Texas Independence Relay is a 200 mile running race from Gonzales, Texas to the San Jacinto Monument in La Porte, Texas, just east of Houston. This year the race was 4/2/16 – 4/3/16. Most folks run in teams of 10, 11 or 12 people (although there are a few crazies who run in teams of one or two, and they usually start a day earlier than the rest of us). We split our team into 6 and 6, and rent two 15 passenger vans.
So, pretty much it’s 6 sweaty runners in a vans for two days without sleep, running non-stop, and living on peanut butter pretzels, mini bagels, and beer (for hydration!). Hmm, when I put it that way it doesn’t sound like much fun at all. But it is SO MUCH FUN! Really.
This year was my fifth year doing this race (I think) with team Blood, Sweat & BEERS!
Where running a relay for two days sounds like a lot, I only had 3 legs this year (as opposed to the 4 I usually have since I was coming off an injury) . Each runner has significant rest periods between each leg, so how hard could that be?
At 9:35* am on 4/2/16, my team started together on a short 1.1 mile warm-up Prologue before we sent our first runner out to start the race. I got to hang out until 1:19pm before my first leg, Leg #6.
*Teams were seeded by projected pace, so some teams started at 6am, while other would not start until after noon.
That is not to say that I had nothing to do during that time. The team vans offer support to the team member who is running; offering water, ice and encouragement, and one van has to make sure that the next runner is at the exchange point hydrated and ready to run (and post-tinkled).
But also, the team members have to make sure that all of the other teams know we were there by “tagging” the other vans at the exchange points. Our team has the coveted “Blood, Sweat and BEERS! Beer, Run, Repeat” bumper stickers but also window markers with which we would tag the other vans.
So, we would sneak up on the other teams’ vans and tag the hell out of them.
So, as you can see, we were very busy.
At 1:19pm, I took the hand off from Angela and started Leg #6. I was to run 4.8 miles from Old Moulton to somewhere between Old Moulton and Flatonia (protip: Flatonia, not so flat):
Since I was coming off an injury, I had not been running much and certainly had not been running for past the last several months. My best estimated pace time was a 9:30 minute/mile. However, I learned that even though Team Blood, Sweat & BEERS was totally chill and only expected each of us to do our best, not wanting to disappoint the team is an immense pressure.
Even though my Leg #6 seemed to only go uphill, was in the middle of a sunny afternoon and half of it was on a caliche dirt road, I banged out an 8:34 min/mile pace but passed no one. Seriously, where is everyone? There was no one in front of me for me to catch and no one behind me. So, no “kills” for me on this leg.
Then I got to support my team mates and cause general mayhem until midnight before my next leg. Did I mention we have a beer sponsor? All good marketers use the products they are marketing, right?
So, I spent the rest of the day eating peanut butter preztles, tagging vans, supporting team mates and “marketing”.
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I love running in the dark. We generally offer a bit more support to our team mates since, well, it’s dark. But identifying your runner in the dark is also a bit of a challenge. We were using a green headlamp.
By the time my next leg rolled around it was full dark . The race had now been going on for over 18 hours.
I donned the moist sweaty yellow reflective vest that at least one other person had run in before me (ew, ew, ew!), a red ankle light, an amber back light (that immediately stopped working when I put attached it to the vest) and my green headlight. We left our last runner with one mile to go, so I figured I had 5 minutes to use the port-o-john and get to the hand-off.
Do know what is worse than using a port-o-john in the middle of the night after 18 hours of race use? Nothing! Ew, ew, ew!
I took the hand-off at 12:07am, and headed 4.2 miles out into the night towards Wallis.
A nice straight flat run (there was only 15 feet of elevation change on this leg). I was a little stiff getting started, but was able to shake it off an find a good pace.
There were a bunch of racers on the road at this point in the race and I passed at least 7 people (I have difficulty counting when I am hypoxic so it may have been 8). I did have one guy pass me like I was standing still (but just one).
Pace for Leg #21? 8:30 min/mile. Can I get a Woot! Woot!?
In Wallis, our van would hand the race over to the other van for 6 straight legs in order that we 6 team members have an opportunity to take a shower at a local high school, and get some sleep either in the van or in sleeping bags.
You know what’s better than taking a shower after running 10 miles, and spending 14 hours in a van with 5 other sweaty runners? Nothing (I do love me a middle of the night shower).
After showering, we drove the 30-something miles to the hand-off location for Leg 28, then all snuggled down in our sleeping bags/van bench seat for some restful sleep.
Not! I have no idea when the temperature dropped, but it was 45 degrees out. My sleeping bag was thermal, but I was too hot when I burrito’ed myself inside, but too cold when I poked my head out. Then at 3:00-something in the morning all that Gatorade (maybe some beer) I had drank started calling my name, but Alas! they “forgot” to deliver the port-o-johns to that hand-off location (Whaaat?). Nothing quite like stumbling around in the dark buggy woods looking for a safe place to tinkle. When I got back to my sleeping bag, I couldn’t fall back to sleep because I was afraid we would miss the hand-off (the other van would call us and let us know we had about 30 minutes to be ready, but cell phone service was sketchy on the course). At least I was showered, but I don’t think I got an hour’s sleep.
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My final leg was Leg #32, 5.1 miles at 8:45am. I started in Memorial Park on the running trail. I would run along the hike and bike trail then into downtown Houston.
It was early enough that it wasn’t too hot, but after sleeping on the ground in a parking lot that stiffness I felt at the beginning of my second leg was settling into a real tightness by morning. I was pretty stoked to get started so when Mohamed handed the baton off to me I turned to run and both of the glutes went:
Holy cow, my butt was sore. OK, we’ll start it off nice and slow and hope that whatever this is works itself out. But every step was ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow…
I felt like I was running pretty slow and this gal who looked really strong passed me. We ran a 1/2 mile through the park, then just as we were heading out of the park I saw her run right passed the turn arrow (the arrows were on orange traffic cones). “LEFT! You need to turn LEFT!” I yelled. She took the turn really wide and got back on course, but I was back in front of her. As she passed me again I told her, “We are on this road for a couple of miles.”
About a block later she turned left. WTF? There was no cone, no sign, no random arrow painted on the street from some old construction, nothing. “STRAIGHT! Go STRAIGHT!” I called, as I passed her again and she turned around to get back on course. After that I never saw her again. She may be in Louisiana at this point.
I did pass at least one more racer, but it was hard to tell who was racing and who was just taking a nice Sunday run on the trail. And I felt impossibly slow and my butt really hurt (but in a good “using the right muscles” soreness way). One of the things that age had brought me is really poor eyesight (but still waiting for the wisdom that is supposed to be bestowed with age [shrugs]), so I could not read my Garmin watch to know what my pace was, but what did it matter? This was as fast as I could go.
Once I got into downtown Houston, there were cops directing at each intersection (thank God, or I would have been totally lost), and stopping traffic, so I ran the final 1/4 mile into downtown and handed off the baton. Done! And I really need a massage!
While I felt really slow, I was still able to run an 8:40 min/mile pace.
So, I was done and there was still a cooler of beer in the van. Good times! But there are 40 legs in this race, so I still had some supporting to do. Luckily, I can multitask!
We had a really good group this year and everyone looked really strong. No one got lost and no one got hurt. I would call it a resounding success!
Our team finished 53rd Overall and 32nd in our Open Division @ 28:06:38 with an average of 8:27.