This past weekend was the inaugural Texas Independence Relay, a 207-mile relay off-the-charts ultra marathon. It tested every aspect of every athlete participating in it. Apparently, my mantra from the 2007 racing season continues: "Gee, imagined if I would have trained."
TIR was broken into forty legs, not including a prologue and epilogue. The pro & epilogues would be run by the team as a whole, while each of the forty legs would be run by individual members of the team. The team fortunate enough to have someone of my intensity, especially with regards to training (refer to aforementioned mantra to discover just how serious I am about training), was composed of eight employees of N---'s workplace (including N---), a trio of teenage cross country runners, and mois. Our team name was "San Antonio Soles," and, while not my personal preference for a team name, it apparently didn't hurt us, nor did my running each of my legs in a skirt.
The lead-up to TIR was typical of my racing the past year or so: Train at the absolute minimum due to either work or weather. To a certain degree, I think it was even below the minimum, as I seem to still be somewhat recovering from my post-White Rock injury (yeah, that one; it's been, what, nearly three months?). Funny thing about the whole knee bit is that running the 27.49 miles this past weekend seemed to have helped it. Weird, I know.
Somewhat of a training schedule was attempted, though, mostly focused around multiple 10ks on the Parkway. Unfortunately, the weather 'round these parts has been wackier than usual, so most of those planned 10ks were sidelined. Other than the final leg of the relay, it didn't seem to affect me much; my times were decent, considering how out of shape I was (and still am; where the @#%* is spring?), how far I had to run, and my absolute lack of adequate nutrition over the weekend. But I get ahead of myself.
Come race morning, N--- & I headed to the Institute to meet up with the rest of the team. I kind of didn't like that I had to drive the 30+ miles THE OTHER WAY before going to Gonzales, but the company made it worthwhile. The plan was to meet at 4:45, so N--- & I were there, ready to roll by 4:30. We didn't get under way until well after 5:00, making it look like we weren't going to make it to our registration time of 6:30...but, we did. With a superb striking of a gong (don't ask; I didn't) by N---, the Soles were on course, covering the 1.13 mile prologue in just over ten minutes. From there, it was into the van and off to Shiner to wait for our van to become active. Killing time in a doughnut shop, I graded some papers and took a little jog around the block to loosen up my legs; it was supposed to be eight hours before my first leg. Yeah, supposed to be.
Remember those cross country runners I mentioned? Thanks to their speedy leg work, as well as the concerted efforts of everyone else on the team, we were running nearly 90 minutes ahead of schedule. By the time S--- was spotted heading towards the red tent, I was stretched, hydrated, and ready to run, SportKilt and all. As S--- slapped the band on my wrist to start my leg, I glanced at the time: 2:42. This was going to be an awesome race.
Leg #1: Stage 11: Flatonia to Schulenberg
The 6.36 miles were completed in 50:06, averaging 7:52. While disappointed at not having hit closer to a 7:30 mile, I had to keep in mind several things: 1) It was hot; 2) I was unfamiliar with the terrain; 3) I'd been up without sleep since 3:30 in the morning; 4) I was
J--- ran after I did, so after his leg, we decided to head into Columbus for dinner. Most of the van went to Whataburger for burgers, but there was a Denny's next door, and a real, sit-down style meal was just too tempting. For the record, it would be nearly 1:00 the next afternoon, which made my French Toast Slam all the tastier, even in retrospect.
Leg #2: Stage 21: Eagle Lake - Chesterville
Darkness spread its cloak over the TIR in grand fashion. Stars sequined the cloak, bringing back childhood memories of stargazing and a feeling of heartache that, save a worldwide power failure, I would never see a sky like that near my home ever again. Sigh.
Digression aside, the evening legs would prove to be everyone's best, given the perfect running conditions. Granted, some stretches were somewhat scary, most of all, S---'s crossing of some river whose name escapes me. The promised police officers were either late or otherwise not there, making for what could have been a rather harrowing crossing, but the Department of Public Safety arrived shortly before S--- did at the bridge. True, the conditions were not idyllic, but S--- did make it across safely, as, apparently, did all other runners.
My leg would begin just after 9:30 that night, a 6.76-mile journey from the middle of nowhere to the edge of nowhere. However, I knew N--- was waiting for me, so I hurried myself as quickly as I would allow, given that I knew I had two legs remaining and that sleep would be a luxury we were likely to have to do without. Time for this leg clocked in at 52:09, averaging 7:40/mile. This was closer to my intended target pace. Too bad it would be the closest I would get.
Leg #3: Stage 31: Hershey Trail - Houston
"Bigfoot is scared of rhino noises."
Such was the advice of another team awating their runner in George Bush Park a little after four in the morning. Closer to the city, the stars had been drowned out by the glow of the gluttonous lights of H-town, making for an incredibly dark run. My headlamp, though, kept my path illuminated, including the "Bridge Out - 1 Mile" sign I spotted fifteen minutes into my run. Thankfully, the bridge was not really out, and I traversed the 6.79 miles without incident, save the loss of my reflective belt when I shed my long-sleeve shirt shortly after crossing the aforementioned bridge; the humidity was horrible.
Malnutrition was beginning to take its toll on me by this point. My stomach was in knots prior to the start of the stage, but mercifully subsided for most of the run. By the time I finished, I was famished, and my time reflected that the stage that remained to be run would be the most difficult of all. For stage 31, though, I managed a pathetic pace of 8:36/mile, racking up a stage time totaling 58:28. I suck but would suck more before we made it to San Jacinto.
Leg #4: Stage 38: South Houston - Deer Park
Daybreak brought no relief to my stomach. I was on the verge of hurling what remained of my Denny's feast from the evening before and the few bananas and Clif Bars I'd managed to ingest since when I spotted J--- making his way to me. He looked how I felt, and I knew I would look even worse at the conclusion of the next 6.45 miles. Just shy of an hour later, I would be proven correct. Sometimes, it wouldn't be so bad to be wrong, and I do wish this could have been one of those times.
There were some memorable spots to this leg, though. In addition to getting "Chick'd" (all-woman's team whose slogan on the back of the team shirts stated, "You just got CHICK'D") by a former Olympian, a support van helped me with navigation, hydration, and encouragement -- the latter provided in a Scottish accent, no less. Funny how the Scotsman was about the only one on-course not to comment on my attire (law enforcement seemed to like it; gang bangers cruising the hood Sunday morning didn't), but I, again, digress.
Stage 38 proved itself challenging for more than just the exhaustion, though. Myriad turns and obstacles (cars, brush, dogs, aforementioned gang bangers) made the course particularily difficult, but not insurmountable. Once I got my bearing on the directions and realized how close I was to the finish, I was able to pick up the pace some, but would prove to be trivial, for my finishing time for the 6.45-mile Sunday morning jaunt through the neighborhood clocked in at 56:26; 8:45/mile. Still, I didn't care, but for the .36-mile epilogue, my running for the Texas Independence Relay was over. Yee-
What Doesn't Kilt You...
N--- brought the team home in style. Her form looked great, and the smile on her face, all the way to the finish, was a site for tired, sore eyes. Not to be outdone by her boyfriend in his kilt, N--- even wore a sport skirt as she brought us all home.
And so we finished. Total team time was 29:12:43 (8:36/mile) to cover the 207 miles and miles of Texas. Out of 63 teams in our division, we finished 19th. After crossing the finish, we received our finisher's medal (hefty things, too, although bailing wire, instead of the red zip ties, would have been a nicer touch), pizzas (warm food!), and beverages. Faces stuffed, we piled back in to the vans and headed home...well, to S---'s parents' home, first, for a much-needed shower. Gotta say, were it not for that post-race shower, the mid-race shower (and hour or so sleep) in the hotel rooms S--- scored for us using her rewards points, and the uber-comfy support van, the experience would have been drastically different. Thank you, S---, for everything.
Of course, thanks goes out to everyone on the team. The crew in van #2 totally rocked, for, apart from my snap when trying to navigate out of downtown H-town, not a harsh word was to be had amongst us all. Van #1 was just that, too, for, were it not for the cross country super stars, our pace would not have been as high as it was.
A poet once wrote that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Thankfully, he didn't have to smell us or our vans, for we smelled anything but sweet. However, a team by any other name, or with any other people at the helm or on the run, would not have had the soul to survive the intensity of the 2008 Texas Independence Relay. That's not to say I'm definitely running it again next year (TIR's proximity to TAKS is a major detractor, plus, I'm still considering IMAZ for 2009), but were I to, I can think of no better teammates to have.
Long post, I know, but thanks for reading.