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!


Richard said...

I love TIR! It is such an awesome adventure. I was so sorry I had to miss it because of my 70.3 this year. I'm so glad you got to experience it for yourself.

shubbe said...

Sounds like a really fun but stressful and smelly event! Great report, Heather, and great job being a team player! Glad your Van Injury wasn't any worse. :)