Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Hill Country Tour

The Easter Hill Country Tour is 3 days of riding over Easter weekend in Kerrville. It's also a ride I thought I'd never do, after hearing Del talk about the super steep long hills and descents. After the RAAM ride Ingrid asked if I was coming to EHCT, hmmm, I'll consider it. I had decided I wasn't going, but then with all the electrical issues at our house I wasn't excited about being at home, especially since Jeff had to work most of the weekend. After a little encouragement from Jeff, Ingrid, and Amy, I decided I'd go, I had to work on Friday so I missed day 1 of riding, but I got to Kerrville at 7:00 and met everyone at Grape Juice for dinner- Yum!!

I was staying at a house with 10 other people, the only people I knew were Ingrid and Amy. Luckily everyone was really fun and really nice. I ended up rooming with Kelly who is in Texas Iron. We all went to bed early on Friday to get up early Saturday and ride, but Kelly and I talked and laughed until I was sure Mark and Caroline in the room next door would come tell us to be quiet!

Ingrid, Amy, Kelly, & Keith planned to ride 100 miles, I planned on 80 and Anjy, Simon, Guy, Diane, Mark & Caroline planned to ride 33. This meant I'd be riding alone, but I knew that before I decided to go. I hoped I might run into Betsy & Amy out on the course and maybe see Del & "Ronger" for a little while. Those of us riding longer got up early and got over to the University early so I could register and we could get an early start. We got going, but only a mile or 2 into the ride Kelly got a flat! She & Keith had it changed in less than 5 minutes, but while we were waiting Betsy & David came riding by and stopped to say hi. Then as we were getting ready to start again, a group was riding towards us, it was our 33 milers! They thought it was hilarious that we had gotten up so early to get a head start and by mile 2 they had caught us anyway! Guy & Caroline were trash talking like crazy and everyone was talking & laughing and having a great time! I had scoped out the course on map my ride and knew there was a big hill coming at mile 7, I turned the corner and saw it and immediately thought "there's no way I can make it up that!!" but I kept pedaling..and pedaling...and pedaling and eventually realized there was a pretty good chance I'd make it all the way! I was breathing so loud I could barely hear anything else when someone behind me said "hi Heather!", I don't think I even looked, but then Wilmer was right beside me! "Hey Heather, how's it going? How have you been?...." I think I got out "Hey... Wilmer!" but that was about it and then he was gone! Still good to see him even if I couldn't talk to him. And I made it up the big hill!

At mile 14 we rolled into rest stop 1, we waited for everyone to catch up, I saw Shellie from Houston and Del & "Ronger". I feel like we hung out there forever! Kelly ended up getting another flat and decided to call it a day. Ingrid and I finally took off on what we thought was the 100/80 mile route, I didn't see a green arrow (the 80 mile color) but I saw red so I assumed we were good. We saw a couple of our group doing 30 miles and started to wonder if we made a wrong turn out of the rest stop. Finally Ingrid talked with a couple and they said they were definitely on the 33/51 mile route. So we decided to turn around and go back to the aid station and get on our route. We saw some of our group doing the 33 mile on our way back. We went about 7 miles out of the way and made the proper turn at aid station 1 this time! I was a little annoyed that we'd made the wrong turn just because I really didn't want to ride more than 80 miles, but I knew I could take the 60 mile route (now 67 for me) or SAG in if I got too tired. I was still having so much FUN! Ingrid would sprint up ahead, then turn around and ride with me for awhile or she'd get ahead of me on an uphill and I'd race to catch her on a flat, we had a great time talking and looking at the beautiful Kerrville scenery! We got to rest stop 2 at the Guadalupe River at mile 39 (for us).
At that point Ingrid said she was going to race ahead and see if she could catch Amy on the 100 mile route, but she might wait for me at hwy #9. As much as I loved riding with Ingrid, I was a little happy because I had been riding faster than I normally would on such a hilly route and I was afraid my legs would get too tired later. We took off and Ingrid left me in the dust. I came to the turn off for the 80 mile route and decided to go ahead and take it. It was so quiet and beautiful out there! Almost no cars at all, just a few other cyclists. I really should have stopped to take more pictures!

I got to hwy 87 and turned, then I saw red tape on the ground but no green so I kept going. I thought maybe I missed a turn, but I saw riders in front of me, and lots of riders behind me, so I knew I was right. But as I rode I looked at my cue sheet and realized I was only supposed to be on 87 for .2 miles, I had already gone more than 1/2 a mile! So I stopped and looked around, some of the people behind me were turning around, so I went back and made the turn. This detour was totally worth it because I saw the biggest most beautiful field of bluebonnets ever! I didn't stop & get a picture (I should have).
I didn't stop for a pic while riding but Amy & I did stop on the way to Lukenbach on Sunday
The next road was narrow, winding, and really pretty, with nice views, loose livestock (and cattleguards) and lots of hills! It felt like a lot of uphill and the wind was starting to pick up some. My legs were getting more tired on every uphill, but I was still really enjoying the ride! I got to hwy #9 and no Ingrid- thank goodness she didn't wait! By the time I made the wrong turn and everything she would have been waiting forever! I got to the next rest stop and was really ready for a break! I talked with the volunteers and they told me about the Bat Tunnel Park (again I should have stopped for a photo op!) Trey from Houston saw me and came over to talk, he had seen Ingrid and said she was on the 80 mile route not the 100 so I should go catch her! Yeah right!! Hwy #9 was also really pretty! It was a little more downhill but there was a little headwind and still some uphills, I was feeling every uphill at this point and not sure I wanted to do the last 20 miles of steep hills back to Kerrville! I decided I'd ride to Comfort and see how I felt. A few miles before Comfort the road turned to awful horrible chip seal and that's when I decided that I was going to SAG in. I probably could have done the last 20 miles but I think I would have been pretty miserable before it was over. I rode into Comfort, stopped at the little grocery store and called the SAG # and figured if they couldn't get me I'd call Mark & Caroline (they were worried about me riding alone and had insisted that I take their # and call if I needed anything- super nice of them!!). The SAG van was there in 10 minutes. They took my bike and got me a cold Coke (talk about a good end to a ride! comfy seat, A/C, and a cold Coke!) then another rider rode up to ask directions, I was about to give him my map when he said "you know...that air conditioned van looks pretty good!" He got in and we rode back to town. The route back was really pretty with a view of the river for a lot of it, but there were also some seriously steep looking hills! I was happy with my decision to SAG in and I had really enjoyed my ride! 68 hilly, beautiful, fun miles!

We got back to the university and I texted Ingrid, she said she was at the mile 73 rest stop, so I figured she should be finished in about 30 minutes. I put my stuff away and hung out to wait for her. After more than 30 minutes I texted and called, I was getting worried. I was about to go drive the course backwards looking for her when she called and said "I'm just now in Comfort" Somehow Trey had been mistaken, Ingrid did do the 100 mile route and she was still 20+ miles from the finish. So I went back to the house and cleaned up and heard about everyone's rides. The 33 milers had a good but challenging ride. Amy and Keith ended up taking some wrong turns too and ended up with 70 miles instead of 100. Amy was disappointed she didn't get to ride through Lukenbach, but otherwise everyone had a good day of riding (except poor Kelly with too many flats). While we were hanging out Simon said I looked familiar, we figured out that when Jeff & I lived in Houston, he was our mailman and he remembered me!! That was our "Small World" moment of the weekend! Ingrid finally made it back and had ridden 115 miles (with the wrong turns and turn arounds)- Wow!!
Anjy & I with the mom & baby giraffe at the YO Resort
Mark & Caroline were leaving that night and Kelly had already left, but the rest of us went to the dinner at the YO Resort. Fionna and Hans from Houston sat with us and we had so much fun!! I'm pretty sure we were "those people" you know- the ones laughing way too loud and acting crazy! We had a Chicken Dance contest with another table, and I laughed until I cried! They did door prizes and a few of us won. I won some chain lube and water bottle, Guy acted sad that he hadn't won, so I threw him my bottle.
And then I laughed til I cried again! We ended up staying up late laughing and talking at the house (even Ingrid was up past 11:00!!) So the Sunday morning plan was to sleep in and ride whenever we got up.

Ingrid took off riding a little earlier on Sunday while the rest of us decided to be lazy and start later. We were all going to ride the 20 mile route and take it easy (except Ingrid of course). The 20 mile route was part of the Kerrville Tri course so I had ridden it before and I knew it wasn't too hilly, even so, I couldn't talk Guy into riding again, he was just too worn out. The rest of us rode together and talked and laughed and had a great time! Keith and I sang "Lukenbach Texas" loud & proud (in our horrible singing voices) as we rode up 173. I'm sure Amy, Anjy & Simon were behind us laughing like crazy! About 7 miles in, we saw Ingrid riding toward us! She turned around and joined us. Before the ride I think Anjy had said "it's only 20 miles so we won't stop at the rest stop" haha! We were there taking pictures of the river and each other for at least 20 minutes!

Yeah, we took A LOT of pictures! These are just a few of the best ones! We saw Del & "Ronger" but missed Betsy, David, Amy & Matt (apparently if we had taken a few more pictures they would have passed us). We rode back together talking about how much fun the weekend had been and how we were all coming back next year! We stopped off at the state park to look at the river and then rode back to the university.
Ingrid, Guy and I went back to the state park for a swim, well, Guy hung out while Ingrid and I swam. The water was great, a little cold getting in but then really comfortable! We swam about 30 minutes and as we were getting out Del & "Ronger" showed up to have lunch at the park. We said goodbye to them and went back to pack up at the house. Everyone except Ingrid stopped off at Lukenbach to have a beer and lunch before going home.
 This is the most fun weekend I've had in a long time and I think the rides are probably on my top 5 all-time favorite rides. I can't believe just last year I said I'd never do this ride and now I already can't wait for next year!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Texas Independence Relay

Big medal for a big race! Photo by
I had never really thought about TIR as something I wanted to do but when Monica posted that they were looking for team members I told her I'd be willing. At the time they had 12 people, so I became an alternate. I didn't really think I'd get called up, but about a week or 2 before the race Monica said they needed me, so I'd get to become a Running Chupacabra!

Time to figure out what TIR is all about! It's a relay race from Paige, TX to the San Jacinto Monument, 201.9 miles, teams of up to 12 people take turns running the 40 legs. Most teams take 2 vans of 6 people so the inactive van has a chance to rest a few hours while the active van races to support their runner, and get to each exchange point with the next runner ready to take over. Pre-race, the only Chupacabra I knew was Monica, and I would be in van 2 with Monica, Amanda, Jennifer, and Ian (only 5 since we only had 11 total). I really had no idea how to pack or what to expect, this would be an adventure!
Ready to start! Photo by
Race morning was pretty low key and not a crazy early morning. Teams start one at a time every few minutes and our start was at 8:30, pretty late when you're used to triathlons. But the excitement started when we realized we had to get to Paige, not Bastrop, and almost missed our start! Luckily van 1 was already there and they were doing the first legs, but everyone starts together and runs about 1/2 a mile, we made it with less than 10 minutes to spare! The cannon start was pretty cool, we all jogged together, then Logan took off for the first leg.
Smitty in Smithville
We had a few hours to wait so we drove to Smithville and the 3rd exchange point. We had a picnic on the sidewalk, and painted our van. Van decor and costumes are a big part of TIR, I had no idea! We had chupacabra teeth on our van. Some teams really went all out! Tagging other team vans is also a fun part of TIR so we drew little chupacabra faces on other vans when they weren't around. We were in the middle of nowhere most of the day, it was pretty and there were lots of wildflowers, and with other vans and runners it was fun, but otherwise it would have been deserted out there! Our van started running about 1pm, it was getting pretty warm out and everyone was complaining about the heat. I figured it was good that I'd be running around 2 or 3pm since I tend to handle the heat better than most people. I didn't bring my fuel belt since I was only running 4-6 miles at a time. If I had realized it was going to be 85+ and humid out I would have brought it and some Infinit for the extra electrolytes.
Pig van!
Another team's van tagged with a little Chupcabra head, and yes he says "chupa me"
Amanda ran our first leg and I was next. I got the slap band from Amanda at the exchange point and started running. I had hoped to have a really good run and help our team make up a little time (we all sent in anticipated times, so each team had a predicted finish time, that's also how they started teams, slower teams started earlier so most teams would finish around the same time) we were a little off pace due to the heat and I wanted to make up a little of that. My leg was 4.5 miles with a few hills and no shade whatsoever. I also had a headwind and kept telling myself that the breeze felt good, but really it was a hot breeze and I don't think it kept me cool at all. My legs felt tired and tight from the start, not sure if that was from sitting in the van so many hours or from not running for a couple days, probably both. I felt hot but not horrible, I don't think the heat slowed me down too much. We had talked about road kill earlier and I ran around a huge dead snake in the road! Probably good that was my leg and not someone who might have been afraid of snakes. A little past mile 1 I saw my team with ice and water for me, I was so happy to see them! Amanda said "you're smiling, are you delirious?" Monica told her I always smile even when I'm miserable :) I put some ice in my hat and took a drink and ran on. The team got me more ice and water between miles 2 & 3 and sometime after mile 3 my legs started to feel better- Yay! I hoped my 2nd and 3rd legs would be a little faster. I ended up finishing my first leg 2 or 3 minutes behind my expected time. Normally I wouldn't really be upset about that, but running with a team I felt bad for not at least meeting my expected time.
It was pretty desolate out where I ran, but my team took good care of me!
One of the exchange points- later when navigation got tough we were super happy to see those flags and red tents!
For the next few legs I got ice and water for our runners and navigated the course, it felt a lot like crewing for Ingrid at Ultraman Canada...pass the runner & cheer out the window, pull over get water, ice, etc, ready, watch for the runner, give them what they need and repeat...over and over. The exchange points were pretty fun, usually pretty crowded so it was fun to see other teams' vans and costumes. Van 1 took over again around 6pm, so we decided to find some dinner. Thank goodness for iphones! Between navigation, checking runners' times, and finding dinner, gas, etc. I don't know what we would have done without a few iphones! We found a place in Columbus for dinner, the food was really good, or maybe I was just really hungry! I even had a Dr. Pepper with dinner in hopes the caffeine would get rid of the headache I'd had for a few hours (I took a Zyrtec later and that got rid of it). After dinner we drove out to where we'd start running next and found a little parking lot to hang out in for a couple hours. It was muggy in the van if the windows were up, but mosquitoes came in with the windows down. I was in the driver's seat with my feet out the window, but I wasn't really comfortable enough to sleep at all. I don't think anyone else slept much either.

It was our turn to run again around 11pm, again Amanda ran first and she had a great run! I was lit up like a Christmas tree and had a bright bike light to carry, I knew my big concern about not being able to see well on the night run wouldn't be an issue. I started running and my legs felt good, the cold air even started to feel good (I was shivering while waiting at the exchange point) but my stomach felt a little off, not terrible just enough that I knew I wasn't going to be able to push the pace without puking. The night run was pretty cool, it was fun to see other runners and their vans, lots of teams cheered for me while they waited for their runner. I saw another dead snake, this one was smaller but I wondered if I'd see a snake running in Houston on my third leg too. As I kept running my upset stomach was turning into more heartburn than upset stomach- why did I drink that Dr. Pepper!! Next time I do something like TIR I'm really going to have to think about overall nutrition more and that's a big challenge when you're driving around in a van with 5 other people, exhausted, and running a few miles every 5 or 6 hours! My night leg was 6.6 miles and even though my stomach didn't feel great and I couldn't go as fast as I'd have liked, I really enjoyed that leg. And I got to run from Saturday night into Sunday morning- I've never done that before!

I helped support our runners for the next few legs and by the time the other van was up, it was 3am and I was so tired I felt a little sick. We went to a high school that was open for showers and sleeping. We showered, which felt fabulous after being sweaty and disgusting for almost 20 hours! We decided the van had to be more comfortable than the gym floor so Monica and Ian drove/navigated into Houston and our next starting point. I was in the first van seat and actually slept pretty soundly, I was so tired I probably could have slept standing up! I think I slept for almost 3 hours, which I'm pretty sure is more than anyone else on our entire team slept. But when I got up my left hip flexor was all screwed up! It hurt to walk, but I assumed it would work itself out. I got some breakfast (I think I actually ate chips and chocolate almonds for my pre-run breakfast- it's amazing I didn't puke!) and kept walking around but my hip wasn't feeling better.

Amanda said she felt "hungover" and expected a slower run. We got to the next exchange and I test ran in the parking lot, I said "ouch! that does not feel good!" out loud and got a couple of sympathy laughs from other teams- guess I wasn't the only one with "trying to run after sleeping in a van issues". I got in the porta-potty line which was right at the exchange point, I was second in line and I heard "chupa, chupa chupa!" (that's what a Chupacabra says) and Monica said she was coming, so I jumped out of line grabbed the bracelet and took off. I figured I could stop along the way for a bathroom if I needed it, but I was running through a busy residential area of Houston- good thing I didn't need a bathroom- I would have been screwed! My hip did not feel good and I felt groggy in general, I knew I'd be slow on this leg and I was just hoping I could do it in under an hour. This leg was 4.5 miles through one of the super fancy areas of Houston, very shady, but not great sidewalks, sometimes we were running in the street which was pretty scary! At one point on the sidewalk I saw, actually smelled more than saw, something that had once been an animal. How did such nasty gross roadkill get on the sidewalk?? and in such a swanky neighborhood?? I don't even have a guess at what kind of animal it was- yuck!! Well, I was 3 for 3, road kill on every leg! I didn't see many runners or vans at first but I had studied the map so I knew I was on course. I kept thinking I felt like crap but at least I got to run through a pretty area of Houston! I finished in about 55 minutes which was better than I thought I'd be able to do. Monica helped me stretch my hip, it hurt the rest of the day, but it felt better the next morning- totally a "sleeping in a van 'injury'" I must be getting old!

The Mullets in costume
We got to Memorial Park between Jenn and Monica's runs. It was crowded with TIR runners and vans and typical Memorial Park traffic. We saw the Mullets, a TIR institution, with their tiki van and I saw the Austin Front Runners (they are a gay running club) vans, of course they were well decorated with rainbows and one said "eat our fairy dust" the other said: (remember the faster teams start later and catch slower teams as they go and the Front Runners are very fast) "we take it from behind!" hahaha!! I tried to get a picture of that one but they left before I could get my phone.

We were on our way to the next exchange point while Monica was running and saw her standing on a corner, she looked VERY unhappy and gave us the cut throat sign- OH NO!! Of course we were in a very busy part of Houston so we couldn't stop and talk to her, we found a place to turn off and sent Ian running to get the bracelet and finish the leg, while I went to see if Monica needed help getting back to the van. She had sprained her ankle badly, I could see it swelling already- YIKES! I helped her back to the van, we got her some ice and advil and helped her elevate her foot. It looked awful and she was super upset. Ian taking Monica's leg meant he'd be running over 8 miles in the heat- not good! We went downtown to check on him (and I actually navigated us successfully through downtown Houston!) and then out a couple more miles, at that point he was pretty overheated, so Jenn jumped in and ran for a couple miles. I'm pretty sure that's all against the rules, but at that point we didn't have any options other than quitting which we obviously didn't want to do. It was all feeling really dramatic and stressful at this point and I know we were all glad to let the other van take over when Jenn and Ian finished!

Our other runners weren't feeling a whole lot better so we went a couple exchange points down the road and waited to see if they needed one of us to jump in and run. I really hoped I wouldn't need to run more and Amanda and Jennifer were both willing, so I camped out under a shade tree with Monica while she ice bathed her ankle. That's when we found Red and Andrew! I knew we'd probably see them at some point but I thought it would be before exchange point #38 (of 40)! Wow! Exchange point 38! We were almost finished!

We drove to the San Jacinto Monument and waited for Shellie to finish the last leg, we didn't wait long- she's super fast! Then we all jogged to the monument (well they jogged, I ran as fast as I could until Joe yelled at everyone to slow down) we all got huge medals and got pictures taken. Poor Monica stayed in the van since she really couldn't walk on her ankle and it was a long way from where we parked to the monument.
and this is what we all looked like at the finish! ok, not really, but close!
my only picture of the monument
Finisher picture in front of the monument, minus injured Monica
This might be the most adventurous race I've ever done, especially since the only person I knew going in was Monica! Luckily it all worked out great, but spending 36 hours straight in a van with new people (most of it in smelly running clothes) definitely has the potential to be a disaster! It was very cool to see how cohesive our team became and how everyone was willing to help out when things got tough! Huge Thank you to all the Running Chupacabras for such a crazy, challenging, fun, memorable TIR! and for being such an awesome team!!
Shellie brought champagne for a toast at the end!
 ****Note on Monica's ankle, it's a second degree sprain but healing really well and she should be running again before the Rookie Tri in May!