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!