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Relay races growing in popularity

Brom Hoban, Central Texas Running

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Many runners think of road racing as an individual sport. Just the runner against the clock.

Now team relay races are gaining in popularity in Central Texas.

"We grew from 400 teams in 2008 to 543 teams in 2009," says David Swincher, race director of the Silicon Labs Marathon Relay, which is scheduled for Sunday morning. "We have a 600-team cap this year, and it is likely we will sell out. We're running about 10 percent ahead of last year, so I think we'll hit our cap."

"Relays are a lot of fun," says Swincher, who always finds a team to run with at the Silicon Labs event. "You go to a regular running event, you show up, run and leave. You go to a relay like ours, and the whole community is there, and you run with your friends. It's a big party. I think that's what people have discovered."

The Silicon Labs Marathon Relay course uses Auditorium Shores as a hub, and each of the five relay legs (12K, 10K, 10K, 5K, 5K) starts and finishes there.

The Silicon Labs relay is second in size to the Corpus Christi Beach to Bay Relay Marathon, and is one of the largest stand-alone relays (not combined with a marathon or half-marathon) in the country. And the teams are pretty competitive, too.

"Last year, Team Jack and Adams/Zapata Roadrunners set the Guinness world record for the fastest marathon relay (2:10:49), and we hope to break it this year," says Swincher.

As popularity grows, the relay format is adapting. The inaugural Capital to Coast Relay starts Oct. 15 at Republic Park at Fourth Street and Guadalupe, and finishes at the USS Lexington aircraft carrier, which is docked in Corpus Christi.

At 223 miles, the Capital to Coast will be the longest non-stop relay race in the country. (Other relays are longer, but they stop for the night.) Teams of eight to 12 runners take turns running legs of six to nine miles each, competing round the clock for 30 hours or more, with vans transporting the runners to their next leg.

"Everything's bigger in Texas," says race co-director Clint Henderson. "The goal was to make it the longest event of its kind. Nowadays people are trying to find new ways to work out — to do something fun, like running at night, running relays, running through mud. They want to do something different and exciting."

"We have 12 runners on our team," says Robert Gonzalez, a San Antonio police officer who will run his first relay. "Each runner will run three legs. After the first runner goes, he has about 10 hours before he has to run again. We're looking at reaching Corpus in 30 or so hours. We're competitive, but we're really out there to just have fun. It's the longest relay in the country, and we wanted to be a part of it."

"I think we'll probably come in at 36 hours," says Julie Henderson, a controller for a mutual fund in Austin and part of a 12-member co-ed team. "For me, the appeal is doing something different and interesting, to keep exercise more fun."

Weekend race results: John Trowbridge won the Dilloman Triathlon in 1:03:53, ahead of Stephan Lips, who posted 1:05:44. Lisa Ansin topped the women's field in 1:18:27, with Wendy Gaertner second in 1:22:29.

Upcoming events

Saturday

• PurpleStride 5K, 8 a.m. at the Hill Country Galleria. See www.runtex.com .

• Pet Fest 5K, 8 a.m. at San Marcos City Park. See www.preventalitter.com .

Sunday

• Silicon Labs Marathon Relay, 7:15 a.m. at Auditorium Shores. See www.austinmarathonrelay.com .

• Pink Heals 5K, 8 a.m. at Tanger Outlet Mall, San Marcos. See www.smpffa.com .