Sunday, June 16, 2013

Texas Independence Relay

For years now, I’ve been wanting to do a relay race. You know, the kind of race that covers over 200 miles with someone running at all times. The problem has been that I never could find anyone interested in doing one.
Well, that changed this year. Several of the local folks I do triathlon training with mentioned that they were interested in doing the Texas Independence Relay. That’s the one that I’ve wanted to do. We talked about it and had 8 people interested. It’s best to have 12 on a team and we figured we could find 4 more people crazy enough to do it with us.

We got registered and our numbers sat at 8. And sat there. And sat there. It was harder than we thought to get 4 more people. We had several who were interested, but because of other obligations or financial issues, they had to decline. Then we found out that one of our members had an injury and would not be able to participate. We did everything we could to replace her and ended up finding someone on one of the triathlete forums. We all hoped that he would fit in. Worst case scenario, he was at least fast.

Due to the small town in which the race started and the finances of some team members, the majority of the team decided to just get up extra early on race morning and drive to the start (about 1.5 hours away). So, we all met at the local HEB, loaded our things into the rented van and headed to Gonzales.

Because our predicted overall pace was a little on the slower side, we had a 6:30am start time. We pulled in to the parking lot, picked up our packets and it was time to rush to the start to run our prologue lap and begin our 200+ mile trip to the San Jacinto monument.

With just a few minutes to spare, we were at the start. Our team song began to play, I got to light the cannon, and we were off as a team. We kept the start pace fairly slow so we could all stay together, finishing the 1.13 mile prologue in 12:55 for a pace of 11:25 per mile.

As we finished the first mile, our first runner continued on for his first leg of the race. The van I was in was the first “active” van meaning that our runners had the first 4 legs to run. We knew that we needed to find a convenience store to get ice for the cooler and find a bathroom. We knew we would have time, but needed to make sure we got it done and got to the next exchange point before our runner. Mission accomplished.

Because we only had 8 runners, each of us would be running 5 legs of the race. I was assigned to Legs 3, 11, 19, 27 and 35. As our second runner was running her leg, I began to get myself ready to run. I made sure I had my garmin, sunglasses, etc. We parked by the exchange area and waited for her to arrive.

At 8:34 a.m. Saturday morning, it was time for me to run my first leg. This leg was 5.33 miles long. It was a little overcast as I ran, but it helped me to not overheat so I was fine with that. This 5.33 mile stretch took me down a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. The interesting thing about running in the middle of nowhere is that you see some interesting things. Toward the end of my run, I came upon a group of people in the middle of the road. As I got closer, I realized that one of them was holding a baby armadillo! How often do you get to see that? Pretty cool. I finished my run in 52:10 with a pace of 9:47 per mile and got in the van to relax before my next run.

After the first rotation, our van was now the “rest” van. We found a place to stop and grab something to eat, took the time to finally get situated (since we had such a quick start in the morning) and got more familiar with the process of what we were doing.

We tried to judge when to be at our next starting point based on the projected paces of the runners in the other van. When it was time, we headed to the exchange point that would make our van the “active” van again.
My next leg didn’t start until 3:34 p.m. This was a 4.15 mile leg straight down the side of the highway. While it was straight and flat, it was also a very hot leg as the sun was now out. I knew it was relatively short and if I ran my pace it would be over in about 40 minutes. I could do it. It also helped that the van was near me and my teammates were cheering me on. I couldn’t slow down in front of them.

I arrived at the hand off place in 39:36 for a pace of 9:33 per mile and had a very nice man spray cold water on me to cool me down. I was also handed a baton from the town of Weimer to commemorate my finish in their town. Very cool touch.

We finished out with our fourth runner and then found some food again while we were the “rest” van. We knew our next run rotation would be somewhat challenging. We had been up since 4am and we were getting tired. We would all be running our next legs in the dark.

At 10:14 p.m. I started my next leg. Running 6.61 miles this late at night was new for me, but again it was straight down the side of the highway. It was actually very peaceful as the only people out on the road at that time of night were the other runners and the support vans. The moon was out and looked pretty full, so it illuminated the country where we were running. I finished this leg in 1:04:46 for a 9:49 pace. Not bad considering all of the miles I had run today.
After the runners in my van were done with our legs for the night, we headed to the exchange where we would start running again in the morning and tried to get some sleep. It’s kind of hard to sleep in a van with bright lights and lots of people outside the van making noise, but we got what sleep we could before getting ready in the early morning hours to start running on day two.

Sometime right before our van began our legs, a cold front blew through the area. It had been pretty warm and muggy for our runs and we knew today’s runs would be different. Temperatures dropped into the 50s and the wind was relentless. I was actually dreading it. I don’t mind running in cold, but I don’t like running in the wind, especially in the dark and by myself. But we had a finish line to reach.

We weren’t sure what time exactly to be at the next exchange as some of our runners were slowing down. Lack of rest and high miles will do that to a body. Standing out in the cold waiting for my turn to run was not exactly the fun part of the race.

But finally, at 5:23 a.m. I began my first leg of the day. This stretch of running was interesting for me because about 3 miles of it were in the “city” and then it took me into George Bush Park in Houston. I ran in the park on the hike and bike trail for the remainder of the 6.23 mile leg. It was really dark in the park and even though I had my headlamp on and a flashlight in my hand, it was a little spooky at times. There were times where I did not see another person at all. I was just hoping that no one popped out of a bush at any time. I was ready to attack! I was very happy when I finally saw bright lights that were at the exchange point where I would end my run and our next runner would begin. My knee was giving me troubles (most likely IT band issues) this morning and my times had slowed down, so I finished this leg in 1:11:27 for a pace of 11:28 per mile. Slow for me, but oh well.

As soon as I finished that leg, I told the people in my van that when it was our time to “rest”, we needed to find me a Whataburger. I needed a breakfast taco to eat and get my body ready for my afternoon leg.
After grabbing breakfast for everyone, we headed into downtown Houston which is where our van would become the “active” van for our last round of runs. It was here that I began to realized how the contestants on The Amazing Race must feel. When we first arrived, there were lots of vans waiting for the exchanges to take place. I felt like we were doing ok on time and we were right there with everyone else. But one by one, those vans disappeared. It wasn’t long until we were one of the only few vans left. I began to get the feeling that we were at the back of the pack. And I mean at the very back of the pack.

Finally, the runner showed up and our van became “active”. Our runners were slowing down. We were tired, we were hungry and some of us were hurting. But we kept moving forward.

The last and final leg I ran started at 1:20 p.m. My knee was still hurting and I was tired, but I had people counting on me and I knew I had to do my best to get my run done. This was a shorter leg of only 3.71 miles and I was very thankful for that. What I wasn’t really thankful for was the sketchy neighborhood that this leg took me through. I told my van to stay very close to me and make sure they could see me at all times since there weren’t many runners around. As I was heading up and over a pedestrian bridge, another runner came along. He was doing a run/walk, so I joined him. It was nice to have the company and we motivated each other along. We came into the exchange point together and high-fived each other. I was glad to be done. this leg took 39:19 for a 10:36 pace. Other than the last little bit as a team at the finish line, I was done.

I took off my shoes, put on my compression socks and grabbed some food. It felt good to be done, but I felt for my fellow teammates who still had runs to get done. And finally, we could see it. The San Jacinto Monument stood there like a beacon in the night calling to us to come to it. When we got there and our last runner came in, we would be done and could claim those glorious medals we had been running for. What a great feeling that was.

We got our medals, took our team picture on the steps and grabbed some free pizza. I don’t even eat pizza (the cheese makes me sick), but I pulled off the topping and just ate the crust. And let me tell you, that was the best darn pizza I’ve had. I was so hungry.

Over the two days, I ran a total of 27.14 miles. I had a lot of fun with my teammates (yes, even the stranger we found at the last minute – turns out he’s a really great guy) and would even consider doing this again. But next time, we need a team of 12!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mommy / Daughter Trip To New York City

Madison and I have been saying for several years that we needed to do a mommy/daughter trip.  And we had always talked about going to New York.  Since Dalton and Joel would be going to Tampa the first weekend of Spring Break for a soccer showcase, we decided that our mommy/daughter trip would take place the last part of Spring Break and that we would, indeed, head to New York.

I had been to New York with the family the summer between my Junior and Senior years of high school, so I was about the same age then as Madison is now.  Plus, I use to travel to New York several times a year to visit a client at my first job out of college.  I love visiting NY.  And it surprised several people that I was taking Madison there by myself.  But you only live once, right.  We would be just fine.


Wednesday morning we woke up early to catch an 8am flight.  I wanted to get to NY in time to still do a little bit once we landed.  We had a little layover in Chicago where we grabbed some lunch and then caught the next flight to the big apple.  Once we landed, we got in line for a taxi and then headed toward our hotel. 

When I booked the hotel, I remember the name as being The Jewel at Rockefeller Center, so that’s where we went.  We walked in, told them we were checking in and then the lady asked if we had a reservation.  Ummm, yes I do.  I started to pull out my confirmation and she asked “it’s under Madison?”  No.  It’s not supposed to be, but that’s probably the reservation.  She said that we were actually a couple of doors down at the Guest Quarters, which was also a part of their hotel.  Well ok then.  We walk a couple of doors down, check in under Madison’s name and head to our room.

In typically NY fashion, the room is tiny, but it’s nice.  There is a small desk area and the bathroom is fairly large.  It will work for the next few days. 

I had booked the hotel near Times Square because most of what we were wanting to do was in that general area.  We got situated and then walked down the street to Ellen’s Stardust Diner for dinner.  I vaguely remember eating here before on one of my business trips, but wanted Madison to eat here.  It’s fairly touristy, but the wait staff are all aspiring broadway performers, so I thought it would get us in the mood for the shows later in the week.

We were taken to a small table upstairs, but Madison still had a good view of the main dining area.  The food was decent and fairly large portions.  And not unreasonably priced for NY.  During diner, one of the singers came upstairs and sang to Madison. 

After diner we bundled up (it was really cold in NY while we were there – in the 30s and 40s) and headed toward Times Square.  I wanted Madison to see it at night with all the lights.  I think it was a little overwhelming for her.  We started walking the strip and took some pictures.  I asked if she wanted to keep going and she said “no, there are too may people”.  Welcome to NY.  We headed back to the hotel and called it a night.


Thursday morning we got up REALLY early, bundled up and headed over to where the Today Show is filmed.  It was a little confusing at first, but we finally found the “line” to get into the barriers for the outside portion of the Today Show.  We were probably about 20-30 people back in line, so we figured we had a fairly good shot of getting on TV.

Finally it was time to move into the corralled off area and wait…..and wait…..and wait until it was time for Al to come out and do the weather segment.  We had made a sign, but were on the opposite side from Al.  A little while later, Al, Matt and Samantha all came out.  Al walked around and said hi to everyone as did Samantha.  I can’t say the same for Matt.  He came out, did his segment and went right back inside.  I was not impressed.  Unfortunately, due to where we ended up standing, I don’t think we made it on TV.  Oh well.

Once they went back inside, we decided to leave.  We had been out in the freezing cold all morning and wanted to warm up.  There was a cute little bakery right behind us, so we headed inside for a small breakfast and warm drink. 

Once we were a little warm, we headed over to Rockefeller Center and to the Top of the Rock so that we could get a bird’s eye view of NY.  Despite the chilling cold and wind, the views were beautiful.  To see Central Park from that perspective is just amazing.  It’s hard to imagine that big of a park in the middle of all those high rises.

Because of the cold, we didn’t stay long.  We headed back to street level and found a subway station so we could head down to lower Manhattan and the 9/11 Memorial.  Yes, Madison and I rode the subway.  Multiple times in fact.  And we did just fine.

Arriving at the 9/11 Memorial was emotional for me.  As I said before, I had been to NY in my teens and I actually have a picture of the Twin Towers.  I need to scan it and save it before the picture totally fades.  The other reason I got emotional is that I could have been in NY on 9/11 right across from the towers.  The company I worked for in 2011 had been bought out by a company based in NY.  I was in their leadership program, which meant 3-4 leadership meetings throughout the year at various locations in the US.  In May of 2011, we were told that our office would be closing at the end of July.  We could either transfer to another office or leave the company.  I did not want to move, so I chose to leave the company.  Had I not left the company, I would have been in NY on 9/11 for one of the leadership meetings.  I believe things happen for a reason and I am so thankful that I was not there.

I don’t think seeing the Memorial had as much impact on Madison as she was only 6 at the time, but it definitely made an impression on her.  While I wish it had been warmer while we were there so we could spend more time taking it all in, it was powerful to see the reflecting pools and the survivor tree.

From there, we went to St Paul’s Chapel which is where a lot of the first responders went to rest and get some food while working on the site.  There is LOTS of memorabilia in that church.  We spent a good amount of time in there looking at all the posters, cards, well wishes, etc. from those days.  It’s something that everyone should see.

We then headed back north, grabbed some lunch and then went on the Rockefeller Center tour.  We had a City Pass Card and Madison had wanted to do the tour, so why not.  It was actually really good.  We did some walking around the general area of the Rockefeller Center and then also inside of the building, learning about history as we went.  The tour guide was very knowledgeable.  We even got to stand on the very spot where the Christmas Tree stands every year.

We were pretty beat after all the walking, so we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our first Broadway Play.  I love seeing Broadway shows (I got to see several on those client visits, including Chicago, Rent and Broadway Joe’s), so I knew Madison and I would HAVE to see at least one, despite the cost.  Our first choice:  Wicked.  And it did not disappoint.  We had fairly good seats and really enjoyed the experience.  I have a niece who is in acting, and Madison and I could both see her in the main role.

After the show it was back to the room and to bed.  We were totally exhausted.


Friday morning we slept in a little bit, but that doesn’t mean much in my terms.  We got up, had breakfast and walked toward Central Park.  I love Central Park.  One day, I will run in Central Park.  But with it still being in the 30s, today was not that day. 

It’s amazing how as you get closer to Central Park and start walking into it, the city seems to disappear.  I wanted to keep going, but Madison didn’t, so we headed back out.  It was at this point we were approached by a pedicab and offered a tour of Central Park.  We negotiated a price and climbed in.  This wasn’t in our plan, but I’m really glad we did it because he showed us parts of the park we probably would not have seen on our own.  He stopped a few times so we could take photos of some of the locations used in movies and such.  I was very glad we did this.

As we left Central Park, the plan was to walk down 5th Avenue and let Madison drool over the stores there.  We had to take a detour into Tiffany’s.  We stopped on every floor and admired the bright shinning diamonds.  We went into F.A.O. Schwarz and got some candy.  They had a box of Nerds I would have love to buy Dalton, but it was the size of a cereal box and $30.  Plus, I knew he would eat it in one day and then be sick.  No Nerds for Dalton.

After walking a good bit of 5th Avenue, we made our way over to Carnagie Hall.  Madison had also wanted to do a tour here.  While the Hall itself was very impressive and the history was interesting, this tour wasn’t as good as the Rockefeller Center one.  But oh well.  At least we were warm.

We then headed back to the room to shower and get ready for tonight’s show.  Yes, we decided to do two.   I couldn’t resist.  Rock of Ages was playing and it sounded like a great show.  Madison was game, so I got some discount tickets.

We had a little extra time before the show so we went to the Harry Potter Exhibit.  That was actually pretty interesting.  They have some of the clothes worn by the actors in the movie.  It’s funny to see how small they were when the first movie was filmed and then see the progression of their growth by the size of the clothes.  We were glad we did this.

Rock Of Ages did not disappoint.  While Wicked was in one of the largest theaters, Rock of Ages was in one of the smallest theaters.  I don’t think there was a bad seat anywhere.  It was an interesting mix of people in the crowd, and the alcohol was flowing – even DURING the show.  Not your typical Broadway production. 

As we left the show, we saw a huge crowd standing in the street at the theater directly across the street from us.  I looked up to see what was playing there and quickly realized they were waiting for Tom Hanks to come out from the play he was currently staring in.  I told Madison we needed to hang out a little bit.  It was just a few minutes later when he walked out the door, waved to the crowd, got in his limo and drove off.  At least we saw one celebrity on our trip.

Another long, successful day.


We had planned today to be a somewhat relaxing day.  We slept in a little later today and then did our final souvenir shopping.  One of our former youth members from church is a student at NYU, so we had made plans to meet her for brunch.  We headed that way and met her at Grey Dog’s.  Brunch was absolutely yummy!  No wonder the place is so crowded.

As we walked outside to leave, we noticed some stuff falling from the sky.  Um, that’s snow.  We don’t see a lot of that in Texas, so it was kind of exciting.  It wasn’t much at first and it seemed to kind of fade away as well. 

We had wanted to try to find a shop in SoHo, but we ventured into an area where we didn’t really feel that safe.  So, we found a subway station and headed into lower Manhattan again.  We thought that was where we needed to be for our next adventure, but were early, so we walked around the Wall Street area.  It’s amazing how different each area of NY can be from each other. 

We then looked at the map and realized we actually needed to be up north.  We were going to do a 3 hour Circle Line tour.  The “cruise” would take us on a complete circle of Manhattan Island.  I wasn’t sure with the snow if the “cruise” would still take place, but it did.  The snow was coming down pretty good now and I was just glad that the boat we were on was enclosed and had a heater.  We grabbed our seats and set of on the tour.

The main reason we wanted to do the tour was so Madison could see the Statue of Liberty.  Due to hurricane Sandy, the Statue of Liberty was not open to visitors (nor was the island even accessible) while we were there, so the best way to see it was to do the tour.  The boat got fairly close, we got some pics and off we went for the rest of the tour.

The tour guide was great, but I felt at times that we were the only ones listening to him.  I actually enjoyed the ride.  I learned some stuff and saw parts of NY I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.  And the snow just kept coming down.  It was actually really pretty to see some of the park area covered in snow.

After the tour, we caught a cab back to the hotel because it was snowing pretty good and we were just too cold to walk.  So Madison was able to experience all forms of transportation in NY.

After getting warm, we headed back out for diner at a little pizza shop and then headed to the Empire State Building.  We had done the Top of the Rock in the day, so we wanted to do the Empire State Building at night to see the city all lit up.  Unfortunately, due to the snow, we didn’t have as great of a view as we had hoped, but it was still really pretty to see.  We also did the Sky Ride, which is a 3D type video ride that gives you an aerial view of the city.

We were totally exhausted, had done pretty much everything we wanted and planned to do and were ready to get home to the warm Texas air.  We went back to the room, packed our bags and hit the bed. 

Until next time NY.  Because there will be a next time.