Once again this year I participated in the Texas Independence Relay (TIR). This is a team relay 180 mile* race from Gonzalez, TX to Downtown Houston, TX. (*It is usually a 200ish mile race to the San Jacinto Monument west of Houston, but there were some permitting issues this year). Instead of finishing at the San Jacinto Monument, we would be finishing in a downtown Houston parking garage. I was told it was a really nice parking garage.
Interactive TIR Map with all the Legs
My Team – Blood, Sweat, and Beers (our tagline? “Beer Me!”) – was a 12 person team where each of us would run three legs of 2.5 to 6.8 miles long. We rented two 15 passenger vans with 6 folks (and all their crap) in each van with a cooler full of supplies, food and beverages. I was in “The Cool Van” with Steph, Melody, Thad, Kalynn, and Dan, because, of course I was. Then there was “The Other Van” with Tony, Karen, Drew, Megan , John, and Jeff.
Vans like this
Since there were 12 of us, it would be akin to running about a 10k every 7 or 8 hours and supporting your teammates as they ran, which really doesn’t sound too bad, right? But the race never stops, so if you need sleep you have to catch sleep in the van. Grab food as we go. Lots of port-o-john stops (and nature stops). There is an opportunity to take showers when we get to Wallis TX, but while the folks from one van are showering, the other van is still running the race (then we switch), so if you can get clean, you don’t stay clean for long.
I think I was told there were 162 teams this year, each with two big white vans, so there were staggered starts based on your teams projected finish time (which is based on the purported 10k times given by each team member).
Most of my team spent Friday night in Gonzalez to be ready for the Saturday morning race start. The race director has a big party for all the teams on Friday night with music and beer. It’s a great time and where we meet other teams who we’ll then see over the course of the weekend during the race while we pass each other and wait at the relay exchanges for our team mates. This is also a great time to tag the other vans with our tag line (and not cartoon penises, [clears throat] Drew & John). At the end of the party you come outside to a van much more decorated than when you went inside.
Blood, Sweat, and Beers may have had a bottle of Fireball in one of the vans, as well (which may also explain the confusion over our official tag line. Right, Drew & John?). Because who doesn’t think beer and fireball are a great idea before a running race.
What remained of the Fireball on Saturday morning
Our start time this year was 8:58am. At that time the whole team would run a 1.15 mile prologue leg around the perimeter of old downtown, then after that the team member with the first leg (that’d be Karen) just keeps running and the rest of us jump in the vans to offer support and take the leg #2 team member (Melody) to the exchange to wait for the hand-off, then we jump in our vans and do the same for leg #3 (Dan) and so on and so on…
Van support usually means, pulling over onto the side of the road and sending two folks out and across the street. One had a bottle of cold water and the other goes about 50 yards up the street. When our runner comes by, we hand her the bottle of water. As she runs, she can drink some, dump some over her head, whatever, then hand it to (or throw it at) the other team mate waiting up the road. Depending on how hot it is and the condition of our runner we could stop every half mile, mile, or maybe just once at the mid-point.
I will generally speak to my legs #10, 21, and 35, since if I went on about every one of the 36 legs this report would never end. So, yeah, I was hanging out in the van for hours while 9 of my team members ran (which was good because I needed that time to get over an unexplained headache and dehydration).
The morning started out warm, humid, and cloudy. Cloudy was good, but warm and humid… ick. I was holding out hope that the sun would stay behind the clouds until at least after my leg, but it looked unlikely since my first leg (after the mini prologue) would be around 4:00pm.
I drove the van all morning, with Steph as my navigator (if you know me, you know I need a navigator, and yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you are horrible with directions, too, but I have truly taken getting lost to an art form). We didn’t get lost and we didn’t lose anyone.
At about 3:00pm it was time for me to get ready to run. Leg 10 was a 3.97 mile run straight down the road, with a turn right before the exchange. It was 85 degrees and still humid, but with a lot more sun.
Luckily I would be running along Texas Highway 95, between Old Mouton and Flatonia (which is not flat) so I could enjoy the heat coming of the road, as well. I waited for Steph to finish her leg. I had my Garmin cued up, my heart rate monitor started, an iPod in one ear and a 10 oz water bottle. She handed off the baton (actually one of those slap wrist bracelets) and I was off. You don’t want to go out too fast, but you also don’t want to let the team down.
But OMG, it was so hot! I looked down at my heart rate monitor once and saw 171bpm. Ok, I don’t need to look at that again. I just focused on keeping my foot turnover fast and not worry about my speed. My team mates stopped about every mile to offer cold water, cheers and other support. I tried to keep my feet fast and my heart rate steady.
I succeeded, but damn…
My average cadence/foot turnover was 174, but heart rate was 168 (So, pretty much I was in defib for a half an hour)!
I held a 8:28 minute mile which is pretty good for me considering my training so far this year.
I handed off to Thad, and got in the van to catch my breath. We had to get moving, so Dan drove while I was trying to change out of my sweaty running clothes into clean running clothes without flashing my team mates or any unsuspecting passers-by.
We did stop to get pictures in the blue bonnets (ok, we stopped to support Thad, but were immediately distracted by the blue bonnets in the field and ended up yelling our support to Thad as he ran by and we told him we would catch him on the next mile if he needed water. Sorry, Thad).
As we were taking pictures in another field of blue bonnets, the other van caught up to us, then some ex-teammates from two year ago, Kat and Justin, who just so happened to be in the area between Flatonia and Engle and were driving by, stopped to say hi – how crazy is that?
My next leg was #21 and I was not predicted to start until about midnight, so I ate some pasta salad and finished my water.
Apparently, while I was running Dan invented a new game: Wave, Fist Bump, Thumbs up, or Hang loose.
As we passed a runner (or they passed us when we were stopped) we would size them up and all place our bets on either Wave, Fist Bump, Thumbs up, or Hang loose. Then we would yell out our support. “Looks good!” “WTG!” “Hey, you need any water?” etc and see what kind of acknowledgement we would get. Kind of a more interactive Rock, Paper, Scissor but being in a van with a bunch of stinky runners for hours on end made this game freaking hysterical (and I whole-heartedly endorse playing this game the next time you spectate a race, any race).
As evening set in and the sun started going down, it got much cooler. It certainly was not a cold night, but the difference between 85 degrees in the sun and 65 with no sun is well, day and night…literally.
While for most of the weekend we would have runners coming from either van, at Leg #19 we would have all 6 runners from one van run in succession until leg 24, where we would switch to the 6 in the other van in order to give us each time to stop in the Wallis High School where showers were available and maybe get a few hours of sleep. The Cool Van ran first, while The Other Van went and got clean and a bit of sleep. We would call them right before our last runner started their leg to give them time to get ready at the exchange. Well, that was the plan anyway.
Everything started alright. Steph ran Leg #19 and we supported from the van. We checked on her a few times and she was doing well, so we went ahead to meet her at the exchange. But when we got to the intersection of CR102 and Texas 71 there was a bizarre Sheriff/Truck/Boat accident blocking the entire intersection. Apparently a guy in his truck towing a boat, ran into the Sheriff deputy who was manning the intersection for the runners (the truck collided with the police car and the boat flew off the trailer, so I’m thinking that truck-guy was having a really bad night).
We figured out an alternate route to circumvent the accident scene to get to the exchange. But when Steph finished her run and I asked her how she got around the accident she said she didn’t see any accident. She was so focused that she just followed the policeman’s direction while crossing the street and didn’t notice the bedlam going on around him.
What accident? *Not intended to be pix of actual accident
Leg #21 was another 3.9 mile run from out in the middle of nowhere to Eagle Lake with one right turn. It was flat and fast, and in the middle of the night.
I waited at the exchange for Thad to hand-off to me. I had my Garmin cued up, my heart rate monitor started, an iPod in one ear, a 10 oz water bottle, my HiViz reflective shirt, a headlight, and a flashing red arm band. No one was going to run over me unless they were aiming (and if they were aiming they would not miss). At about 11:30pm I got the baton and was off, again just concentrating on my turnover.
I immediately passed a much slower runner, then a little way up I passed a woman I could barely see – she had no lights at all, just a crappy reflective vest that I thought she might be an old construction sign (she wasn’t moving very fast). Nope, it was a runner. Then I passed a fella with two red hip lights on his yellow reflective vest, we exchanged pleasantries. Then… there was no one in front of me. Like, no one as far as the eye could see.
I kept running along Highway 90/Alt. I knew I had one right turn at about mile 3. I ran through town which was well lit, then into the east side of town where I saw a traffic cone with a red flashy, a TIR sticker, and an arrow on it telling me to keep going straight. I ran straight. There was a fork in the road but another traffic cone with a red flashy, a TIR sticker, and an arrow telling me to keep going straight. I kept running and running and, wow, it’s getting pretty dark. I was in a neighborhood with no street lights, few house lights and a lot of potholes, so I kept my eyes scanning the road in front of me to make sure I didn’t fall and break a hip.
My Garmin beeped mile 3 and I got to a “T” in the road, but there was no directional traffic cone. I looked left and right, nothing. Then behind me, no one and still no one in front of me. Bah, I know I’m supposed to make a right turn so off I go, to the right. Worst case scenario, I am running one road parallel to where I should be. I ran for a while, then I looked back and saw a runner’s head lamp in the distance. Hmm, maybe I am heading in the right direction.
I continued to run down this very dark, pot holed road with lots of barking dogs (I sure hope they are locked up otherwise, I am getting eaten by a dog). It was so humid that I could see diffused light from beyond the tree line and I thought, “That has got to be the exchange, so I just need to get there,” and then the road just sort of ended. There was a closed road to the left, then as I look I realized the broken pavement made a 90 degree turn to the right. OK, to the right then, even though I knew I was not heading in the right direction. I’d just take a left when I had a chance.
One of the nice things about getting lost all-the-freaking-time is that getting lost doesn’t faze me. I just kept running thinking at some point I would see something familiar, another runner or a light off in the distance marking the exchange, or at least a main road where I could get some help. My biggest concern was how much mileage I was adding. I really didn’t want to run an extra 2 or 3 miles, and I really had no freaking idea where I was.
As I ran up this road in what is surely the wrong direction, I could see at the cross street several blocks ahead several white vans passing. Ok, that is where I need to be! I got to the cross street and turned left in the directionthe vans were all going, just as another runner was clearing the intersection. “You get lost?” He asked. “Yep.” I replied. He was wearing two red hip lights on his yellow reflective vest. As I passed him he said, “I remember you.” Yes, this is the guy I passed before the end of the first mile.
I continued to run, now presumably on course. The Cool Van pulled up, coming from the wrong direction (uh-oh, did I pass the exchange?). Steph yelled something to me, but I couldn’t hear her so I just said, “Am I heading in the right direction?!” She replied in the affirmative, so I told them to just meet me at the exchange.
I hand-off to Melody and stopped running just as another runner comes in. The other lost headlight I had seen bopping behind me. I turned to him and said, “I am so sorry, I had no idea where I was going.” He replied, “There was no cone!” [See, that’s what I said]. He introduced himself, Mario, and we wished each other a good race. We added about ¾ mile to our leg. So while I ran an 8:27 minute mile (4.6 miles in 38:21 minutes) our team would get credit for ~10 minute miles on that leg (3.9 miles in 38:21 minutes).
See, the exchange was just beyond the tree line
I got into the van and Steph started apologizing to me for me getting lost, because she thought I would be mad at the van. I said, “Why would I be mad at you. I had one turn and I blew it. That’s not your fault!” Steph said, “But it is. We drove ahead and saw the two cones with the blinkies [I saw those], but there was a turn cone that did not have a blinkie and it was on the other side of the street. Kalynn told me she wanted to move the cone across the street so you would see it. She said you would miss it. But I said that there were plenty of runners on the road and surely you would see it.”
Thus, we concluded that Kalynn knows me much better than Steph.
Thad was driving as I caught my breath in the back of the van, but I didn’t get changed since I knew I would be able to take a shower shortly. I didn’t want to put clean clothes on this filthy body.
Melody had a long run, over 6 miles, so I got a little something to eat and a beer. Melody was killing it but also hates running the dark, so we checked on her several times before heading to the exchange with our next runner, Kalynn.
Kalynn sets off on her 5.1 mile run. Her route was straight down CR 1093 into Wallis where she would hand off to Dan. A little note about Kalynn. She had a baby 4 months ago. Just sayin’, for those of you who say things like “Oh, I could never do that race.” Girlfriend gave birth to a tiny human Four. Months. Ago!
It’s now a little after 1:00 am, and I am amazed that I am still awake and feeling good. Thad pulled the van over to wait for Kalynn to make sure she didn’t need anything and somehow, of all the places he could have pulled over (I mean heck, there was a van pulled over 20 feet in front of us), he picked the one place where there was a deep ditch (presumably dug out by an 18 wheeler’s tire) and he high-centered the van lengthwise. Like the rear driver’s tire is not even on the ground. Oops.
[I will update with pix as I know someone get pix of this]
Hmm. We all got out to examine our predicament. I suggest someone just pull a van up behind us and push us out (something I have done several times in my life*), but everyone is driving rented vans and, apparently, no one has ever had to push a car with another car (weirdos).
(*I am what they call a “late adopter.” I keep my stuff until it is obsolete and falling apart, including my vehicles. As such I usually have all the stuff you need when you have an unreliable vehicle and I have the knowledge of a lifetime of driving cars that could break down at any moment.)
I recommended that everyone but the driver get to the back of the van to put all of the weight on the back wheel and maybe get the wheel on the ground, but a bunch of 98 lb runners are no match for a 5500 lb van. The occupants of a nearby van walk over and try to push us out, but we are really stuck.
We realized that we needed to get Dan to the exchange to meet Kalynn and the fellas who were trying to push offered to drive Dan to the next exchange. (Yay!) Ok, so Dan will have to take a minute to explain the situation to Kalynn, but our folks (and our race) are going to be ok. After Dan is finished he would hand-off to the other van for thier 6 legs. This means that the cool van (now the stuck van) would have several hours to shower and sleep or try to get our van out of the ditch, so we had some time.
I look for any road debris that we might be able to jam under the wheel to give us some traction. Nothing (not even a downed tree or a strip of retread). Nice job TxDOT.
I have a AAA Membership (see footnote above). Seriously, everyone should. They will come to you anywhere regardless of what vehicle you are in. They are life savers and the cost of one tow far exceeds the yearly membership dues.
I called the AAA call center (where they take all of your initial info before they give the local tow company your information) but I had no friggin idea where we were. There were no visible cross roads, mile markers, or any signs of an address. I did have the coordinates. But AAA Gal is having a hard time finding them and while my GPS Garmin said we were in New Bernard, TX, Steph’s phone said we were in Wallis, TX. I was trying to explain the situation to AAA Gal, and figured if I can get her an address close enough, I can direct the local tow guy when he calls me. I use my GPS Garmin to find a cross street in the general vicinity and tell her we are at 1093 and 264, even though we are over a ½ mile away from that cross road.
So we were stuck in a ditch at 1:30 in the morning, our runner was on the road and our other team members were presumed sleeping or showering. This is the time where if anyone was going to start freaking out, someone was going to start freaking out. I won’t say that Steph starts freaking out, but she called Tony in the other van telling him he had to pick up Kalynn at Exchange 23! then pick up Dan at Exchange 24 (where they were going to meet us anyway)! Because we are stuck in a ditch! And AAA can’t find us! and we’re all gonna die!!!!
(Ok, maybe not that bad… No, actually it was like that.)
AAA Gal asks, “What kind of vehicle are you in.” I say “2016(???) Ford Transit 15 passenger van.” She asked if it was a commercial vehicle and I told her I don’t think so because I do not have a class C license and they rented it to me (shrugs). Ok. Color? “White.” I hear her keyboard clacking. “Oh, and there is something else about the van.” ‘Ok, what’s that?’ she asked.
“Umm, we’re doing a relay race across the state and there are 162 teams each with two vans. And, well, we all have the same vans and they are all white. And there are a lot of them pulled over on the side of the road.” Silence for several beats. ‘OK, I will give the driver that information.’ Yeah, so we are all going to die out here.
I proposed we jack up the rear passenger side to see if we can get the weight on the driver’s side rear wheel, then just drive it off the jack. After spending 20 minutes figuring out where the jack handle is (and it is nowhere near the jack. WTF, Ford?), Thad and I crawled under the van only to discover that the ground was sandy loam covered in dead grass and the jack would just sink as Thad tried to pump it up.
So we were just sitting there cheering on other runners, periodically checking the AAA link that is supposed to tell us where are tow truck is, while Steph texted Tony because he was no longer answering his phone.
We get word that Dan and Kalynn are safe and sound, and now it was the other van’s turn to do 6 legs in a row. I was actually pretty cool because if you were going to get a 15 passenger van high-centered somewhere between Eagle Lake and Wallis, TX at 2:00 in the morning, this really was the best way to do it. Think about it. Our race was tight. While we would be unable to take showers or get sleep, we were not DNFing and I have used AAA plenty enough time to know that we would be towed long before our next leg at 6:30am.
Just then a big truck with yellow light on top pulled up behind us. Yea! The tow truck! Nope. But a party van. They asked if they could help after much discussion one of the gals mentions that they have a tow rope. Woot!! Tow rope! We had them back up to our van and I got up under the van down in the ditch and attach the tow rope to our frame, then to the party bus frame.
The van started to move, they dragged us about 10 feet then — SPROING!!! The tow rope broke.
I jumped in the van to see if we could drive out, but no. And now we were even more high-centered then we were before. We thanked the gals for the effort and exchanged contact information (hey we are gals (and Thad), and I do owe her a tow rope).
I got a call from the tow company asking if we were towed out, and I told him that the driver wasn’t even there yet. He said he would call back.
We sat in the van talking about the sleep and showers we were not getting. For some reason Steph kept saying that she felt sorry for Kalynn and Dan. Kalynn and Dan who had not been stuck in a ditch for three hours. ??? I mean I know the other van wasn’t nearly as cool as ours, but it’s not that bad.
At this point Thad offered to run the next several legs so the rest of the team could get showers, go to Denny’s, and plot his murder. I explained to Thad that while this sucks, it does not suck worse than anything has ever sucked before. Not even close. And it would probably be the best story of the race. I assured him that while we are unlikely to ever let him forget it (hey, that’s what friends are for) we will certainly be laughing about it soon. Thad was convinced we will not be laughing about it until next year (Spoiler: we were laughing about it before the sun came up).
The tow company called back. The driver got pulled over for speeding, but he is back on his way. I guess he was in a rush because he knew we were several damsels in distress (and Thad).
Several folks offered to help us, but after they assessed the situation it become obvious there was no way we were getting off this berm without a tow truck.
We got to meet the race SAG sweeper van (the van that is behind the very last runner on the course). We explained that our runners were still racing and we were just waiting on a tow truck. We’re golden, and the SAG vehicle continued on.
At about 4:00 in the morning the tow truck arrives. Dale, our new best friend and hero, winches us out of the ditch (but we were in there so deep that after he pulled the van about 20 feet he asked me to put it in drive and we were still high-centered, so he winched some more!).
I gave Dale a tip and we got a team selfie and we’re back in business!!! Woot!
We called the other van to share the good news. We were supposed to meet them at about 6:00am at Exchange 30, but while we had no time for showers we did have time to meet them at Exchange 29 and rescue the long suffering Dan and Kalynn. We hooked up in a parking lot for the
hostage runner exchange.
Now, there is “running in the heat sweaty stinky” dirty, and there is “crawling under a van on the side of the road in chiggers and sticker-burs” dirty. I was both. I was filthy and I still had one more run to do. I tried using baby wipes, but I was so dirty I could hardly get one segment of an arm clean without needing a new wipe. Then I made an amazing discovery – one can take a shower in a parking lot using a bottle of water and a wad of paper towels! (Note: you also have to be a master of the towel-change that is changing under a towel without flashing everyone). When I was done I was 75% cleaner than when I started. I felt like a new woman. I also put on my last clean running outfit.
At Exchange 30 we made a Starbucks stop. It was now about 7:00am. I had to run leg #35 at about 10:00am, so I was trying to figure out what to eat and when. I have a morning routing (get up at 4:20, put on gym clothes, get my stuff for work together, feed the cats, have a ½ PB&J and a cup of tea, then drive to the gym while drinking a cup of coffee, and start my workout at 5:30), but that was shot to hell.
I’d eaten at about 1:00am, which was also unusual, and I was afraid that if I tried to eat something weird now, it would jack up my stomach on my run. Because I had also been awake for over 24 hours at this time I was primed to make some bad decisions, so I decided not to eat anything. Really. No cookies, boiled eggs, or peanut butter pretzels which we had in the van. Not even a tortilla or a plain bagel that we also had in the van (and really who has ever gotten sick from a plain flour tortilla?). So, 9 hours without food and I was ready to run Leg #35, 5.7 miles through west Houston and Memorial Park. What could possibly go wrong.
Also, leg #35 had 8 turns in it. This, for the gal who got lost on the run with one turn! The other van was supporting me. Steph had leg #36 (the last leg) and the cool van wanted to get her to the exchange point.
At 9:40am, I had my Garmin cued up, my heart rate monitor started, an iPod in one ear, a 10 oz water bottle. I took the hand-off from Melody, started running, and switched on my iPod.
I. Felt. Like. Poo.
I was trying to concentrate on my foot turnover, but my heart rate felt out of control and I had this weird diaphragm cramp that went completely across my lower ribcage. Cramps like this never last that long and usually work themselves out, but suck while they are happening.
I wondered whether slowing down would help it release, but, nah, I ain’t slowing down. I heard my Garmin beep…way too early and I looked down. Dang it, I forgot to start my Garmin and I had already run about a ½ mile (it will beep and turn itself off if it is not started within 5 minutes of being cued). Everyone knows a run doesn’t “count” if you don’t record it. Well, I thought, at least I got that extra ¾ mile on leg #21.
I made the first turn and did not see my support van, but a fella passed me so I had someone I could follow. He commented on how humid it was. And it was humid, but least we had the cloud cover. I was still dealing with the cramp, trying to change my breathing. Sipping some water. Anything to make it release (well, anything but actually slowing down). That sucker did not release until after mile 2!
As I ran, Tony pulls up next to me and says, “Hey, sorry we are late. We missed the first turn.” The van then waited at each turn to make sure I did not get lost and offered me water at every mile. Just before the Loop 610, John offered me water and said “Ok, now you go under the overpass and follow it to get on the trail which goes through the park. Got it?” I nodded that I got it. Just as I passed John my watch beep Mile 3 (which meant I was at mile 3 ½) and I saw that I was slowing. Then I realized how long it had been since I had eaten and that I could really use a gel or some Gatorade. I also realized that John gave me those directions because the van would not be able to support me any further on that leg, so I had just blown my last opportunity to get food. Damn. It! Well, I guess I could do anything for a 2 miles. Every time I sipped my water I pretended it was Gatorade (note: this is not particularly effective).
I will say that the cloud cover hung around for most of my run. And that running through Memorial Park with all the other runners and walker and cyclists felt like being on Lady Bird Lake, which was nice. I ran into the exchange and handed-off to Steph and I was Done!
When I got to the van I had two mini-bagels (like I should have before I started my run), I was also told that we were out of beer. What!?!
We drove over to the downtown parking garage finish line to meet Steph. When Steph came in we celebrated a bit at the garage (it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. We were on the top of the garage, and there was a view of downtown Houston), then headed out to lunch at la Tiempo Cantina. (Word on the street is that they have great magaritas. Our team finished about four pitchers, but since I had to drive the van back to Austin, I was only able to steal one sip of Tony’s. Yeah, it was yummy).
I think we finished in just over 26 hours [I’m sure someone has the official results, but I don’t]
So that was another TIR on the books, my 7th race with this team, and oh, yes, I will be back again next year.