was packed even on a Wed night at 9pm!
After our first bike ride and then a nice run on Thursday we were starving in the late afternoon. So we made our way to a fun vegan restaurant called Counter Culture. It was very quiet in between lunch and dinner, but it was nice to have a lot of time to chat with our waitress who was so friendly. We split some nachos which were yummy. And next came the Southern Baked Seitan and Tempeh Rueben. Both were very large servings and we split each one. They were very good and satisfying. I love vegan comfort food. It hit the spot after a solid day of training.
And for dessert we hit Mr.Natural for some yummy vegan pastries! They have two locations and one was only a mile away from our condo so we hit that place a couple times for sweet treats! Most of their pastries are vegan and they are clearly marked.
Friday night we decided we wanted Mexican food and to experience some delicious vegan Tex Mex. A super fun place called Guero’s Taco Bar has a separate vegan menu which is always exciting for us! The restaurant was hopping on a Friday night especially being located right on Congress Street. We put our names in for a table and enjoyed some margaritas. Our table was ready after about 15-20 minutes and our waitress was super friendly and happy to give us the vegan menu.
On Saturday after our crazy fast group bike ride from Mellow Johnny’s, we were starving! Even after a vegan pastry and coconut water in the cafe, we needed a big meal. And since we were going to carb load for our half marathon the next day, fuel was crucial. So we made our way to a hugely popular vegetarian restaurant called Bouldin Creek Cafe that can make just about everything vegan. It’s a super popular brunch joint as well with a very crunchy, hippy vibe which of course we love! When we arrived it was super packed with a 40 minute wait for a table. Being valentine’s day it was extra busy. But we put in an order and found seats at the bar which was fine. Scott ordered the Veggie Royale a yummy veggie burger and I ordered the Chick Pea “Chik’n” Salad Sammich. Both were amazing and so good. No photos were taken of the food as we were just too hungry to pull out the cameras! But afterward I did snap a photo of the inside as I really liked the atmosphere. It reminded me of something out of Portland, Oregon. The food was so good that we ate there again!
Later on in the evening decided to hit one of the popular vegan food trucks for dinner. Food trucks are very popular in Austin and you can find food trucks specializing in anything you desire! We heard great things about Bistro Vonish which is going to be opening up a brick and mortar restaurant in Austin. We arrived around 6:00pm and just in time before they were closing for a private event. They had a flurry of customers right before us so only a few menu items were left. We had vegan pizzas in the spirit of valentine’s day with red beet sauce, cashew cheese and spinach. This was very good and filling! It was perfect for carb loading right before the half marathon. We also had some sweet potato pastries and some delicious and rich chocolate pie. I have to admit we did have to take some stuff home for the next day as we were so full!
After our half marathon we met up with some really awesome vegan runners at a place called the Buzz Mill. This was a cool place that served coffee, beer, and many other drinks. We sat outside as there were a few food trucks with various menus and many picnic tables. One was all vegan and super delicious. This was the Golden Spike Rail Cart. Scott had this super yummy burrito and I had the waffles which were epic. I practically inhaled them! So again, no photos were taken of our amazing vegan food experience. But I did snap this photo before we left.
On Tuesday morning we decided to check out another great place for vegans called Thai Fresh. It was our last day and we heard great things about Thai Fresh. It’s known for its vegan ice cream and many vegan desserts. But the Thai food is also delicious! Part of the restaurant is more like a coffee house and the other side is a Thai restaurant. The coffee was excellent and my vegan coconut cream pie was to live for! Scott loved his vegan crumb cake! We went back that day for a late lunch after our training and had amazing curry meals with tofu, veggies and rice. I had the green curry and Scott had the yellow curry.
Since this was a training vacation we didn’t go out that much at night but did make it to a couple places that served some great beer! First was an excellent brew pub less than a mile from our condo called Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que! We weren’t sure what we were getting ourselves into when we drove in to park. But it turned out to be an awesome place to hang out and sample the fresh beer brewed right on the premises. We were there around the time people were getting out of work so there were people in suits and tradesmen coming in for a beer after their day was done. It was a nice well rounded crowd. Texans are very friendly! We both enjoyed a yummy Belgium style ale. And then I ventured onto a tasty IPA called the Green Room. That was my favorite!
On the Monday night after our half marathon we stopped into a super cool place called Brew and Brew which is well known for its coffee and huge beer menu. We really enjoyed the beers and had a really fun time! Thanks Rob for the suggestion!
Overall it was a super amazing time away from Vermont’s brutally cold winter. I am so grateful Scott and I got to experience Austin, Texas and all it has to offer. I highly recommend coming out to sample the endless vegan food, and enjoy all the year-round outdoor activities. There is still so much we didn’t get to see or do. While we haven’t decided if we will move there, we are seriously considering Austin as our home base someday. For now we need to focus on getting to our Ironman in August and checking out a few more possibilities.
Stay Weird Austin!