Eleven runners. Two vans. Two hundred and three miles. This is just one of eleven stories to tell about the Texas Independence Relay.
We all met up to decorate and load up the vans Saturday morning. Our team, Team Austinia (a take on the TV show Portlandia) met up and headed out to Paige, Texas Saturday morning for the official start. I was in Van #2 with four other people, and Van #1 led the way with their six runners. In true Portlandia form (which as it turns out only one person on the team watched) our team motto was put a bird on it.
Teams are staggered so that the slower ones start first with the intention of all teams finishing around the same time. The first team (out of 155 finishers) went off at 6am. We arrived at the starting area about an hour before our 1:35pm start time, with only 6 teams starting after us. Yea, that meant we were supposed to be fast.
Each team starts their journey with the firing of a cannon and all team members run the “Prologue” together. After the 0.38 mile Prologue, the first team runner continues on solo for the first leg of the race. Starting at 1:35pm meant it was really hot. Like 80+ degrees. I asked my van-mates how serious (read: fast) we were going to be running this weekend. I got all kinds of “oh, not fast at all. Just running for fun.” That worked for me.
Being in the second van, that meant all six runners in the first van would run their respective legs of the race, and then hand the
baton slap bracelet onto our van’s first runner. We drove along the course to cheer people on and stopped at the first few exchange points to chat with other teams. Our first runner, Kim, went out at a solid pace on the hot, dusty road to pass off to Gerardo at the first exchange point. He laid down a blistering 6:11 min/mi pace for his 3.9 miles.
We headed up to where our first runner, Cherisse, the team captain, would be starting. Things were about to get real. Then Amber (who would be last in our van to run) said something to the effect of “I don’t know what you guys are thinking, but I’ll probably run my first mile easy and then see how I’m feeling to pick up the pace.” I later learned that meant “I’m gonna start pretty fast and then crank it.” So much for taking it easy.
Once Cherisse got on her way, we drove our van up about halfway through her first leg and waited on the side of the road to cheer her on and give her some water. She was flying.
From then on we followed the pattern of changing out our runners at each exchange for the rest of the five in our van. I was 4th in our van to run and had a straight 6.1 miles to tackle. The sun was at my back and my legs were restless from sitting, so I was determined to make good time. If ever you needed an example of going out too fast and then trying to hold on, this was it. I flew out of the start and slowed down considerably once my body realized how dumb my head was. Around Mile 4 I was passed, but otherwise saw no other runners during my run. It was a straight shot with long, gradual hills before the hand-off to Amber.
After Amber finished up, passing the slap bracelet to Van #1, we got some down home cookin’ at Frank’s Restaurant. Fed and tired, we drove all the way to the next exchange point to try to nap in the van. I wasn’t able to fall asleep, but rested my legs. Not much later, Cherisse’s time to run was upon us and she headed out for her second run. We repeated the same process throughout the rest of our van’s runs.
My second run started at 1:28am. The time wasn’t so much an issue, nor the darkness. The worst part was it was exactly like running on a treadmill, except for the cloud of bugs and smell of roadkill I passed. I couldn’t see anything and it was dead straight. That said, it was much cooler and I was taking it much easier than run #1, so I had a lot more fun. Around mile 3 I saw what I thought were car headlights ahead. Well that car never got
closer, because I was actually running towards the next exchange point, which was straight ahead and visible from 3 miles out. At least I was able to pass 4 people during this run!
Normally around this time we’d swing by the designated local high school, pay our $5 donation per runner, use their showers to clean up a little, and get some sleep on their gym floor. We, however, were
lucky that one runner in our van, Liz, said we could swing by her parents’ house. It was only about 30 minutes away, with real showers and places to sleep. Her mom even set up pillows and blankets and laid out a spread of breakfast foods for us. It was one of the best showers I’d ever taken, but the one hour nap was cruelly short. Regardless, clean and slightly rested, we got back on the road with a few minutes to spare before Cherisse was to start her third run.
Each of my van-mates had been laying down solid times, so when my third run rolled around at 8:14am, I felt the pressure. Instead of straight, highway road routes, this time I got to run in Terry Hershey Park on the west side of Houston. It was late enough in the day that there were plenty of non-Relay runners on the trail. But that didn’t stop me from counting all 13 relay runners that I passed. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, but my legs wouldn’t let me forget the last 18 hours of sitting and running. They felt like they were made of wood–no bounce, no spring, no life. It was a miracle I was able to hold the pace that I did.
After Amber finished up our van’s third go-round, we were nearly finished. Van #1 all had a fourth run, plus Cherisse had the final, 40th leg of the race. We found a nice spot to hang out for a few hours and have a snack and nap before heading to the final exchange point.
Thankfully after my third run I could just relax. We got ourselves over to the second to last exchange and watched Ryan come cruising in around noon (read: 83 degrees) and hand off to Molly. Finally, it was time for Cherisse to bring it home. While waiting for her, this mountain of a man, Toby, from the National Guard team introduced himself while not so subtly sizing up Cherisse. Well Cherisse headed out about 10 seconds ahead of Toby and we started taking bets how badly she’d beat him. Unexpectedly he passed her after about a mile, but we weren’t worried. A few people from the team ran up the one bad hill around Mile 2 with Cherisse (with Toby notably ahead) for encouragement and then we were all off to meet her at the finish line.
Not much later, we saw Cherisse flying down the home stretch towards the finish line. What we didn’t see was Toby. She left him in her dust after they were both stuck at a railroad crossing for a few minutes. [side note: turns out the National Guard team ran the whole relay with 6 runners, and Toby was on his 7th leg, well over 30 total miles. #impressed]
As Cherisse crossed the finish line, we all ran together as part of the untimed Epilogue of the race, ceremoniously running as one team up to the monument. After receiving our giant medals and taking some official race pictures, we got our free Papa Johns pizzas and finally got to all relax as a team.
The unofficial results say there were 146 teams that finished, and we came in 6th overall! We were the 2nd open-mixed division team to finish out of 101! Our total time was 24 hours 35 minutes. That’s a team average pace of 7:19 min/mile. I had an amazing time getting to meet new people and make new friends. Can’t wait to do it again next year!