For Garden Oaks resident Shawn Vaughn, participating in the Texas Independence Relay was an idea she just couldn’t shake.
“It was something that I was invited to do a few years ago but I got pregnant with my third child,” Vaughn said. “Since then, I’d wanted to do it but didn’t know how to set up a team.”
Vaughn educated herself on the race, which was held March 30-31 and totaled more than 183 miles with 36 relay legs of various lengths. The course started in Gonzales, where Col. John Henry Moore challenged Mexican soldiers trying to retrieve a cannon to “come and take it,” and finished in Houston, where the Battle of San Jacinto helped cement an independent Texas in 1836.
Vaughn’s team, Notorious HRG, completed the two-day course in 30 hours, 12 minutes, 49 seconds.
Texas Independence Relay teams can have up to 12 members who run through the towns of Gonzales, Shiner, Moulton, Flatonia, Schulenburg, Weimar, Borden, Columbus, Altair, Eagle Lake, Wallis, Orchard, Simonton and Fulshear. To recruit her all-female team, Vaughn said she did “a lot of begging” at CrossFit class and at the Harriet and Joe Foster YMCA, where she was a fitness instructor and personal trainer.
One of those recruits was Theresa Velasquez, who said Vaughn has been an inspiration to her.
“I’ve always been amazed at all the challenges she puts her body through. I mean, she completed the Ironman,” Velasquez said. “I saw my opportunity to do something challenging with her and didn’t look back. Well, I did and was super scared but she really gave me the confidence I needed.”
Colleen Cockrum said the race has been on her bucket list for five years.
“I wouldn’t have joined a team of strangers and wasn’t inclined to figure out the logistics of two vans and all of the legs myself,” Cockrum said. “Shawn said she would be our captain and organize everything if we really were interested.”
The 11-person team, mostly made up of runners from Oak Forest and Garden Oaks, was assembled about nine months before the relay. Cockrum, Velasquez, Vaughn, Allison Torregrossa, Brooke Whisenhunt, Jessica Kirklin, Katie Kavanagh, Nikki Brewer, Shannon Benesch, Veronica Fieldhouse and Kendra Penry-Clutter made up the running group. Honorary members Jamie Hons and Laura Tilley started with the team but were unable to make the relay.
Vaughn said some of the group got together to run, but there was no formal training.
Before the relay, Torregrossa’s longest race was 7 miles – 14 years beforehand.
“I followed a half-marathon, 12-week training schedule starting in January and did many days of CrossFit in the morning and running at night,” Torregrossa said. “Unfortunately, about a month before the race my training was cut short by a knee injury, so I had to take a break from running. Luckily my knee recovered in time.”
Benesch, a runner for 25 years and frequent marathon participant, was drafted the week of the relay to take the place of another injured member.
“I didn’t even have time to stress out about it,” she said.
A test of endurance
On the first day of the relay, Torregrossa said the team members all ran one mile at the beginning before splitting up into a running group and resting group. The individual legs of the race ranged from 2.77 miles to 7.11 miles. The women on Vaughn’s team ran between 11 and 20 miles. Non-runners would leap frog in a van to their next leg. The total race time was about 30 hours, with four or five-hour breaks for the team members between runs.
“It wasn’t enough time to get good sleep,” Vaughn said.
Brewer ran 15 total miles across three legs of the race, one of them in the middle of the night. She said that was a first for her.
“It was pure adrenaline that pushed me through,” she said.
Another team member, Fieldhouse, who participated in the relay in place of her husband the previous year, ran 18 miles — leg 10 on March 30 for 3.97 miles, leg 17 for 7.11 miles that night and leg 29 for 6.1 miles around 7 a.m. March 31.
“I was so tired,” Fieldhouse said.
The team MVP might have been Marysia Norris, who didn’t want to race but volunteered to drive the team van.
“She drove most of the 36 hours, getting out to give runners water (and) take gear,” Cockrum said. “In other words, hers was by far the hardest job.”
The finish line was at the Water Works in Buffalo Bayou Park where there was a celebration that included pizza and beer.
“We beat our estimated time by 30 minutes, which means everyone ran faster than they thought they would,” Benesch said. “It was an awesome experience and I’m so glad I got the chance to participate. Strong women pushing through a difficult race, tired, dirty, but still cheering on the other teammates and working toward a common goal.”
That being said, most members said they wouldn’t be back.
“It was a test of personal strength and growth for me,” Brewer said. “It was 30 hours of running and riding in a car. We slept in a Whataburger and Buc-ee’s parking lot. I’m so glad I’ve got this down in the books, but I’m on to the next challenge.”
The hashtag for the group was #fornextyearwhenweneverdothisagain
Team captain Vaughn is on to another race, the Blue Bell Half Marathon 2019 with her 13-year-old daughter.
“It’s her first one,” she said.
With Vaughn as her mom, it likely won’t be her last.