Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Texas Independence Relay - 200 miles ahead to Great Friendships

The weekend of March 5-7, 2010, I participated and captained a team for the Texas Independence Relay for the second year in a row.  This is a 203.2 mile relay race from Gonzales, TX east to Houston, TX, that you tackle with 2 big white vans and a team of 12.  Our Heels and Hills team was created from various friends of mine and general lovers of the Heels and Hills events - it was the second year to form a Heels and Hills team.  We were one of seven non-competitive teams at this year's event.  Our team's theme was "Ladies and the Tramp" because our team was composed of 11 women runners, an additional woman volunteer driver, and ONE guy!  So you can guess who the tramp was. The race started at 6:10 am Saturday and we finished at 4 pm Sunday - that's one long weekend!

What is a Non-Competitive Team in a Relay RACE?
Last year, the Heels and Hills team had been ground-breaking in the world of running relays.  A relay of this length is hard to complete in the two weekend days - you have to be a 10 minute pace or faster. After last year's trial run, the Texas Independence Relay became the only relay I know of in the nation that allows teams with an average pace slower than 10 minute miles by having a non-competitive division.  Basically, you do a normal relay handoff and then at some point mid-race you change to sending your next relay runner out before the previous leg's runner has finished, to catch up time to finish at a decent hour Sunday.  While we thought we would switch from regular handoffs to non-competitive mode around 5 pm Saturday, we actually were averaging faster paces than we expected, so we were able to continue handoffs until about 2 am.

A Wonderful Team of People
Here's an introduction to the awesome Heels and Hills Team "Ladies and the Tramp":
  • Marcie Adame
  • Kay Barbour - a returning Heels and Hills teammate from last year, Kay recently had spinal surgery so she volunteered to drive van #2.
  • Cat Burdette
  • Daniel Burdette - Cat's husband, he was our official "Tramp".  I don't think he really minded being the only guy on the team!
  • Kathy Calkins - The true TIR veteran, this was Kathy's third year but the first year with Heels and Hills. 
  • Allison Duensing - returning Heels and Hills team member, also a member of the Heels and Hills Run Team!
  • Leslie Horowitz
  • Cindy Hunter
  • Mel Kincaid - returning Heels and Hills teammate
  • Kathy Phelps
  • Bernice Terregrossa
  • Tabetha Wade
Friday, March 5 - The Road to Gonzales
10 team members met up at the DFW airport Friday morning at 10 am (the other 3, Allison, Kay, and Bernice, live in the Houston area).  We loaded up the big white 12-seater van, and I drove us down to Gonzales.  We stopped for lunch along the way.

Once down there, we checked into our hotel and then over to team check-in and the party.  About half the team went to the party and then rest of us went across the street to a cute dinky little Mexican restaurant for dinner.  After eating, we started the work of decorating our van.  All the teams decorate their vans - it's a pride thing, but it's also easier for teammates to find the van when you arrive at a relay exchange point with 50 other vans already parked there!

Kay had done a great job making pink girl runners (and a blue guy runner) with each of our initials to put on the side of the van.  We saved some of the decorating for during the day the next day.  We received a lot of compliments on our van's look and with the hot pink, people said it made it very recognizable when we were at a relay exchange point when another team would pull in!

And We're Off!
Saturday morning, we're all up about 4:30 am - ugh. Teams are slotted to start based on their speed, so non-competitive teams start at the very beginning.  We're the 5th or so team to start at 6:10 am. 

Most team captains get to hit a big gong with a mallet to announce their team's start, but I was lucky to get to be one of the occasional team captains given the chance to light a REAL CANNON to fire.  Boy, it was louder than I was expecting! The entire team runs their first lap of the town square area of Gonzales together in what's called the "Prologue".  It's 1.12 miles to kick off the team camaraderie.

Then, Marcie headed off as we cheered to begin Leg 1, the first several miles of the 203.2-mile adventure!

A Long But Fun Saturday
There's no point in talking about all the legs, they all start to blur together.  Although it's funny that when I was at each relay exchange point, I could remember who had run that leg last year! So I'll just highlight bits here and there.

Leg 3 was significant because it is ranked as THE hardest relay leg of the whole race.  Tabetha is a strong runner and assigned that leg. She had an amazing pace and made it look so easy.  The leg is 8.78 miles and has the description "Hilly country dirt roads and distance makes this a challenging, but picturesque leg."  Here are pictures from the end of leg 3 as we waited for Tabetha to come in and hand off to Leslie to start.

Kathy, Mel, and Leslie

Me, Mel, and Marcie

Tabetha hands off to Leslie!

At the end of Leg 5, we all find ourselves waiting for Allison to come in and hand off to Daniel at the Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner,TX!  We took advantage of our time while we were waiting to snap some fun pictures.

And then here comes Allison, moving fast!

End of Leg 10... we're making progress!

I ran Leg 12. Ahem, it was...interesting. This was my first time of the race to run a leg.  Kathy was supposed to hand off to me and had told us she would probably be about a 10 minute mile pace.  So we made all our plans around that.  We got to the exchange point and I got out of the car with many minutes, I thought, to spare and headed to the portapotty.  I come out of the potty to hear a teammate yelling, "She already came in, and Daniel was standing there so he took the baton and ran." What?!? It turned out Kathy had run much more like an 8 min/mi pace!

So I hop in the van, Allison drives us up the course about 3/10 of a mile to Daniel, I throw open the door, jump out, and Daniel hops into the van. Yeah, not stressful at all.  Of course, at this time, I don't know how far along Daniel was in the leg, and I suck at estimating, so that further stressed me out.  The leg was described as rolling hills - definitely not lying.  I pushed hard and was extremely surprised when I finished 3.37 miles at a 10:47 min/mi pace.

Nightfall and Time for a Few Hours Sleep
So the way the two vans work at night is that our van would be "off" from 10 pm to 3 am while van #2 ran 6 relay legs, and then van #2 would be "off" from 3 am to 7:30 am while we ran 6 relay legs.  So at 10 pm, we hurried ahead of that section of the course to Sealy, TX to the hotel.  The goal was to get a shower and maximize sleep! Everyone got three hours and then it was time to get back on the road!

I had the second leg back after the sleep "break".  Leg 26.  It was 4.93 miles at 4 am on country highway.  Pitch dark, so I was outfitted with a headlamp, 2 blinky lights, and 1 reflective belt.  This is where we noticed the super fast teams who had stared the race much later than us started to catch up and pass our team.  I kept the pace at a pretty standard 11:30 average for me.

And Then a Long Sunday
We ran to McDonalds and grabbed some breakfast during our van's break from 7:30 to 10:00 am.  About 11:15 am, I headed off on Leg 35 after a hand off from Leslie.  This was the Team Captain's leg, a reward given to all team captains to have the privilege to take this leg if we wanted to.  It was a picturesque 5.23-mile leg through Memorial Park in Houston, along the Buffalo Bayou Walk with all the public art sculptures, a great view of downtown, and then you enter the downtown streets and go a few blocks to the exchange point.  I pushed the pace hard on this and only took two walk breaks.  I had some fast runners passing me and I used them as rabbits to keep my pace strong.  For the 5.23 mile distance, it was a definite personal record style pace for me.  Finished tired but happy with a 10:46 pace!

Our van ran a couple more legs and then rushed to the San Jacinto Monument to find a good parking spot and relax until Marcie would finish Leg 40 about 4 pm.  I went to the back bench of the van and grabbed an hour's nap after having raced 2 of my legs harder than I had originally intended, slept only 3 hours since 4:30 am the previous morning, and had driven our white van hundreds of miles.

The Finish!
Marcie came in at 4 pm, and the team together jogged/walked the last 0.30 mile up to the monument.  There we received our finisher medals, took a bunch of pictures, and picked up our free pizzas.

Heavy sturdy finisher medal!
2 Years of Heels and Hills Team Fun at TIR - Me, Allison, Kay, and Mel

Yay! Pizza! Daniel and Allison arrive back from the most important mission of the weekend

Van #1 - Cat, Leslie, Me (Driver), Allison, Daniel, Kathy

Van #2 - Kay (Driver), Marcie, Mel, Tabetha, Cindy, Kathy, and Bernice
Home Again
We arrived back at the DFW airport and unloaded the van about 10 pm. After returning the van, driving Marcie home, I finally got home about 11:30 pm.  What a long but fun weekend!  These relays are so unlike other races to me.  You make actual strong connections with other runners during it that would be such brief interludes at a standard race! These teammates are all people that I would count as dear friends after this event. 

I already have a team registered for next year.  So if you want to come join the adventure, let me know ASAP because there are only 11 spots available!!!


  1. I love Texas!! If we're still living here next year I would love to do that race. That would be my favorite race bib because it's the Texas flag.

  2. I love your race report! You captured all of the things that I think sound so great about the TIR. Would you be willing to have this be a guest post on I would give your blog and your race a shoutout in the introduction - all you would have to do is say yes. I think people would love to hear more about this race.

  3. Good job and what a descriptive race report!

  4. That is so awesome! I had heard about that race and was really interested. I bet that is an amazing comraderie experience. Congrats!

  5. You cannot imagine how fun, challenaging and creative this race is. I encourage everyone to do it at some point in your running career - it is the most rewarding thing I have done, and the bonds you develop with your team mates are deep and true.
    Libby, thanks for co-ordinating and driving.
    Kay, thanks for sheparding VAN #2.
    Daniel - thanks for being our token tramp and putting up with all our girl antics all weekend - it was definately "good bull".
    Ladies - I cannot tell you how much I love you all, and respect you as athletes!!