Over the weekend over 150 teams, comprised of about 10-12 runners each, ran 200 miles across Texas. Now, that's what you call a "fun run." 

Over the weekend over 150 teams, comprised of about 10-12 runners each, ran 200 miles across Texas. Now, that's what you call a "fun run." 

Credit: TIR social media team via facebook.com/TexasIndependenceRelay

The Texas Independence Relay is an annual distance-running competition where teams of up to 12 members race 200 miles from Gonzales to the San Jacinto Monument outside of 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. Confession: I am one of them. 

I just returned from my second Texas Independence Relay with a team of nine friends I met through training classes at Run On! Like most distance runners I encounter, they are shockingly remarkable "unremarkable people" with a lust for life. They're the kind who will hold your hand or slap your butt through fits of hangry delusion, bathroom mishaps, and all the highs and lows of human experience, the gamut of which typically erupts in microcosm during a tough physical and emotional challenge like TIR. 

Spending 24-plus uninterrupted hours with nine sweating friends means you almost necessarily come back a different, stronger, nicer, weirder person. That's the point.

📸 courtesy of the TIR social media team (thanks!) #TIR2015

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This year's TIR kicked off on Friday, March 27, with an annual dance party featuring all the Lone Star beer one could (responsibly) drink, costumed runners, and booty shaking. Most teams opt to get a good night's sleep at a local hotel -- if they booked early, as scarce accommodations tend to sell out. Others "camp out" on the hardwood floors of the Gonzales Junior High gym or even on the lawn in front of the historic courthouse. Some teams even catch a few winks by strapping hammocks between trees on the roadside. The whole thing benefits, and is mostly volunteer-staffed by, Team RWB, which helps soldiers and veterans. Solid. 

To get from point A to point B, most teams rent (and decorate) two 15-passenger 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.

More than 150 teams competed in the 2015 Texas Independence Relay, with Dallas' own Dolls & Towel Boyz -- a co-ed team of D-FW-based athletes led by Joshua Thompson --  taking the overall win in 21 hours at a scorching combined pace of 6:10 per mile. Full results are online here. 

We headed out of D-FW on Friday afternoon and took a pit stop en route to Gonzales at the famous Black's Barbecue in Lockhart. Here, Bryan Barnett, Steve Jones, and Laura Lamons "carbo load." Well ... maybe not. But, no one's complaining. 

Meat Bryan.

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Below, costumed competitors hit the dance floor during the Texas Independence Party in Gonzales on March 27. 

#TIR2015

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At the TIR kick off party, there's no shortage of Lone Star -- arguably -- the national beer of Texas. Those who prefer Texas craft breweries tend to disagree... 

#TIR2015

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Blue skies, a white van, a Porto line, and Shiner beer. #TIR2015 📸 Matt Florence

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The next morning, teams set out at staggered start times, based on estimated average paces submitted at registration. The first teams start a little before sunup and elites start after noon. Regardless of how fast teams cover the distance, each gets a send-off with a cannon boom. All run the first mile together in a ceremonial loop around the courthouse. 

Below, our team captain, Megan Smyth, ignites the starting "cannon."

And, we're off! #TIR2015

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Following the "prologue" mile, a team's first runner keeps going onto the first leg, and his or her team catches up via a short van ride to the first exchange point. Most legs 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, runners tag in with a snap of a reflective slap-bracelet. Straight away, runners face harsh conditions - everything from scorching spring sun and 80-plus degree temperatures to gravel and dirt roads, dust sandwiches from passing trucks, seemingly endless Port-o-potty lines, and even sometimes coyotes or wild dogs. 

Below, Matthew Kingore prepares to slap the bracelet on our next runner during an early exchange on Saturday. 

A-OK for Matthew during his inaugural TIR. (📸 by Patrick O'Malley) #TIR2015

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White vans line the road near exchange point two. #TIR2015

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While most teams "compete to complete," rather than win, many enjoy "tagging" other vans at exchange points to signify they "wuz there." Most use shoe polish, but others get creative with magnets or easily-removable stickers. One Dallas team -- The G.O.A.T.S, led by Omar Venzor, an ultra-marathoner and winner of last week's 50 mile race at Grasslands  -- left surprises, like the one below, on opponents' van hoods. We know 'em, so we'll forgive 'em. 

We got tagged with a G.O.A.T., but it was cute, so we thought we'd keep it. #TIR2015

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Another part of the friendly competition includes counting "kills," or runners from other teams passed along the route, by marking them on van windows. 

Bryan marked six kills on his first time out! #TIR2015

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Steve marks his first KILLLLLLL! #TIR2015

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Nothing about TIR is typical, even for experienced marathon runners or trail runners who are used to rockier, dirtier, technical terrain. While each TIR leg is relatively short, few human bodies recover well cramped in vans with hours-long waits between runs. 

While most teams rent two vans, which allows teams to work in shifts and even get in consecutive hours of sleep at rest stops, we prefer a single van. It's cheaper, more intense, and it heightens the experience. 

Spending 24-plus uninterrupted hours with nine sweating friends means you almost necessarily come back a different, stronger, nicer, weirder person. That's the point. 

Goin' our way? We've got beef jerky... #TIR2015

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Safety is paramount, and teams must 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-leg for our current runner. Teams must be self-sufficient and able to provide their runners with extra water or cool towels, if needed, as well as make sure runners have directions and stay on course, much of which is uncovered, with little shade. Heat exhaustion is a real concern during the earliest legs and "bonk brain" - a runner's proclivity toward poor choices as fatigue sets in - becomes the norm.

Making sure the Captain stays hydrated mid-run. #TIR2015

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#TIR2015

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While "kills" and "tagging" may seem unsportsmanlike, it's important to note that many teams we encountered routinely checked in on runners from other teams to offer fluids, honks of encouragement, and aid. One guardian angel even helped push us out of a ... precarious situation.

That time we got stuck in a yard... Sorry about the tracks... #TIR2015

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Food becomes scarce as small towns shut down early. Many only have one store anyway. Teams must pack efficiently and prepare to sustain demanding physical schedules with meals that won't easily spoil. 

Ultra runners know how to eat. #TIR2015

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True, TIR is no walk in the park, but sometimes it seems like one. Runners head through the heart of the Texas hill country past rolling fields painted with red and blue wildflowers. Important historic landmarks dot the trail, like the Sam Houston Oak, where the general rested during "The Runaway Scrape."

A Texas historical landmark, the Sam Houston Oak #TIR2015

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Returning Houston-based team The Mullets always add to the fun with insane costumes and a wildly decorated van. This year, they rocked disco gear from head-to-toe. Here, Billy Wren shows off a drone he brought for overhead photo-ops. He contacted me via Instagram, and you can see his videos on YouTube. 

Team Mullet brought a drone! #TIR2015

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Disco dudes ... now, THAT'S commitment to a theme. #TIR2015

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Towns like Flatonia, Weimar, and Schulenburg really get into it, welcoming runners with street vendors, much needed hot food, and running water. Schulenburg has even started throwing an annual Sausage Fest, replete with folks two-stepping in the streets and an antique car show, all before the backdrop of a Texas sunset and the foreboding promise of spooky bumps in the night along deserted highways.   

The mighty, mulleted Billy Wren caught the whole thing via his drone:

Night legs can be both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. There are few lights along Highway 90, making reflective safety vests and headlamps both necessary and, according to official rules, mandatory. 

Hay bales become chupacabras. Sign posts transform into Texas Chainsaw Massacre villains. Some spot a "ghost train" as they run parallel to the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. A thrilling illusion, it happens when a blinding headlight emerges from the darkness, seeming  like it's coming directly onto a runner's path on the highway shoulder. Upon passing, it leaves nothing in its wake except a screaming horn, the clamor of metal on the tracks, and pitch blackness, but for a half moon and twinkling celestial bodies overhead.

Sun's down at exchange point sixteen.

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Below, Laura Lamons battles hunger, frustration, and blisters from the morning's gravel roads during an eerie night run in the Texas countryside. Even in the face of physical pain and mental struggle, she outruns my camera. 

#TIR2015

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Most teams hit the outskirts of Houston before sunup and run through a mix of pristine trails and manicured parks on the west side and downtown before traversing broken urban sidewalks through industrial neighborhoods. Local police shut down intersections for passing runners, which both infuriates motorists and safeguards contestants from dicey traffic situations. Officers are friendly, and many cheer on runners along the way. They seem to enjoy taking part, and without their volunteering, relaying through a major American city wouldn't be possible.

Below, by Sunday morning fatigue had set in for Matt Florence and Craig Ranger, so they regrouped at MacGregor Park before heading out for another five hours. Further below, the team's next runner, Steve Jones, wouldn't let a little sleeplessness dampen his spirit. Or, his legs.

#TIR2015

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#TIR2015

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By the 40th and final leg, the majority of teams have been running and traveling for more the 24 hours. The San Jacinto monument -- and, therefore, the finish line -- is in view for most of the last five miles as a team's anchor pulls into the site of the battleground, now a national park, in La Porte.

There, teams reunite with their runner and circle the monument, ending the adventure together, just like they started. There's free pizza, photos, and medals big as ten gallon hat. There's reflection, hugs, and a four hour drive back to Dallas. 

There's no doubt, even then, as to whether it's worth coming back in 2016. 

#TIR2015

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Want more? The official TIR social media team that did a bang-up job, posting incredible moments throughout the weekend on Facebook. Or, see the rest of my pics on Instagram. 

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