By: Lisa Perky Feature photo by: Myke Hermsmeyer
College Station, TX is a town usually only known to college football fans and women who have every word to the movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding” memorized. Bryan/College Station is a small twin-city area that sits perfectly triangulated by Houston, Austin, and Waco. It’s the perfect big small-town, or small big-city, depending on where you’re from. The population grows by 80,000 people every August, then goes quiet every May. It is, most notably, the home to the Fightin’ Texas Aggies! Whoop!
No, come back. I see you rolling your eyes and leaving. Come back! College Station is one of the friendliest places on Earth, and has surprising access to some fun local trails and running communities.
Where to Run
ROADS: For all you road warriors, Texas A&M’s campus offers lovely running views in a safe environment. Just be prepared for a steady stream of waves, smiles, and “HOWDY” yells. The campus sprawls over 5,200 acres, and includes a park with duck pond, historical buildings, greenhouses, horse barns, and Kyle Field. Main campus is home to a long string of 100 year old oaks, the most famous of which is The Century Tree (site of every Aggie engagement proposal in the history of ever). Off campus, there are many parks, golf-course communities, and charming neighborhoods where you can hit the pavement.
MILLICAN RESERVE: If you drive about 10 minutes out of “town,” either north or south, you’ll find beautiful wooded trails. The town of Millican, to our south, is home to the Millican Reserve. This area offers fishing, farmer’s markets, dinner on the green, and an endless combination of trails open to runners and cyclists alike. The terrain includes rolling hills, roots, twists & turns, and lots of shade from native flora. New sections are opening yearly, each with differing levels of technicality. The trails are a beautiful rat’s nest, which allow you to feel alone, even when another runner is a mere 20 yards behind you. It is easily navigable with trail markers, and a fairly “go forward until you’re done” design. The terrain is challenging enough to stump (get it?) more experienced runners, but not so terrifying that my 4 year old son can’t come explore as well.
LAKE BRYAN: To the north is Lake Bryan. This lake is big enough for ski-, fishing-, and sail-boats, offers tent camping, RV hookups, a restaurant, and a pavilion. The trails are more technical than Millican, have more areas of intersection, but offer the same quiet Texas beauty. The trails are longer, hillier, muddier, and bear names like “Octopus,” giving you a heads up to the tangle you’re about to endure. New to Lake Bryan is the annual Hog Crazy Half-Marathon. It’s a great first race for those new to trail running, and an easy way for us trail addicts to hook the next generation.
Where to Race
BCS MARATHON: Race day in College Station is always a fun time. We are a community built on service, and you can see that in the smiles of every volunteer at every aid station, regardless of the race. In fact, for the last few years, College Station has been home to the runner-voted #1 Marathon in Texas, the BCS Scott & White Marathon, put on by Mercy Project. Not only is the event beautifully executed, the food is top-notch. Bryan/College Station is filled with local restaurateurs who love to offer a hand, and share their gifts with the community. Local breweries are on hand to help with rehydration and carbs, and the medals are always impressive. The truly beautiful thing is that this race started as a fundraiser for Mercy Project, which is a group that works in Ghana to end child slavery. You can read more about them on their website. At each race, the finishing chute is lined with huge photos of the faces of children rescued, and returned home, by Mercy Project. So, if the “I just ran 26.2 miles” tears don’t hit you, those faces surely will.
TROT: For those of us seeking long miles, lost in the woods, rocks, and mountains, we don’t have to drive too far. Well, “far” in Texan is a relative term. It’s a BIG state y’all! Thanks to Rob and Rachel Goyen with Trail Racing Over Texas, TROT hosts multiple races throughout the year in cities ranging from Sealy to El Paso, and mileage from 5k to 100 miles. What you have to realize about TROT is that it’s not a business. It’s a mission. It’s a family. Rob is a servant at heart and a huge kid. His races include the greatest volunteers in trail running, great food, and an inclusive atmosphere. Rob’s races will have you feeling beat down and built up, all in one day (or 30 hours). You can run 100 miles through alligator infested swamplands, climb the Franklin Mountains in gale-force winds, or trudge through the sweltering heat of an August summer across unshaded grasslands. Whatever your poison, Rob will be waiting at the finish line, calling you by name as he wraps you in a well-deserved bear hug, waiting to hear you say #FURob.
TEJAS TRAILS: Texas is also served by Tejas Trails. You may know them as the group that hosts Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler, and the Bandera 100k, which is the USATF 100k National Championship and one beating of a race. Rocky Raccoon is a short 45 minute drive from College Station, and is a race famous for its speed, flatness, and knock-you-on-your-ass ninja roots. When not hosting Rocky Raccoon, Sam Houston National Forest is still open to runners and is a great area for Bryan/College Station locals to get in some longer runs and great camping.
Where to Shop
For gear, head on over to Brazos Running Company owned and operated by Aggie Class of ‘90 Mike Nugent. Mike and his crew will measure you, watch you walk and run barefoot and shoed, fit you with a few options, and let you run on the treadmill or around the sidewalks until you are confident in your choice. Never one to up-sell, Mike is always ready with advice and options, without the pushy attitude or elitism some people fear from running stores. His employees are knowledgable and kind. Often, they are members of the Texas A&M track program (Led by Coach Pat Henry) and are in-tune with the need to prevent injury while going at 110%.
Where to Eat
POST-RUN: After miles on the road or trail, we all get a little HANGRY (hungry + running + angry). If you’re already in Millican, stop at the Hullabaloo Cafe, made famous by Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives! It’s more food than anyone should ever eat, probably, but you didn’t run all those miles for nothing! Hullabaloo is housed in an old airstream trailer with sprawling patios surrounding it. Outside you’ll find games and gentle breezes, while inside is the quintessential diner counter.
If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, head back towards campus, turn on Jane (like every college boy is trying to do at closing time) and find Mad Taco. Owner and chef, Peter Madden, has been feeding the people of College Station for years, whether at Cafe Eccell (your fancy date choice), Madden’s (my birthday dinner choice), or Mad Taco (please feed me this every day). They offer a full-service bar, full of one of a kind cocktails; seasonal tacos such as crawfish and andouille sausage; a beautiful patio, and a first responders discount which this fireman’s wife GREATLY appreciates. I recommend the grilled Mahi taco, but my husband would insist you try the Mad Morning. Either way, wash it down with a dewberry soda, made by Boots Beverages (also local, also amazing) and served on tap.
PRE-RACE: Cafe Capri has been a town favorite for years. It’s a great fancy date restaurant, and offers lighter Italian cuisine. Other delicious local joints include Cafe Eccell, Fritella’s, and Madden’s. Each place is a one-location, locally owned eatery known for customer-service and the family atmosphere. You will not be disappointed.
OTHER: College Station is also the epicenter of franchises. Some, you may know from around the state, but they started right here. Wings-n-More, Freebirds Burritos, Grub Burger, Laynes Chicken, Fuego Tortilla Grill, C&J BBQ, Blue Baker, and Kolache Rolf’s all had their beginnings right here in Aggieland, and the locals have very strong feelings about which location is best. And don’t even ASK if we want to eat at a competitor’s.
If you’re a football fan, come down on a home game weekend. Any tailgate worth their sauce will offer you a plate of whatever’s on the pit, cooked slow and low to perfection. Play a game of washers or cornhole, watch the Aggies BTHO the other guy, then run off all those calories and all that stress in the woods. We’d just love to show you around!
About the Author:
Lisa Perkins is a public school educator, mommy, wife, dog-lover, and pretend-runner. She enjoys sarcasm, cookies, being in the back of the pack, and sprinkling conversations with well-executed profanity. Look for future blogs, such as “If you thread the needle to pass on a 2 way single track, I’ll clothes-line you” and “It’s ok to eat pizza in the bathtub – you’re an adult”.