Paul Cooley - TIR Report

The Texas Independence Relay, a 207 mile long event from Gonzales, Texas to the San Jacinto Monument east of Houston, has added a unique facet to running opportunities in the state of Texas. This annual event, with its inaugural running on the weekend of March 1-2, 2008, gives runners the chance to eat, drink and sleep their sport for 24 plus hours. Well, not really, because we did not get in very much sleep, and the eating and drinking was pretty much all "on the run". Preparation for the race began over a year ago when Jay Hilscher, the race director, and his staff began accepting registrations for the event and posting information on their website. Periodically updated information was made available on the website and team captains were provided pertinent information via email. The breadth of the undertaking involved was enormous, but the ability of the race director and his staff to stage a successful event was apparent to all not only from the start but through the last step up to the San Jacinto Monument.

Houston Masters decided to take advantage of the discount offered for early registration, and then put together a team after that. The race requirements were very flexible allowing for solo runners, and teams from 2 up to 12 persons. Houston Masters had 12 people interested from the start, but inevitably a couple people had conflicts and had to drop out, but it was not hard to find replacements.

Our team had two pre race meetings to coordinate and strategize. We decided to divide into two sub-teams of 6 persons each, and to rent 2 vans, one for each sub-team. I, as Team Captain, with the help of Clark Courtright, went about determining an equal division of the distances involved in the 40 legs of the race so that each of the 12 runners ran about the same distance. The TIR rules we had to keep in mind were: 1) No runner could run more than 1 leg more than any other runner on the ream; and 2) the Team Captain was to run leg 35 (Memorial Park to Downtown). The 40 legs of the race varied in distance from just over 2 miles to over 8 miles. I also wanted to make sure that each runner had an opportunity to enjoy the pleasure of running in the dark. So, 6 persons were assigned to each of the vans, I purchased water, Gatorade, fruit cups, paper towels, TP and cups for each van and borrowed two 48 quart coolers to give us the basics.

We met early on the morning of the race and left out of Houston to Gonzales at 6:00 a.m. Our start time was 9:50 a.m. We arrived in Gonzales about 8:50 a.m. and were shuttled en mass to the staging area for packet pick up and to run the Prologue. It was exciting to see all of the preparations that had been made for us. There were many other teams, some dressed in look- a- like uniforms- blue, red, yellow, even a cow team that was white with black blotches. The start was in front of the museum commemorating Texas independence. There was a huge Texas flag strung across the street right behind the chip start mats. When each team would start they would first hit a gong and then an announcer would announce the team, cannon would "boom" and they were off. The Prologue circled several blocks in Gonzales taking you by historical buildings and homes and back to the start area, where our first runner, Jo Ann Luco took the baton- a wrist band- and set off on the first leg which was just about 3 miles. The team members in her van left for the parking area and our van members hung around the museum and the start area for a short while and then we left too.

From the parking area we followed the first leg route out of town and went past the exchange point to the exchange for the 2nd and 3rd runners. TIR had distinctive red tents at each exchange, which shortly became landmarks for all of us to know where to let off and pickup up runners, and also, for us to know where our respective leg started and ended.

The legs from Gonzales through Shiner and Moulton up to Flatonia were hilly. In fact they were a lot hillier than many of us had expected. Randy Williams, a new member of our club, had a 7.5 plus mile stretch with hill after hill in the middle of the day, which now had warmed up. We leap frogged ahead of him on the highway and set up a Gatorade relay for him: we would have one person hand him the Gatorade bottle and then have another person several yards down on the course to take the bottle back after Randy had his fill, that way he would not have to mess with carrying the bottle. We repeated this a couple times on his leg. We also handed out Gatorade and water to people on other teams, as it was pretty hot going.

In Flatonia I took my first turn, about 3:50 p.m. My leg was over 6.5 miles, but it had only a few rolling hills. Fred and Clark finished off our van's legs, and we followed the TIR route into Columbus and had some dinner. Our next runner would start out of Altair, about 15 miles south of Columbus, but not until about 10:00 p.m. We left Columbus about 8 p.m. In Altair several of our runners found a grassy area to lay their sleeping bags down and catch some sleep. I used the time to communicate with the other van to check on their progress and make sure that their last runner would be coming in as we predicted. I also made sure that I could locate my reflective vest, head light and flashlight. After some 16 hours in the van with 5 other people and their equipment, things were getting a little disheveled. I just made sure that when I used something, I put it back were I could find it again. Don Brenner was our next runner and he started out about 10:15 p.m. He took the handoff from Jacques Smuts, who had fallen on the course and came in with a bloody knee, scrape on his shoulder and a twisted ankle that later swelled up.

After Don came Randy, who ran through Eagle Lake, and then it was my turn for my second leg. I took the hand off and immediately turned onto FM 1093. It was 11:45 p.m. Dark with a light mist, which I guess was really just fog. As I turned onto FM 1093 there was a female runner ahead of me, and to my right, across the road, in the dark were 15 to 20 young men. They yelled a couple things at us- they were not cheers of encouragement. I ran with the female runner for a short while to make sure she was clear of them. After that I ran my leg of over 6 miles really only seeing vans following runners. There was very little traffic on the road that late at night. My headlamp worked well and I carried a flashlight to make sure I could be seen my vehicles coming from my front and rear. Our van stayed real close, as was our plan. After I ran, Libby Myers took her turn, and we followed her closely. She had reflective strips around her ankles and they showed very well. After Libby finished, then Clark ran into Wallis and it was the other van's turn again.

We saw and talked to Jay Hilscher the TIR race director in Wallis. It was about 2 a.m. TIR had arranged for the middle school in Wallis to let us use their facilities to shower and catch some sleep. We found our way there in some extremely thick fog. It cost us $30 for the van and the 6 of us to get in. I shaved, showered and got ready to nap in the gym, it was now after 2:30 a.m. Clark figured we needed to be up and out of there by about 4:15 a.m. Not much time to sleep! Five of us found a stage away from the gym (which had probably 75 people trying to sleep in it) and decided to camp out there. At the appointed time we got up, went out to the van, and realized we were missing Randy. He had been in the van when we all went to sleep on the stage, and he, apparently went to sleep in the gym. Clark and I circled the people in the gym 3 times, not trying to wake anyone, but could not find Randy. Finally Libby came in and we told her we thought a person curled up in a mummy bag was Randy. She was brave enough to wake the person up. Luckily it was him.

We left the parking lot of the middle school and after about a mile decided we were heading in the wrong direction. I was driving and looked down the highway, which was covered in fog, and did see car lights in the distance in the direction we were wanting to go. In my judgment I could clearly make the U-turn. When I looked up again at the car's lights it was coming at a high rate of speed and right at us! I floored the van as it got closer and thought I was completely out of the path of the vehicle, but I was wrong. It hit the driver side rear bumper of the van, causing the car to spin across the highway to a stop. I pulled the van over on the shoulder, got out and ran to the other vehicle. The passenger was o.k. I called 911 and told them what happened. We exchanged information, the person in the other car got it started, we agreed he would try to drive it home and we would follow. I called 911 and told the we were leaving. His car apparently overheated about half-way to his home, so we loaded him in our van and took him the rest of the way home - in the fog - out to a farm somewhere near Wallis. It was now after 5:30 a.m. We had had an accident, but everyone was o.k., that was the important thing. We could now meet up with the other van and take the baton. However, we did not really know where we were. We got on highway 90, went through Rosenberg down to 99 and went north. The sun was starting to come up, we figured we needed to be in Cinco Ranch for the exchange about 6 a.m. We called the other van, found them and sent Fred Ward our next runner off on his appointed leg.

Don Brenner took the next handoff through George Bush Park and then Randy ran through Terry Hershey Park, Clark was next, and then Libby ran to Memorial Park to hand off to me for the Captains Leg from Memorial to Downtown. I was pretty tired by this time, but so was everyone else and I could tell they were not letting up in the effort they were giving. So I dug down and kept going. I handed off to Fred Ward at Clay and Smith Streets (by the old Enron Building). He handed off to Sam in Mason Park. There we all got to see President Bill Clinton giving a speech (the Texas Primary was 2 days away). We followed the path of the last 4 runners through south east Houston, Pasadena and Deer Park. Clark had the last leg which went on Battleground Road up to the Monument. We were all there, with our Houston Master's flag, to take the handoff from him and run the Epilogue - which was about .38 miles. At the end they gave us each a huge cast iron Texas star on a big gold and black ribbon. They also gave us pizza, sodas, cookies and candy bars. I suddenly realized that since dinner in Columbus all I had consumed that day was a fruit cup and some Gatorade and it was now after 4 p.m.! So I ate an extra piece of Pizza ? it was great.

They wanted our race time sheet (which we were supposed to keep meticulously and hand in at the finish). We did not have it ready, so I told them I would e-mail it to them. When we got out of the vans to go home, I ended up with the time sheets from both vans. They were an absolute mess. Jacques Smuts late Monday finally took all the material and made the best sense out of it he could. I turned in the information on Tuesday. It took us 30:00:50 hrs. to run the race. It took us longer than that to figure out our time sheet! We will do better with it next year!

I spent considerable time during the rest of the week talking to insurance adjusters about the accident. That was a mess too. But as I said, no one was hurt. We were all very thankful for that.

For a first time event the TIR people were great. I really don't know how they did it so well, but they did. We had a great time, and a safe time as well. I cannot think of a better group of people with whom to have done something like this. Everyone looked out for each other and got along extremely well. Houston Masters should be very proud that this group wore its name on their singlets for over 200 miles that weekend and carried its flag during the Prologue and Epilogue . My thanks and appreciation goes out to each of them: Jo Ann Luco, Lloyd Luco (driver for Van A), Michael Luna (Van A Captain), Sam Musachia (sorry I got you mixed up in all of the insurance stuff), Jacques Smuts, B.J. Almond, German Collazos, Clark Courtright, Fred Ward, Libby Myers, Don Brenner, and Randy Williams. A big Texas size thanks goes to Houston Masters for sponsoring us. I think I can speak for all of us that next year we will be ready to ?Come and Take It?! Oh, by the way, we placed 2nd in the Male Masters Division (because we only had two women, we did not qualify as a mixed team, and we were all over 40)!

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