There is nothing better to kick off the Christmas season in Dallas than the Dallas Half Marathon. An annual tradition in my family, that second weekend in December has historically perfect marathon weather and draws nearly 30,000 folks from Texas, the USA and internationally. 2021 was the year of the return to racing for many athletes and marked the 50th anniversary of the Dallas Marathon (same year as NYC!). This was my 6th year running it and is my favorite race for many reasons.

Packet Pickup & Race Expo

Race expo and packet pickup take place in Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in downtown Dallas every year. While the convention center is massive, the tricky part is avoiding the $15 parking garages. The pro-move we have developed over time is to go to packet pick up on Friday afternoon around 6pm when downtown is cleared out and the street parking becomes free. I’ve managed to swoop in on Griffin Street parking more than once.

The Race Expo itself is very efficient from picking up bib, race packet and shirt. After picking up the necessities, the tunnel shoots you out into a line up of BMW vehicles to take pictures with given they are the title sponsor of the event. It is a funny combination of car show and race expo, with the usual suspects selling socks, shoes, chews and compression boots mixed in. If you want to be in and out in 10 minutes, it is absolutely possible. The “don’t miss” of the race expo is on the exit, where they have an image of every Dallas marathon, the shirt/logo and the start line temperature since the event began. It is like a time capsule walking through the different years.

Race Day

After running New York City Marathon, I have a profound appreciation for the simplicity of Dallas’ start line. There are 4 waves based on expected finish time, and the waves begin later one might expect. My wave was third and began at 8:45am. 8:45!! I can’t remember the last time I started a run at that hour. That said, I still woke up on race morning at 6am, enjoyed my coffee in a civilized manor, and my dad picked me up around 7:20am to drive the 15min route to downtown.

It was a freezing 32 degrees and with a hot drop on I-30 and Akard Street, I arrived a little over an hour before start gun. There was plenty opportunity to scope out the start, use the bathroom and do packet drop off. The starting area is very spread out with ample bathrooms alongside City Hall and clearly marked packet drop off tents. There are even changing tents and heat lamps in the concourse, so I huddled under a heat lamp for the better part of 20min. Around 8am (and 45min from my start time) I finally stripped my extra pants and jacket, put everything in my bag for bag check and hopped in my corral. The corrals line up in different street blocks, so it appears like there is nobody out running the race. Entire corrals are tucked behind skyscrapers going down different blocks.

I opted for a lightweight (but very warm) running jacket, gloves and beanie as the starting temperature was chilly even in crowds of people. I am always shocked ( / impressed by?) the men and women that choose to run in booty shorts and tank tops in freezing weather.

After the national anthem and gun went off at 8:45, I cross the start line in a smooth 8:51am. Let’s go!

Mile 1: 9:02 min/mi

The first mile is incredibly congested. It is spent winding through downtown streets until you hit a highway access road. I am one of those people that lie about how fast I finish a race too, but this year it was painfully apparent as I dodged and weaved through the crowd that people did not self-seed well. There were even walkers in my way. I was not after a particular time goal, but it certainly didn’t help to be blocked out by wildly inaccurate self-seeding folks. Note to self: Self seed much higher if you plan to go out fast.

The entire first mile is spent through downtown streets and by the time you get to the highway it opens up to allow for easy passing of people. I also call the transition of Mile 1 to Mile 2 the “Pee Mile” for some obvious reasons. Every year there are 10ish men at a time who pull over along the highway to pee since they didn’t go before the corral closed. Every dang time. There are port-a-potties almost every mile, but the one spot by the highway apparently looks very appealing for the men.

Mile 2: 8:45 min/mi

Mile two is not much to look at, it is very industrial running along the highway. There are very few people out cheering and you may catch a glimpse of the design district and a start to enter the Victory Park / Harwood district. There is hillier gradient here than you would expect from a Dallas race, I had to chug up a four-lane road to continue passing slower folks. By the time you approach the end of Mile 2, the crowd spreads out enough to allow for easy maneuvering.

While frozen the first mile, the second I began to warm up, unzipping my jacket and pulling the buff down from my face to around my neck.

Mile 3: 8:46 min/mi

Finally, back where the cheerleaders are! The uptown folks start coming out around Mile 3 as you enter the trendier parts of Harwood and where Downtown transitions to Uptown. The large buildings block a lot of the sunlight, so just when I thought I was warming up, my buff went right back up in the cooler and shadier spots on the course.

At this point in the race, aid stations and port-a-potties reappear. Volunteers hand out water, and either official or unofficial, different home-grown Dallas bands are playing music alongside the course. The energy you can feel in the crowd as everyone is still fresh and getting some positive feedback from the folks cheering you on.

Pro Tip: get your bib individualized or take some white duct tape across the chest and write your name. Yes, I know, strangers knowing your name. BUT it is so motivating to hear your name be shouted by the crowds and giving you a pep talk as you’re running.

Mile 4: 8:43 min/mi

Here comes the boujie part of the route! Welcome to Highland Park and University Park, otherwise known as Park Cities which sit along Turtle Creek. This time of year you will see elaborate, over the top Christmas decorations, life size Santas on porches and other festive decoration. The mansions alone are entertaining to look at as you run through the neighborhood streets. There is a slow upward gradient from mile 3 to mile 5 that you may not realize until you’re halfway through and out of breath by what should be a normal pace.

Lots of cheers, bands, volunteers and folks sitting in their front lawns cheer you through the race. Looking at my Garmin I did a double take at my time…35:16 total time?? Who was I, Allyson Felix?? I started the race without a time goal, but at this point I started doing mental math to see if I could break the half marathon 2-hour mark. It looked feasible! While I normally run this race with my dad and we each stay together the entire time, I was responsible to nobody this year. Meaning I could blow up on the racecourse and not ruin another person’s time. Just my own.

Mile 5: 9:02 min/mi

Wrapping up your visit to Highland Park, you’ll get inspired running under a magnificent American flag at the Highland Park Post Office. Every year it hangs suspended from a firetruck over the race course. Lots of race photographers try to capture you underneath it, so be sure to smile and wave! At this point (and the slow steady uphill) my body began to warm up, I unzipped my jacket and put my gloves in my pockets.

Mile 6: 9:07 min/mi

Thrilled with the possibility of coming under two hours, I kept pushing and made a deal with myself that I would check back in on the goal when I crossed over Hwy 75 and into Greenville. That would be the deciding factor. Once you emerge from Highland Park, the rest of the race is spent in East Dallas (my homeland) and it is a mental game to say that the end of the race is near.

A party greets you at the transition from West Dallas to East Dallas, with ample water, bathrooms and a band cheering you across the highway. I check my watch and WHAT I’m looking at 53:24 elapsed time. Speedy lady over here.

Mile 7: 9:15 min/mi

You officially enter East Dallas via the M Streets, a popular neighborhood for young adults / yuppies that love to party given its proximity to many fun bars and restaurants on lower Greenville. The late 20s early 30s folks are spotted in chairs in their front yard handing out water, candy, fireball, you name it. Friends and families turn the race day takeover into a porch party and the more casual cheering is an annual tradition. The gradient is very steady here, largely flat and a straight shot down to the historical Granada Theater.

At this point I was HOT. I knew my little brother would be somewhere along the Granada Theater, so I started running / de-robing. I stuck my beanie and my gloves in the zippered pockets of my jacket, tied my jacket around my waste and pulled my buff onto my wrist.

Sure enough, brother was there! I had about the slowest transition of my life, Olympic relay isn’t calling me anytime soon, as I dumped my clothing on my brother and continued running down Greenville.

Mile 8: 8:53 min/mi

The fun part about this area of the course is that you get to fly (downward sloping HEYO) by the fun restaurants and bars. East Dallas is a good mix of hot new restaurants and old diners that have been there for 75 years. The crowds are full, and cheering is loud all the way down Greenville.

At this stage of the race, I was feeling good about the potential of hitting a sub-2 hour half marathon and the fortunate/unfortunate split between marathoners and half marathoners takes place. So long suckers!

The split is very well marked and unless you’re completely oblivious to surroundings, you’ll be on the correct side of the dividing line. Half marathoners take a sharp right to head back towards downtown, and marathoners continue through the beautiful neighborhood of Lakewood until they reach White Rock Lake.

Mile 9: 8:53 min/mi

Swiss Avenue is where it hit me that my time was looking good. I turned from podcasts to music and sprinted down the beautiful and historical mansions of this district. Swiss was the place where CEOs and other C suite folks lived because of the proximity to downtown. It is an interesting block, because all surrounding Swiss Ave is a grungier neighborhood, however the racecourse allows runners to take a step back in time by running the entire length of the historical street.

Mile 10: 8:44 min/mi

Not much to see here… After the fun mansions and the dwindling crowd you emerge into the grungier part of East Dallas. I have love for Aldi and you run by my grocery store of choice, but it is certainly more urban convenience shops and gas stations through this stretch of road. From the time I ran the marathon this portion is particularly challenging because there is no shade, the sun is at its peak and there are no crowds cheering. It is usually people walking around or waiting at the bus stop wondering what you’re doing out there running.

Mile 11: 8:32 min/mi

THREE MILES TO GO! Or in my head 2 miles, all depends on your perspective. Finally emerging from a weird part of downtown, you enter Deep Ellum as the final neighborhood tour before the finish line. Deep Ellum is one of my favorites for a swanky night out and has a ton of restaurants as an up-and-coming area for the 30 year old crowd. Many concert venues and a lively nightlife make Deep Ellum a ton of fun.

At this point in the race you can feel people starting to catch their second wind. There are more crowds cheering, bands pick back up and local businesses with people sitting on their patios.

Mile 12: 9:07 min/mi

Final touches on Deep Ellum, people are sprinting through past the massive Farmers Market and through downtown high rises. This is the point in the race where I would alternate between a 8min mile and a 10min mile, hence the average of 9min mile. You think you’re close but you actually still have a while to go and you’re exhausted.

With 1 mile to go to the finish line Dallas sets up the countdown banners. 1600M to go! 1400M to go! And so on. The crowd steadily builds as the buildings are more condensed. This last little stretch through downtown is a blast with the energy and speed by which people are getting after it.

The sub-2hr half is well within my reach and I’m getting to the point of feeling really not great (lol) after sprinting this entire race.

Mile 13.1: 8:59 min/mi | Final Time: 1:57:48

Finish line sprint and finish in front of City Hall! Immediate thought: am I going to vomit? I am a very solid 10-12min/mi runner for longer distance races, and my average pace ended up being 8:52min/mi. Dead. Happy but dead.

Finish Line & Family Reunion

The finisher shoot is fairly quick – medal, plastic wrap, water, banana, finisher shirt and family reunion. You can dawdle as long as you want picking up the cici’s pizza and getting a picture with the photo wall, but I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.

The pro tip for parking – have a family member or uber pick you up near the Downtown YMCA, also known as T Boone Pickens. It is about 3 blocks from the finish line and out of the mayhem of blocked streets, close enough to the highway. I grabbed my checked bag (again super quick and easy) and slogged my way up a few blocks to be rescued by my loving little brother.

Parting Thoughts

Dallas Half is one of my favorite races. I might be biased since it is my hometown, but I’ve completed 15+ all around the USA at this point, and Dallas is consistently well-organized and prioritizes the athlete’s experience. It is a fantastic race that allows you to see many important neighborhoods and historical parts of the city and oftentimes perfect running conditions. Add Dallas to your list and you won’t be disappointed.

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Posted by:Allie

One thought on “Dallas Half Marathon Race Recap

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