Saturday, November 21, 2009

Great Brazos Relay: And the Last Shall Be First

Last weekend 7 teams of 7 runners embarked on a race destined to become a Texas tradition. The inaugural Great Brazos Relay drew 49 enthusiastic runners for a logic-defying 120 mile relay race from the campus of Baylor University to Lake Bryan, Texas. Six of the teams consisted of Baylor students. The seventh team was made up of runners who are, well, a little bit older. That seventh team, CJ's All-Night Runners, included: me and a Baylor Chamber of Commerce pledge brother (both of us 40), two other Chamber alumni (35 and 42), a current Chamberman, and two other friends (37 and 30). With an average age of 35, we decided we would take on these ultra-fit, zero-body-fat college athletes and see how we compete.

Modeled after relay races such as those put on by the Ragnar Relay Series, this relay will take place each year on the weekend of the Baylor/Texas A&M football game, changing direction each year to end up on or near the campus of the home team. We gathered for the race on Friday afternoon at the Baylor Ballpark. We fueled up on bananas and granola bars, got thoroughly hydrated, and sent the first 7 runners on their way at 2 p.m. Throughout the next 12-18 hours, each runner would run 3 legs, taking turns driving, running, sleeping, and eating (and pooping by the side of the road, as one of our team members who shall remained anonymous did!) until they reach the final destination at Lake Bryan.

Several times we got a kick out of the age difference. At one point we were visiting with Ricky's fellow Chambermen (who stayed with him all night long! Talk about dedicated friends!). I told them Pat and I had pledged Spring of 1989. "Yeah," one replied, "I was born in 1989!" Another girl had a sticker on her car from a dealer in Corpus, where I grew up. I asked her if that was her car, to which she politely replied, "Yes, sir," as if I were one of her parent's friends. Actually, I'm probably as old as her parents!

The running abilities of our team varied somewhat. We had Ricky, the current Chamberman and member of the Baylor Triathlon Club, who ran a 3:17 marathon last weekend, and Kevin, who ran cross-country in college, where he still holds his school's record for the mile at 4:06. We figured these guys would make up for some of the slowness of us older guys. I must say, however, that the old guys on the team exceeded their own expectations and predictions for their pace times.

I ran the 7th leg. When I took the baton (actually a slap bracelet), we were definitely in the mix. I followed a girl who started out a few minutes before me. I could see her a couple hundred yards in front of me. I ran hard trying to catch her, but never could. I imagined her trotting along with little effort while I was huffing and puffing like a steam locomotive. I did close the gap quite a bit, but she was too fast.

By the time I was getting ready for the 14th leg, it had already become clear that we were not going to catch the collegians. Two of our team were struck with IT band pains and could hardly walk, much less keep up their paces from their first legs. But the whole team pressed on, giving our best effort to finish well.

My brother Mark, who had been setting out the course markers, surprised me by stopping by to run with me for a few minutes. It was nice to visit with him. How often do you get to chat with your brother while running on the highway in the middle of the night? After he left to go home to his warm bed, it was a long lonely run, and I swear it was all uphill. Who assigned me this blasted uphill run? Oh yeah, I assigned the legs.

I should add one not-so-minor detail about this race. I am not exaggerating to say that it rained all night long. Constantly. Sometimes it was a mere mist, sometimes a downpour. Most of the time it was a gentle, soaking rain. With temperatures hovering the the mid- to high 50s, it was perfect running weather. But waiting around at exchanges for your turn to run, it was freezing! We were soaking wet for much of the time. Most of use went through several shirt changes, and the cars, full of wet towels, clothes, shoes and socks, took on that distinctive smell of wet, sweaty men.

I ran all my legs in my Vibrum Five Fingers. I forgot that last time I ran in them in the rain, the seam rubbed me raw in one spot. If I had been thinking, I would have put on my anti-chafing cream, which works well, but I wasn't thinking, so I have big marks on my foot. I won't be running in them for a few days, and I'll try to remember putting on the anti-chafing cream. I was pleased to learn that Kevin is a barefoot running enthusiast. He had his VFFs on and some of the college kids were gawking. After he walked by they asked me, "Is he really going to run in those things??" Funny.

Selfishly, I am thankful that I did not have to run in the hardest of the rain. Nor did I have to run on that muddy, muddy road that Ricky ran on! I am sure that in the light of day, with the sun shining and the ground dry, this looked like a perfect place to run. The course description called it "a well-maintained gravel road." But in the middle of the night, in a steady rain, after many hours of rain, it was slippery, sloppy, deep, and wet. Ricky heroically powered through, got past the mud, and finished that leg despite his injury.

In the pre-dawn darkness, I began my third leg. Since one of our runners had to drop out due to injury, we had to move everyone's leg up. So instead of running the last 3.6 mile leg, I ran the penultimate 5.1 leg (which also seemed to be all uphill!). But that meant that Pat, our lead-off runner, would have to run a fourth leg. He was more than willing, but I felt sorry for him, so when I passed off the slap bracelet to Pat, I kept running, and ran the whole last leg with him. The sun came up, and shortly we entered Lake Bryan Park. As we entered the park, we were greeted by a bunch of cars full of college kids cheering for us as they left. Looks like we missed the awards ceremony.

When Pat and I got to the finish line, we met the rest of our team, Ricky's faithful companions, and the race organizers. Four of us took our final lap--the other 3 were in no shape to run--then had our own awards ceremony. We may have been last overall, but we were first in the open division! We got our first place mugs, finishers' shirts, and some snacks, and took off for the showers. (Actually, I was visiting with Kelli, the race director, and then turned to go back to the car, but my team had left me! Luckily, I remembered that Kelli had called Eric earlier, so I used her phone to call him to come back and get me.)

Our total time was 17:21:56, an average pace of 8:49 minutes/miles. Not too bad, especially considering our injuries. But not fast enough to compete with the college kids. We finished about 45 minutes behind the slowest team, and, I think a full 3 hours behind the winners. But our course record for the open division will stand for some time!

This was a fun course, especially given the setting. The stretch of Texas between Waco and College Station is not the most interesting, but there were some nice views, at times, some fun runs, especially when we got off the larger highways, and friendly officers of the law. I'm glad Kelli and crew put this together and hope it will grow, not just with Baylor and A&M students, but with the general running community as well.
I didn't get very good pictures.

Ricky, Shawn, and Eric gearing up.

One of the exchanges. I obviously do not have the knack for flash photography with lots of highly reflective surfaces.

Kevin, Eric, Rich, Shawn, Pat, and me waiting for Ricky.

Shawn's car, a little worse for wear. I hope he managed to fumigate it before his wife saw it.

1 comment:

  1. It was a lot of fun. Thanks for putting the team together. I look forward to doing this again next year.