Sunday, March 8, 2009

Texas Independence Relay - 24 hours of agony and exhaustion

What a day. I'm trying to muster the energy to type out this post before I crash from exhaustion. Our team finished the 203 miles - actually somewhat longer after several brief jaunts off course- in about 24 hours and 40 minutes. I'm not sure what our official time ended up being. I think people who run races like this must enjoy torturing themselves. 200+ miles in hot, humid windy conditions can't ever be considered fun by sane people, but I have to admit that I actually enjoyed and I might do it again. The race website had a calculator on it where you input your 5 mile race time and it would come up with an estimated pace for you for the entire race and it told me my estimated pace was 5:59. In good weather conditions and running shorter legs that might have been possible, but I didn't even try to run that pace for the legs that I ended up doing.

We started yesterday afternoon in Gonzales, TX a little after 1:00 pm. Governor Rick Perry was running on a team from Austin and started shortly ahead of us. Deep down we all wanted to beat his team. The whole team ran about 1.1 miles together in a loop around Gonzales Texas before breaking off into our 40 individual legs. My first leg ofr the race was an 8.8 mile leg that was ranked as the hardest leg in the race. Rob who runs our fitness center at work and was running on our other work team called me shortly before I was going to run my leg to give me a heads up on the course. He had run the same leg a couple hours earlier and said it was one of the hardest runs he had ever done in his life. He said he was almost 1 minute/mile below his race predicted pace but he was pretty happy with how he had run. Nothing like giving me a bunch of warm fuzzy feelings before I started. The leg was entirely on hilly dirt roads. It was 78 degrees out, mostly cloudy and pretty windy. The only good news was that it was mostly cloudy, unlike earlier in the morning, so I didn't have the sun beating down on me.

At the exchange point I was a couple minutes behind the next person in front of us. It wasn't too windy at first and I felt really good as I started out. The first 4 miles were relatively flat with a couple of rolling hills and my splits were 6:01, 6:05, 5:50, 5:54. At this point I was feeling great and it wasn't too windy and I was wondering why Rob was talking about how difficult the leg was. Then the real fun began. As I was coming up a hill near mile 3 I saw a guy in front of me and I thought I saw another one or two people farther ahead, but it could have just been fence posts off in the distance. I caught the guy in front of me near mile 3 as I was cresting a hill and I expected to see the other people in front of me when I got over it, but they were nowhere to be seen. On some of these roads you can see miles ahead of you at times and it is really hard to judge how far away something is. I was cruising down the hill and the first problems came up at a turn on the course. I was pretty certain that we were supposed to go right and I thought that was the direction the cannon on the sign was pointing, but I could see somebody well off in the distance running down the road to the left. If they had marked arrows on the dirt road they were long gone. I thought that the cannon pointing to the right meant go right, but I was confused with the person running the wrong way. I knew that if I made a wrong turn, it would be almost 2 miles to a water stop and if I didn't see it by two miles I would know I was running the wrong way. Then I'd have to turn around and go back 2 miles to the point where I had made the wrong turn. Since I wasn't certain, I actually just turned around and ran back to the person I had passed and asked him which way we were supposed to go. He thought we were supposed to make a left turn, but he said if the cannon was pointing right we should go that way. I turned to the right and hoped that I was on the right path. I ended up adding on almost 1/4 mile onto that leg by turning around and going back to that guy. Mile 5 wasn't particularly hard either as it didn't have too much uphill in it and I hit it in 6:05. Then the real fun begins. In mile 6 I finally hit the hill that Rob was talking about and I had seen on the elevation profile and my split was 6:24. I was working hard at this point and every time I looked at my Garmin, my heartrate was showing 187 which seems to be the highest that I ever see it on the Garmin. The scary part was I knew that this wasn't even the steepest part of the hill that I saw in the elevation profile and to top matters off the wind picked up and I was running into a headwind most of the time I was going uphill. Just before mile 6 they had a water stop with water bottles set up on a table so I grabbed one and downed it. Mile 7 was pure agony. The first half of the mile, I was doing about 7:30 pace up the hill into a tough headwind. I went around a curve in the road and you think that you are cresting the hill, but it only gets steeper. We hit a plateau near the end up the mile for a little bit before we had the final ascent to the peak. My split for mile 7 was 6:46 and finally in mile 8 I crested the hill for good and finished mile 8 in 6:29. I knew that it was basically flat to the end so I would on just running fast and smooth and finished out my run with 6:00 to finish the nine miles in 55:33. After that leg I don't know if I was brushing more salt or dust off of me. I averaged 6:11 for my 9 mile jaunt and I was really pleased with it. After that leg I wondered how much I would have for my other legs later in the race. I finished this leg just a little after 3:00 pm.

On the next leg of the race, our runner collapsed about 1/4 mile from the finish of the leg. I don't know if he was just dehydrated or ran out of electrolytes or what had happened. A couple guys on our team ran to where he was and helped him walk in the last 1/4 mile to hand off the bracelet to the next runner, but that was going to throw a wrench into the plans since it didn't look like he would be able to continue. Later in the day we decided that in order to not wreak havoc on the entire schedule of planned runs, it would be easiest if I ran a double leg at night and picked up this guy's leg and then somebody else would take a short leg of mine near the end of the race.

My second leg started at 8:30 pm and I was going to run back to back legs for a total distance of 8.8 miles, 5-1/2 hours after I had finished my first hard leg. They were legs 14 and 15 It was a relatively easy couple of legs - just straight down highway 90 so I didn't have to worry about turns or missing a turn. There were some rolling hills, but nothing like the hills in my first leg. The hardest part was being alone out in the dark. It's just really hard to press hard in the dark when you are by yourself. When I started my first leg, i could see the blinking lights on the backs of a couple runners ahead so I had the motivation to catch them and I hit my first 2 miles in 6:12 and 6:11. After I had passed the 3 runners, I couldn't see anybody ahead. My next 3 splits were 6:15, 6:16, and 6:19. At about 4.7 miles I hit the checkpoint where I normally would have handed off but I kept running through. One of the guys on my team met me with a gatorade and ran with me for about 30 seconds while I drank it. The temperature had cooled off to a balmy 76 degrees, but the humidity had increased to about 105%. I caught 2 more teams right near the end of the first of the back to back legs and then it was back to running in the dark by myself and hoping that the oncoming cars wouldn't veer onto the shoulder and hit me. For the night legs we had to run with a light, a blinkie and a reflective belt or vest and I had a cool florescent green shirt that people ought to be able to see from about a mile away. most of the time i would actually run in the middle of the lane of the highway since the footing seemed smoother than on the shoulder and I would move to the shoulder whenever I saw oncoming traffic up ahead. My mile 6 - 8 splits were 6:24, 6:17, 6:19 and the last 8/10 of a mile were at 6:18 pace. I finished the 8.8 mile leg in 55:20, a 6:17 average. I was just dead at this point. I scarfed down the remaining 2/3 of a subway footlong sandwich that I had gotten earlier in the afternoon and drank a lot of water.

Every 5 or 6 legs, we would swap vans with the other half of our team and we would do our legs while they would go up to the next changeover point and wait for us and then we would swap and they'd do the legs while we rested until ours came up again. After our evening legs, we went to a high school in Wallis, TX where they let people shower and sleep in the gym. We got there just before midnight and the first guy running on our team thought that he would start running at about 3:40 am so we needed to leave at 3:15. Keep in mind that this is daylight savings time change weekend. In order to avoid confusion, we weren't going to change our watches until the end of the race since all the projected times on our spreadsheet didn't account for the time change. I went inside and set the alarm on my phone for 3:00 am. I was too tired to shower and I just wanted to get some sleep so I set up my cot, pulled out a blanket and hit the sack. I woke up about 1:40, went to the bathroom and then went back to sleep. The next thing I know my phone alarm is going off and the clock on my phone says 3:00 am. It seemed like I had just fallen asleep, but I figured I must have just slept like a rock. I pulled out my Garmin to check the time on it to make sure that the time was right on my phone since I figured there was a possibility that the phone could have switched an hour ahead since it can update the time off of the cell towers. I turned on the Garmin and it says it is 3:00 am and I know that I hadn't changed the time on my Garmin so I started packing up my cot. This cot takes a couple minutes to pack up and it squeaks a little bit and I didn't want to wake up some of the people sleeping around me. Still I had this nagging feeling that it wasn't really 3:00 am so I walked out of the gym and saw a clock that said it was just after 2:00 am. I guess the Garmin must automatically adjust the time off of the satellites and my phone changed time off of the cell tower. I was a little ticked that I was missing out on some sleep and I went back into the gym. I didn't want to re-set up the cot since it took so much time and made so much noise so I pulled a couple towels out of my bag and I figured I would just lay on them. As I was setting the towels down on the floor, one of my teammates walked by and I could tell he was looking around the gym trying to find me. It turns out that he had looked at the predicted end time and not the start time for his leg and the other team was running ahead of their predicted pace - a couple of guys seemed to have been sandbagging on their times- and we needed to leave to get to the next exchange point. My alarm timing actually ended up being just about perfect and I didn't feel quite so bad about it going off an hour early.

I had the 2nd leg in our group and it would be the last leg of the race for me since it would be my fourth leg since I had doubled up on legs 14 and 15 earlier. I was running leg 25 which was a flat 5 mile leg that crossed over the Brazos river at the exact halfway point. My leg started at 3:20 am (old time). The thermometer in the van showed it was down to 73 degrees out, but I think the humidity was up to 118%. There was water in the rumble strips on the shoulder on the edge of the road and it definitely wasn't raining and there weren't any sprinkler systems around. When I was getting ready to start the race and standing around the exchange point, Governor Rick Perry was there and he was running the same leg as me. One of my teammates was chatting with him and told him I was running the leg so the Governor came over and introduced himself and we chatted for a minute while we waited for our teammates. He said he would probably be running about 8:00 pace and looked at me and said he figured I could probably do about 6:00 pace. I said I was pretty tired, but I was hoping to get in the low 6:00's. His teammate came through about a minute ahead of mine so he had a little bit of a head start. I took off pretty hard since I knew it was my last 5 miles and I had seen a lot of teams come through the checkpoint and I knew I could catch a lot of people. I hadn't done too much of a warmup other than jog for about 2:30 and do some form drills and a couple easy strides. It took me most of the first mile to really get warmed up and in a groove and I hit mile 1 in 6:13. Sometime in the first 2 miles I caught Governor Perry and passed him and said hello as I was going by. He had a multiple vehicle entourage shadowing him throughout his run. After I saw him, i kept going after the next set of blinking lights I could see ahead. My legs actually felt really good and I was telling myself that I need to pretend that this is the last 5 miles of the Boston Marathon and I need to keep pushing hard even though I'm tired. I hit mile 2 in 6:03. At about 2.3 miles, I started running up the bridge over the Brazos river. It would have been cool if I weren't running a race and could have had more time to take in the picturesque moonlit night. There was a mostly full moon, partially obscured by haze and humidity and the reflection of the moon glimmered on the Brazos river. I worked the downhill on the bridge and knew that the last 2 miles would be totally flat. I hit mile 3 in 6:04 and mile 4 in 6:07. With one mile to go I figured I'd push it a little harder since it was my last mile of the run and I could see a couple more blinking lights up ahead I wanted to run down. I lost count of the number of people I passed on this leg after I ran out of fingers. I finished my last mile in 5:50 for a 6:04 average for my final 5 miles. I ran 24 miles in the race plus about 3 miles warming up and cooling down for the various legs. I was totally exhausted but glad that I was done. Later in the morning we had about a 4 hour break when we were in Houston so we came by my house and crashed for a couple of hours. I figure I got between 3 and 4 hours total sleep during the race.

The team ended up doing fairly well. The conditions were brutal on Sunday morning - hot, humid and sunny. I think we fell off pace a little near the end as people were fairly exhausted and battling the warm weather. Two of our runners went off course and ended up adding on at least a couple extra miles and did it in the heat of the day. After going off course, the Governor's team passed us, but our last runner was able to pass them back and beat them out by a slim margin. We started later than them so our time would be better regardless, but it still feels good to cross the finish line ahead of them.

I think I've run out of energy typing all of that. I'll add an update whenever I get our official results for how our team placed. I know that we didn't win because I saw at least one or two teams of ringers out there. I saw Brett Riley and Colin Carroll running the race - I'm not sure if they were on the same team or not, but their team or team would have toasted us. I'm hoping that we made the top 5 open men's team, but I'm pretty sure we'll be in the top 10. Off to catch some zzz's. I won't be doing the Kenyan Way hill workout tomorrow morning, but I will try to go for an easy run sometime.

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