The fourth running of the Texas Independence Relay is in the books, as is the first participation of the mighty Most Likely to Secede team (for background on the TIR, see their website and my previous post). If you are a runner and can put together 8 to 12 people for one weekend, I highly recommend that you give this a try. The lack of sleep, unpredictable weather and roadkill dodging are minor inconveniences to the shear magnificence of running in the dead of night under the Texas stars, bonding with people you barely knew before and pushing your body to do something it has probably never done before. Our team rose to the challenge, and blew through our predicted pace, and had more fun than I think any of us predicted. We averaged an 8:37 pace over the 203.3 miles, for 26th out of 75 teams in the Open Mixed category. For a race that was logistically challenging, it was incredibly well organized; kudos to all the volunteers and especially Jay and Joy, the race directors.
These things are always Bert’s fault…or my brother’s, it’s really hard to tell. Bert and I tried to get a team together to run the 2010 TIR, and with his brother, brother-in-law and my brother and nephews, we were close…but we ran out of time.
As if by destiny, this year’s team came together when Bert’s son’s teacher Susanne merged teams, and it really became a family affair of brothers, in-laws, teachers, nieces and random folks; we knew it was meant to be when Sarah let everyone know that she (and maybe Susanne) had been on a soccer team with Bert’s sister in elementary school (!). We had to scramble near the end when we lost my nephew to injury (who would have been one of our two fastest runners), but when our alternate said he hadn’t been training (how’s that again?), team Most Likely to Secede ended up with 11 people (Bert, Erik, Ed, Brandon, Carmen, Andrea, me, Terry, Sarah, Susanne and Anne, with super-drivers Audrey and Sissy) running 3 or 4 legs each.
GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN?
The TIR doesnt’ allow RVs (oh, yes, the thought did cross our minds) so everyone is Van-bound. One our teammates who volunteered to help pick up the two vans took one for the team by slamming into the tool booth gate, thus getting it out of the way so there would be no accidents the rest of the weekend (thanks, C!). Two vans per team, decorated up with shoe polish, stickers and the like, and eventually “tagged” by other teams, who mark their territory on other vans (even the ambulance was tagged).
Our two vans of Texans (plus one New Yorker) had issues finding the party, but luckily that was the only time we were lost all weekend. We ended up at the museum where the starting line would be (surrounded by lit up Texas stars on a fence!), but there was no tent party to be found. Asking one of Gonzales finest was fruitless, even though we later found the party was a block away from where we asked him. A text from my brother saying “we are at the tent” made us truly feel lost; he could fly from Virginia to find the tent but we Texans could not!
The tent party featured Lone Star Beer; a relay that runs through the Shiner Brewery with no Shiner Boch? This is one of my few complaints about the TIR, but they made up for it by having US Olympian Leo Manzano at the tent party signing autographs. The Mullets and some girls team with stripped socks were in rare form, but it was a short night for all. We headed for the poorly named Carefree Inn in Luling (not recommended for your next *anything*), where most bedded down for a restless sleep, in anticipation of the big event (note to self: sleep the night before would have been a good thing).
WE HAVE LIFTOFF!
A cool front blew in Friday night, and the morning was cold, windy and grey. After a pit stop at the Bucee’s in Luling for breakfast tacos (which some of us would regret later) and tattoos, we made the thirty minute drive to Gonzales. The teams were set up for staggered start based on predicted pace, slowest first; there was a one man team who started Thursday night, and a three man team that started Friday night. Our predicted pace of 9:00 per mile had us starting at 9:26; the fastest teams were starting five hours later, and would disgustingly blaze by us in the wee hours of the morning.
As we pulled up to the start line, we saw a line of ladies dress in skirts, down in a sprinters stance at the starting line. We knew these chicks would be our nemesis, the dreaded “Tutus”. They started 45-60 minutes before us, and we would chase them through out the weekend. Motivation is found in the strangest places (wearing the strangest outfits!).
Leo Manzano was at the starting line, and took pics with us. Then we were off, jogging our 1.15 mile team lap through the nearly deserted streets of downtown Gonzales (note that I too would not be out cheering for runners I didn’t know in cold and windy weather).
FIRST LEG, NIGHT LEG, CHASE LEG, LAST LEG(there’s a Dr. Suess book in there somewhere!)
For me, the four legs were completely different experiences, each extremely challenging, and all but the brutal final leg quite enjoyable.
The first leg is where all of the adrenaline that you’ve been building up since you decided to cross the line between sanity and lunacy, and actually do the TIR. Since we were running a close to alternating leg style, the first eleven legs were a first leg for each team member. Bert is always a jack rabbit in the races, and he got us out to a big start on the 4.26 mile first leg, hitting a 7:57 page; Erik cut through the hardest leg of the entire relay (leg 3, a 8.78 miler) like it was warm butter, with a 6:57 pace; Brandon did what a fast young man wearing green knee high socks is supposed to do to the shortest and easiest leg of the course (leg 5): he powered through the 2.45 miles of keg littered beauty at a 6:35 pace, faster than we thought (forcing Ed to barrel out of the ubiquitous blue portacans!); and Susanne, who waited the longest, until leg 11, and had so much pent up energy we thought we might have to nail her to the van, did her 6.41 miles in an 8:11 pace.
My first leg, leg 10, of 6.17 miles, was accomplished at an 8:10 pace, a speed I haven’t run since being chased by very large men on a rugby pitch many years ago.
Without fail, all eleven team members beat their predicted pace on the first leg.
With the exception of Anne (who pulled a quick 2nd leg when I had to re-swizzle the schedule when my nephew had to pull out), everyone’s second leg was a nighttime leg, the experience most of us had been looking forward to. Running under the Texas night, even though it was so cold the cows were complaining, was a fantastic experience. Add to it the bobbing red flashy lights, and the occasional runner in a thong (he had more cojones than me…literally!), and it was a memory of a lifetime. We “stalked” the ladies at night, making sure we could see them in front or behind us, just to be Texas gentlemen and be on the safe side.
The one problem with the nighttime runs is that is when the fast teams start passing you. I was feeling good about my run on leg 24, a 5.43 miler that I did at a 8:15 pace, passing four “roadkills” (runners you pass are called roadkills) and suddenly…five speedsters blew by me on their way to San Jacinto (i.e., I looked like the bird).
The shoe was on the other foot for the third leg, which I call the chase leg; we started catching up to those runners who were slower than us, who started after us. And we were still stalking the Tutus! Andrea started us off, taking the two legs in Cinco Ranch (after Erik chased down his ration of roadkills), then everyone got into the act. My third leg was a 4.47 miler, and my 8:25 pace had me bagging four roadkills
Legs 35-40, the dreaded fourth and final legs. Bert, Brandon, Erik, Terry, then me and Anne in clean up. It was getting much warmer, the legs were already sore, and there was no beer to be found that Sunday morn (if I’d have had a beer, I would be crashed out like my crack support team in the photo below). Erik the Bionic man ran his leg like it was his first, a scorching 6:34 pace over 4.36 miles (his shortest leg) and HE PASSED A TUTU!!!
I was worried about Anne running the last leg, which was 5.32 miles and went over a bridge. She had been nursing a sore foot all day. We’d been told to have a guy run leg 39 because of the area, but it was a nice neighborhood. It was hot, but I finished my final 3.3 miles at an 8:18 pace, crying because there was no beer at the finish line (who put this damn schedule together? Oh…it was me.).
Then it was all up to Anne. She came into the San Jacinto Monument park entrance so fast I could not keep up with her jogging along; a very appropriate and inspirational finish!
TIGER BALM, MEATLOAF SANDWICHES and OTHER DELIGHTS
My cool points with Erik went up when he found out I had (and borrowed) my Tiger Balm, that lovely smell slightly covering the general odor of the van. My bionic knee only survived two Black Belt tests because of that magic goop, and I wasn’t going to do the TIR without it. Erik was obviously a more serious runner, so I knew it was either a good ointment or extremely psychosomatic…and both worked. By the third and fourth legs, Terry, Anne and Bert had joined us in putting the stinky stuff on our parts that were ailing, and it helped us push through to the monument.
The TIR handbook and the captains video mentions making it a point to eat real food. When my wife saw this, she asked if I wanted meatloaf sandwiches. That’s like asking a vampire if he’d like blood on the side. My wife’s meatloaf is killer, and it hit the spot for lunch both days. Salty almonds and breakfast muffins saved the day as well.
The one item I will bring next year: binoculars. Those roads are long, and it is hard to tell which runner coming up is yours!
I saw a few teams that had the runners alternating as drivers, but I’m convinced having my wife Audrey and Bert’s wife Sissy as our drivers saved us hours of agony and confusion. They didn’t drive all the time, but they drove a lot, especially at night when we were stalking the runners. We’ll try to bribe them into doing it again next year.
TEXAS HISTORY, BABY!
And, yes, since this event coincides with major happenings in Texas History, it was also an opportunity to enjoy some of the sites where General Sam Houston started the retreat (or clever ensnarement, depending on which history book) from Gonzales to San Jacinto. There are a great number of Texas Historical Markers along the route, including one I read that marks where Houston and his army camped after they hightailed it out of Gonzales.
Speeding along I-10 between San Antonio and Houston, travellers like myself rarely pull off to look at the towns that the freeway bypasses. Luckily, this is not an option when running the TIR. We spent some time in Schulenburg (Polka Museum!), Columbus (very cool fire tower, surrounded by Texas Historical Markers, including one about the first Texas Rangers formed by Stephen F. Austin), Shiner, Wallis, Moulton, Flatonia and many others. It was a good reminder to not speed on by, but to pull off and stop somewhere besides Bucees on the trips home to see Mom in S.A.
The other teams were great, turning the race and running into a secondary activity after meetin’ and greetin’.
We chased the Tutus (I believe their real team name was “Fear Me: I’m a Mother”…which one could interpret in a variety of ways!).
We tagged cars with the Mullets (I believe their real team name was “Mullets”).
We waited with everyone else at Exchange 3 while Gary from team WTF? waited for the handoff…then after several minutes,Gary took off and did leg 4 (another 4.66 miles on top of the 8.78 he just did); then they changed their name to “Where’s Gary?”. Same thing happened at leg 30, where my brother was waiting for a handoff from and Brandon, and a runner from Perfect Strangers came busting through, looked around and yelled “You’ve got to be kidding me!” when he saw no one there to get the baton. We waited with him for several minutes, then a runner from his team who didn’t have that leg decided to run it…he and my brother ran and chatted for a long time.
There were a few minor nuisances, like the guy who flipped us off when we honked our support, or the kids who weren’t quite sure what to say when we asked how old they were (they were too fast, making US feel old). But overall, the support from the fellow runners was heartfelt camaraderie.
CRAMPED IN THE VAN WITH NEW FRIENDS
A van packed with friends and strangers is like a box of chocolates: you never know what your gonna get (note: we did see a Forrest Gump lookalike at the end!). But somehow, we ended up with a great, close knit team (even though some of us are related!). I am certain that our van was in good spirits due to the fact that Terry and I were the only ones that took advantage of the shower in Willis (we all know the girls don’t sweat).
The team was great; I look forward to running with all who want to again next year.
Van 2 took a much needed dinner break in Columbus while Van 1 kept on running. While we were sitting in a Schoebels Restaurant, a lady at the next table asked us what we were doing. With much enthusiasm, Audrey, Anne, Sarah and Susanne described our event. The lady responded: “Don’t you have anything better to do on a weekend?”
Short of going to another Rocket’s Championship, a beautiful beach with my wife or my kid’s college graduations….no, I really can’t think of anything better to do than run the TIR with friends. TIR 2010 was a fantastic event, with people I look forward to running it with again and again. The end of the event was only the beginning.