This blog is long but it is worth it…!
Going into this trip I didn’t really know what to expect! I’ve done many races and before I ran this one, I assumed I’d be doing the same thing! But it was more than just a race, time and a finish medal!
I was invited to do a 180 mile Texas Independence Relay as part of Team Catapult, an amazing group that brings runners with disabilities together, such as amputees, visually impaired, deaf, and others. Their website states that they are “turning disabilities into capabilities every day,” and this is so true! This year, Team Catapult had two teams made up of visually impaired athletes and athletes with prosthetic legs (a total of only 8 “normal” legs, LOL). Some of these runners are Paralympians and Paralympian hopefuls who can run as fast as the wind!!” It was an honor to be part of this awesome crew.
The Texas Independence Relay is an annual distance-running competition where teams of up to 12 (or less) members race approximately 200 miles from Gonzales to downtown Houston.
If it sounds ridiculous, it is. And, every year it attracts ridiculous humans, most of whom love fast splits, post-run beer, and Texas. I don’t think I have ever seen so many Texas flags!
To get from point A to point B, most teams rent (and decorate) two vans and journey past windmills and wildflowers through the Texas hill country on the nonstop, two-day excursion. There’s little sleep. Few showers. No whining. Just an epic adventure of life-affirming escape for regular joes and elite athletes, alike.
Following the “prologue” mile, a team’s first runner, which was me this year, keeps going onto the first leg, and the team catches up via a short van ride to the first exchange point. My first run was over 4 miles. I remember being anxious, but so excited to do something that I have never done – a relay and it was done with amputee friends! Training all winter in Kansas City weather didn’t prepare me for the 70 degree temperature lows with high humidity in spring!
Photo Courtesy of Cat Nguen
Most runs are about 4 to 7 miles in length, and team captains determine runners’ rotation, depending on factors like route difficulty, length, and time of day. Rather than a baton, we were tagged in with the snap of a reflective slap-bracelet, an interesting change of pace. Straight away, we were facing (in my opinion) harsh conditions – everything from scorching spring sun and 80-plus degree temperatures to gravel and dirt roads, seemingly endless Port-o-potty lines, and even sometimes coyotes or wild dogs. Yikes!
While most teams “compete to complete,” rather than win, many enjoy “tagging” other vans at exchange points to signify they “wuz there.”
Another part of the friendly competition includes counting “kills,” or runners from other teams passed along the route, by marking them on van windows. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to “kill” anyone – more like they were “killing” me with their incredible speed!
Nothing about TIR is typical, even for experienced marathon runners or trail runners who are used to rockier, dirtier, technical terrain. While each TIR run is relatively short, few human bodies recover well while cramped in vans with hours-long waits between runs.
This is especially relevant when you wear 1 or 2 prosthetic legs! We took our recovery time very seriously! I took off my prostheses after every run (I had total of four runs) to make sure that I was fully recovered and ready to do another run! Sleep was minimal due to constant uncomfortable van rides on gravel and the smell of stinky silicones from tired runners!
Spending 24-plus uninterrupted hours with many sweating friends means you almost necessarily come back a different, stronger, nicer, weirder person. I think that’s the point!
Safety is paramount, and we had to determine how to approach such challenging conditions. For us, that meant driving the van up a mile or two to provide a makeshift aid station mid-run for our current runner. We had to be self-sufficient and able to provide our runners with extra water or cool towels, if needed.
Another challenge was making sure runners had accurate directions and stayed on course, much of which is uncovered, with little shade.
Photo Courtesy of Scott Flathouse Phography
Heat exhaustion is a real concern during the earliest runs and “bonk brain” – a runner’s proclivity toward poor choices as fatigue sets in – becomes the norm. Huge shout out to other teams’ vans for the honks and love. Their support kept us going during our runs! Speaking of support, one of my runs happened to be at 1:30am!
The temperature was wonderful, high 60s! However, the visibility and directions weren’t too clear, and the sound of wild dogs didn’t help, so I ended up getting a little lost. Fortunately, my team got ahead of me and guided me to my finish destination! No wild dogs got hurt by my blades! LOL!
Food became scarce as small towns shut down early – many only have one store anyway. We had to pack efficiently and prepare to sustain demanding physical schedules with meals that won’t easily spoil.
I ended up eating a lot of energy gels, almonds, protein bars and a lot of water – hydration is the key!
The finish was the best! We started the mile together and we finished it together! It was humbling and rewarding! We were all exhausted, extremely sore and stinky – but we were also happy to have one goal – finish with joy and no serious injuries!
This was not my typical race that I get to do every weekend – it was bonding with a group of people who have gone through something incredible and are not willing to give up.
We might not have won the race but according to TIR, we won The Team Spirit Award!
Photo Courtesy of TIR
I am thankful to Team Catapult for allowing me to be part of this incredible journey that I will never forget! Speaking of Thank Yous, it takes a small (or maybe not-so-small) army that generously gives their time, energy, and expertise to make the Texas Independence Relay happen. A huge thank you to everyone that made this race possible and made it safe and fun for all of us!