Thursday, March 28, 2013

We Can't Be Stopped...TIR, BSB, and a Cowboy

Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite race is, I always say The Texas Independence Relay. Hands down, the most running fun you can have in a weekend. It's not always easy and can be downright miserable at times, but every single minute of it is worth it for the reward of the accomplishment on Sunday afternoon.

This is our 4th year running as Blood Sweat and BEERS. What started out as a random "Sure, I'll join your team" in 2010 has turned into something totally epic and most of us have no plans to stop running it year after year. Every year we lose a member or two and gain new ones, but the mix of friends is always perfect. This year was no exception.

Every year we have me, Captain Tony, Karen, Andrew, Red, and Dan. For the second time Kalynn and Cary joined us. Jeff came back to us after sending wife Wendy with us last year. And lastly, our new members this year were John, Emily, and Mohamed (who planned to come last year but had to back out, and was replaced by Cary, which was a blessing in the end because Cary and Kalynn are little lovebirds now, but that's another story...). Five ladies and seven dudes....PERFECT! Even better, Independence Brewing sponsored us with five...FIVE!!!...cases of beer for the relay.

Is this a race or a party??? YES!!!

The TIR organizers changed up the course a lot this year, taking out several miles in the beginning, allowing more dirt road running, and adding miles in the city of Houston. Sadly, no more Shiner Brewery run, but I think in the end the changes were pretty good. We set out for Gonzales on Friday night to party and get some rest in a hotel before our 10:34 am Saturday start.

Dinner, a party, shenanigans at our hotel (which sounds dirty, but I promise was not), van tagging, and a couple hours of sleep....and we were ready to go Saturday morning. We were split up into two vans. My van included Emily, Jeff, Tony, Kalynn, and Cary. I was excited to get to know Emily. After all, she did say "I brought running shoes, my antipsychotic drugs, and my Bible." She pretty much would fit right in. After a team Prologue of 1.15 miles, we had 40 legs of awesome running ahead of us. I was set to run over 15 miles in 3 legs, while four of our guys were going to do 4 legs and over 20 miles. Should anything happen to any of them there were plenty of us who could pick up the slack (cue foreshadowing here...)

Gotta love Andy-drew

Vans are tagged and ready to go

We ran with our flags for the Prologue as usual....

Red started us off with a bang, running a sub-8 pace 4.2 miler. She planned to run 8:30 pace over the weekend, so we were already off to a great start one leg in.


Poor Captain Tony. This is how he looked when we left him 2 miles into his run, happy as can be.

We drove off to the next exchange. 10 minutes later Kalynn's mom calls us (she was tagging along and checked on Tony on her way to the exchange). She told us he needed us to come back to him because he hurt his hamstring and didn't know if he could finish. Unfortunately we were kind of stuck at the exchange, which was one way and out on a dirt road. To get back to him would take at least 10 or 15 minutes. After trying to figure out the best way to get to him, John decides to just run to him and finish the run for him if necessary. Tony finished the run and still pulled a respectable 8:25 pace, but was certainly injured and likely out for the rest of his legs. Unfortunately, he was one of the 4-leg, 20+ mile runners and we had a lot of rearranging to do.

Red picked up his Leg 14 (6 miles) while I took her Leg 13 (4.13 miles). She's a stronger runner and only had 12 miles total for the weekend, while I had 15 so it made sense to give her more miles. But it also meant that I'd have 3 legs under my belt by Leg 22...not a lot of rest, but doable. I just wasn't going to be pulling any 8:30's, especially after being sick only 5 days before (stomach virus) and underfueled for the week because of that. But I'd do what I could and we'd have a blast regardless.

My first leg was Leg 6, and looking at the elevation chart it looked like it could be a hilly run. It was also getting very warm out at that point since the sun finally decided to peak out. I was looking forward to running on dirt, however...something different! And it couldn't be worse than last year's hilly Leg 3 in 80 degrees...right???

Nope, it pretty much was just as tough. It was my first real exercise since getting sick and I think my body was a bit shocked at it. I didn't have any kind of great pace going, and the leg started out with a long steady climb for about 3/4 of the first mile. The hills kept coming, with another very long steady one during Leg 4. I was maintaining a very good pace on the flats and downhills, but the uphills were just killing me. That long Mile 4 mile did me in for sure and I pulled a 9:38 mile. Surprisingly the sun wasn't really getting to me until about the last half mile and I had the guys give me water to pour on my head. Made a big difference and I pulled through to the end of the 4.74 mile run. I ended up at 9:04 pace for that run and was happy to get the hardest one out of the way. I didn't have any power going up hills so I just hoped the rest of the runs were flatter.

Go Karen Go!!

The team continued to completely kick some major butt. Karen had Leg 7, which is the hilliest leg of the relay (5 good hills in less than 4 miles) and she ran 8:30s. I am always amazed at how strong of a runner Karen is...she continually outperforms year after year and it's so much fun to see. Everyone was running faster than their projected pace (Kalynn ran 7:40s during Leg 4, after injuries have slowed her down the last few months and she only expected to run 9 minute pace!). Well, everyone but me, but I wasn't so worried after seeing how everyone else was doing.

The weather was very warm during late afternoon, getting up into the 80s with full sun. The humidity stayed under control but it was very uncomfortable for our runners. I am seriously amazed that Mohamed ran a 6+ mile leg with no water. He was an absolute rock star. John followed that with his own ridiculous 6+ mile leg. Once he finished Leg 10 in Schulenburg we were now a quarter of the way done with the relay, and already ahead of our projection.

Team work on Leg 9

We were seeing a lot of the same teams at every exchange, including our favorites, The Mullets. Seeing the same teams, of course, also brought out our competitive sides and we were wondering when we were going to start shaking them. As much as we love The Mullets, no way in heck were we going to let them beat us. However, somehow they just kept keeping pace with us - where were these crazy strong runners coming from? I think I'm going to just blame Emily...she whipped out her "Cowboy" (plastic penis on a chain) and I think they just wanted to keep hanging out with her.

Sunset, and my second leg, were coming soon, which meant we'd finally get cooler temps. We'd have a few hours before the cold front and some seriously strong winds hit and we looked forward to some (temporary) perfect running conditions. Leg 13 was my next leg, a 4.13 flat run, and although it was still quite warm at 78 degrees, I didn't have direct sunlight on me anymore, so I wasn't worried about pushing through for a strong run. And that's exactly what I did! I ran very well during that leg, perfect negative splits and an 8:40 overall pace. I felt so much better than during my first leg and it was a big relief.

Cary handing off to me at Exchange 12

Give me a minute....

During part of the night legs, the two vans split off so the team can get some rest. Our van would rest during legs 16-21 and then run legs 22-27. Six van mates for six legs, with one injured runner meant that either Tony needed to run or one of us was running two legs. I had Leg 22 so it made sense for me to pick up leg 27 and then just find someone else to run my last assigned leg (32) the next morning. Tony decided to try to run Leg 25, with Kalynn as back up in case he couldn't finish it. She would then continue on and run her assigned Leg 26.

My Leg 22 (5.43 miles) ended up being a really great leg, although it started off at a pretty slow pace for me. My legs were fatigued and it took about two miles for them to warm up and loosen up enough for me to pick up the pace. I was at about 19 minutes through 2 miles, but managed to get it down to 8:20 pace by Mile 5. The final half mile was at 7:50 pace. I passed 8 runners during this leg, including two that had passed me early on who I then caught up to (including A MULLET!). The weather was fantastic, it was flat, and I was in a zone. Not bad for a 1am run. Overall, I ran 9:02 pace.

Poor Tony made it through Leg 25, but it was really pitiful to watch him limp through it. It was a fast limp, but it was so obvious he was in pain. But he's also stubborn and refused to give in. I do think one of the funniest moments of the weekend happened during this run, however. Back on Saturday morning, Tony noticed a van pull up to the hotel with a handicapped sticker on it - wait...a handicapped sticker on a RUNNING relay van? So being the vocal guy he is, he says to the driver "How did you get that sticker?". As the driver goes to get out of the van, he says "It's one of the benefits of having one leg."

Yes, the dude had one leg and was competing with a handcycle.


Anyway...back to Tony's Gimpy Leg 25. During the beginning of this run, Tony gets startled because the Handcycle One-Legged Dude whizzes by him without a word of warning, which of course sends his leg into spasm. Karma? Probably. As we drive alongside Tony a little bit later, Jeff yells out to him, "Hey, Tony, the One-Legged Guy says you can get a sticker since you only have one leg, too."

Yep, I'm still laughing about this.

Then, a little bit further on the leg, Tony actually passes another runner, albeit one with a very noticeable limp as well. Jeff's next gem of a quote: "Tony's only getting a kill because that guy is more injured than him."

So ends Tony's relay running. But hey, the dude finished almost 10 miles total and I didn't have to kill myself by running both leg 22 and leg 27. My last leg would be Leg 32, through Memorial Park and into downtown Houston sometime on Sunday morning.

This is also when the cold front finally showed up. When Emily started her Leg 26 the weather was perfect. By the time she finished there were cold 20+ mph winds and we were suddenly freezing our butts off. The forecast called for the winds to only get worse as the morning progressed. Oh fun.

I got a little sleep finally for about 45 minutes while Cary ran Leg 27 and before we hooked back up with Van 2. What a glorious 45 minutes that was. I felt much more refreshed and ready to finish this thing out. We're now all back together as a team of 12, with 13 legs to go. My next leg would be in a couple hours and I was both excited and a bit nervous.

It was getting harder and harder to hang out at the exchanges waiting for our teammates because of the winds, but we held on and put up with it. There's nothing worse than having no one waiting for you at an exchange and we just don't let that happen. I did hang back in the van for a couple of the exchanges Sunday morning but I'm out at most of them. But dang, that wind was getting downright brutal. Thankfully it was mostly at our sides and backs while running, so it wasn't having a bad effect on our running.

With the exception of the wind, the weather for my 8am run was looking to be good. I was still nervous, however. This run was changed at the last minute due to construction, and it's through Memorial Park, so the vans couldn't follow me past 2.5 miles. It was a 5.4 mile leg that goes into downtown Houston. I had to make it around the construction, through the park, and then out of the park onto the correct city streets to make it to the exchange at Smith and Clay Streets.

I knew my quads were going to be unhappy when I started this run, and they were definitely sore. I was hoping they'd loosen up, or I was looking at 45+ minutes of pain. I tried to keep a decent pace and not look at my watch. Mile 1 came in at 9:38...not so bad considering how my legs felt, but still pretty slow. I continued to just run by feel and Mile 2 came in at 9:13. Definitely better and it felt slower than that, so maybe there was hope. During Mile 3 I started on the trail through Memorial Park and sure enough, got confused by the construction. I had to run across some dirt to get to the path, and didn't realize this, so I stopped and a nice gentleman directed me in the right direction...thank I was back on my way. This slowed me down a bit for this mile and I was back at 9:30. With only about 2.5 miles to go I pushed the pace a bit more and started feeling much better. My legs weren't quite so sore, although fatigued for sure, and I felt my spirits lift knowing I was almost done. I navigated the rest of the trail no problem, found the changes with no difficulty, and dropped to well under sub-9 minute pace for the next 2 miles. Once I crossed the pedestrian bridge to get into downtown Houston it got confusing again. I had to dodge some traffic to cross several streets and made one wrong turn up Lamar rather than cutting across all the way to Dallas Street. I lost about 20 seconds from that, but once I found myself on Dallas Street I started running 7 minute pace. During that final block on Smith Street to the exchange I actually dropped my pace to 5:30. Yes, 5:30 pace for the final block! Who knew I had that in me after 20 miles of running?

However, was anyone besides Tony and Jeff there to see me run like that? Of course not. And there aren't any pictures to prove it, either! That stupid wind kept everyone cozy in the vans.

We're down to our last 8 legs now, all through Houston to the San Jacinto Monument. Most of them are short legs, so we were going to be done in only a few short hours.

Jeff, Karen ("So where am I going? I didn't even look at the map!"), and Cary flew through their legs at a great pace. Then Emily starts on her Leg 36. She is absolutely cruising, right through the ghetto (oh my gosh, this was the GHETTO....and I might have said it a little loud out the window, oops). She's about to pass another chick runner, is right on her heels, when all of a sudden she stops to puke. Not once but twice. And then what does she do? She just keeps on running like it's no big deal at all that she just heaved during a run.

I knew I liked that girl. She has a Bible and a plastic penis and can hurl and run at the same time. Pretty awesome chick.

FOUR MORE LEGS.  We had our fastest runners out there, running 7 minute miles. It was just flying by and before long we're heading into the park towards the San Jacinto Monument to wait for John to finish the final leg (poor guy had to run directly into the 30 mph wind for the final 3 miles).

We didn't realize that the finish line was moved up about a tenth of a mile from the usual spot and we stopped John at the old finish line, gave him his beer, and then realized...oops, we're not done. But we slowly walked towards the actual finish as a team and only lost a few minutes from our mistake. It was fun to walk across the finish line together.

Our 4th Blood Sweat and BEERS relay, 200 miles, 27 hours, 11 minutes, 8:11 pace.

32nd place out of 145 teams. 14th place in our division of almost 100 teams.

And we beat the Mullets by over an hour.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Second Thoughts

In 100 days I'll be doing my first triathlon.

100 days.

I'm not going to sugar coat it....I'm having second thoughts about it.

Yes, after spending a good chunk of money on a bike and bike trainer, and on swim lessons, I'm having second thoughts.

In the last 3 months I've also started working for the first time in over 11 years, and it's been an adjustment. I'm trying to be better about organizing my schedule, but my line of work can be a little crazy. Finding time to train around my work schedule, the kids' schedules, and my husband's travel schedule is a bit tricky. And my swimming and biking are suffering. As a matter of fact, I'm only biking on my trainer right now. I can do it while the kids are home and I don't have to worry about them, but I do know I need to get that baby out on the roads soon.

My swimming? Well...I'm not so good at it. I think my form is pretty good now, for the most part, but I just don't have a lot of endurance. I can swim across a pool once or twice without too much trouble, but then I need a rest. That's frustrating to me definitely. I swim at a pool where I get my own lane, but I can only do that during school hours. I'm fearful of going to my regular gym and having to share a lane with someone.

I really need to snap out of this. I know I can do a triathlon, even in my current state, but I want to do well. I'm just too competitive to be okay with "just finishing." Now that marathon training season is over, I am going to have to get out there on the roads and into the open water with my triathlon group. I'm hoping that is the kick in the butt that I need!