Monday, March 9, 2009

Texas Independence Relay

"We're Coming Sam" - the team at the start in Gonzales

In 1831, the Mexican government loaned the residents of Gonzales a small spiked cannon for protection against the Indians. But four years later with rebellion in the air 150 mounted soldiers were sent to reclaim it. The colonists however had other ideas. There were only 18 men in Gonzales, but they rallied behind their homemade "come and take it" banner and stood in defiance.

In the early hours of October 2nd 1835 the colonists crossed the river with their cannon, surprising the soldiers. The cannon fired, killing one soldier and scattering the rest, forcing a retreat. Thus began the fight for Texas Independence from Mexico.

The little cannon (forever enshrined in the Great Seal of Texas) was eventually buried in a creek until it was discovered again during a flood in 1936, and it now sits in the museum in Gonzales. I saw it this weekend and was surprised by how tiny it is. I was also entertained by the story of its history, humorously told by the charmingly eccentric old lady at the museum. You can read more about it here.

The reason for this story is that Gonzales was the starting point for our 11 man team for this weekend's Texas Independence Relay. Between us, we would run the 203.2 miles from Gonzales (where the first shots were fired) to the monument at San Jacinto - the site of the final battle.

So at 9:27am on Saturday morning a cannon blast appropriately signalled the start of our journey (start times were staggered by expected pace to allow all teams to get to San Jacinto by Sunday afternoon). We were handed several flags which we carried on a 1.15 mile team circuit around Gonzales, taking in historic mansions, monuments, churches, a courthouse and an old jail (complete with gallows) before our first runner took off on leg one of 40 individual relay stages. We would all meet up again in San Jacinto to run a victory loop.

It was a great boys weekend and I had a ton of fun....except for the running, which sucked. Most of my recent race reports have been filled with PRs, satisfying performances and enjoyable runs. Not this one. I ended up running 4 legs totalling 25 miles (including 2 of the 3 hardest ranked legs - thanks for that Tony) and did not feel good at all - it was hot, incredibly humid and windy. My legs felt heavy and I spent most of my running time wishing I was done. I posted recently about days that I struggle through 5 miles - well this was one of those days. These are the legs I ran

Leg 3
Difficulty Ranking : 1
Distance : 8.78 miles
Time : 1:14:18
Pace : 8:27/mile

This leg was ranked the hardest of the 40, with rolling hills on rocky and dusty trail and jeep roads. It was not helped by the heat (it was in the 80s), the humidity (around 90%) and the high winds. We'd already seen an ambulance loading up a runner who had collapsed from heat exhaustion, so I made sure I drank plenty of water and took both handhelds with me. I was also glad I had memorized the turns because several signs had been blown over. I took the handoff from Shawn, went out far too fast (6:40 first mile) and tired myself out battling into the wind. Then I got nasty stomach cramps at mile 3 which continued through the rest of the leg - what fun!!! Much of the footing was on large gravel which I had to pick routes through, and I was soon wishing for it to be over. All in all, I was somewhat surprised I managed to keep under an 8:30 pace.

On the plus side, we had a friendly rivalry going with another team we'd dubbed the "little hat people", and I was under orders from our team captain to catch their runner. She was smoking hot (and a damn good runner too) and had attracted several slobbering glances from our more lecherous teammates. I never did manage to pass her, but I got close enough to enjoy a great view and the envy of my teammates.

Oh, and we also passed by Sam Houston's oak....apparently.

Leg 14
Difficulty Ranking : 24
Distance : 4.69 miles
Time : 35:32
Pace : 7:34/mile

This leg was a lot easier than my first one. It began at dusk in the little town of Weimar, which had music and a great party atmosphere going. It was a shame to leave because the route was a monotonous straight shot down the hard shoulder of highway 90. The oppressive humidity and wind was still a factor, but it allowed me more of an opportunity to stretch my legs. I kept a consistent pace and passed 4 teams. No more stomach problems, but I just could not find that extra gear I usually have.

Leg 25
Difficulty Ranking : 21
Distance : 5 miles
Time : 38:16
Pace : 7:39/mile

This was about 3am and the wind had completely gone - not even a breeze - but the humidity meant I was soaking within a half mile. This was my best leg because by now we were catching and passing a lot of teams. This was another straight shot up FM1489 and I passed 9 teams on this leg - just kept concentrating on looking for blinkies in the distance and chasing them down. I passed one guy who for some reason was running in the middle of the road - I heard several cars honking at him, but he stubbornly kept going back out there.

Leg 32
Difficulty Ranking : 3
Distance : 6.69 miles
Time : 52:59
Pace : 7:55/mile

This leg was ranked the 3rd hardest and I hit it just after the sun came up on Sunday morning. About a mile in I was passed by a really fast runner and almost immediately we came to a fork in the path with no indication as to which way to go. We looked at each other but neither of us knew, so we tried the left one. Luckily, about 50 yards down that path we came across a guy who told us we needed to go the other way (he said he'd already corrected a bunch of runners) so we backtracked and took the right fork - yay. Coming over a hill at mile 2 I felt a hamstring twinge. I didn't want to let the team down, but neither did I want an injury before next weekend's marathon, so I eased up on the pace a little to where it felt more manageable and kept going - I could feel it, but it wasn't too bad unless I was running downhill. The rest of the leg was uneventful, but I was very glad to get to the exchange point and hand off to Steve. I walked around gingerly for a while as the hamstring felt really tight, but as that was my last leg, a few beers and slices of pizza helped loosen it up.

I haven't seen the results yet, but I think we finished at about 28 hours - a good hour and a half ahead of our predictions. We averaged around 8:15/mile (not counting the fact that we actually ran an extra 3 miles when two of our runners ran off course due to unmarked turns in Houston).

So that's the running part of it taken care of, now for the social side. We had a blast!!! Many beers were sunk and many laughs were had - it was a great boys' weekend. All the guys got on really well and it was a pleasure to be stuck in a van with them for two days - as stinkingly smelly as we all were by the end.

A lot of the small towns we passed through had put on music and gotten in the party mood, and we had some good banter (and flirting) going with several other teams. Rick Perry (the Governor of Texas) was running and we flip flopped with his team for the last 6 or so legs. He recognized our shirts (they have our worksite wellness and fitness logo on them) and there was some ribbing going on. He was running the last leg and warned us that "y'all know the first rule of Texas - you can't pass the governor".

We nearly did though.


Ashlee Wetherington said...

Congrats on a huge accomplishment! I hate when I don't do as well as I thought I would, but you did excellent! And it sounds like it was such a fun time. I'd be sleeping for the next week though!

steve said...

Sounds like a ton of fun! And well done on some great running too. Nothing wrong with those splits...

Enjoy the week and don't do anything crazy before the marathon,


Mark said...

Thanks guys. It was a lot of fun but I think all the races I've run over the last few months are finally catching up with me. Looking forward to taking a break after this weekend.