Date: Sunday, March 4, 2012
Place: New Orleans, LA
Total time: 2:38:17
Yes! That’s me at the finish of my first half marathon! I signed up for the Rock and Roll New Orleans half marathon last October after a huge win by the New Orleans Saints results in a $55 race registration discount ($1 off for every point the Saints beat their opponent by).
I started training in December using a very regimented plan designed to both bring a runner up to distance and increase speed. It took about a month for my training plan to fall apart. It called for 3-4 runs a week, something I don’t have time for, what with cycling and having a social life. So out went the increasing speed goal; increasing distance became my primary goal. On New Year’s Eve I ran the farthest I had ever gone up to that point – a whole seven miles. It was a huge accomplishment for me. I continued to increase my distance, slowly but surely.
Signing up for another race, the Rouge Orleans Ultra Marathon (on a 6-woman relay team), threw a kink in my half marathon training as well, requiring a week to taper for that massive race and a week for recovery. I ran my final long run (11.3 miles) on Mardi Gras, exactly 13 days before the race. I felt great going into race week, until I didn’t. After staying healthy and strong all winter, I was diagnosed with tonsillitis. Armed with a steroid shot and antibiotics, I spent the remainder of race week resting and trying not to freak out.
Enough about training! Onto the race experience!
I drove down to New Orleans alone on Saturday, arriving just around noon. My boyfriend, Josh, was out of town for work and would be driving to NOLA Sunday morning while I was racing. I arrived at the expo site, the New Orleans Convention Center in need of a parking space and restroom. 20 minutes of circling without luck sent me driving down Poydras to my hotel, the Parc St. Charles. I ditched the car with the valet, raced to the bathroom and quickly checked in before walking back to the expo.
Weaving through all the baby cheerleaders and real estate suits also attending events at the Convention Center, I made it to the RnRNOLA expo halls. I pre-printed my registration info at home, so getting my bib was a breeze, as was changing corrals. I originally estimated my finish time at 3:15:00, but knew I could shave about 40 minutes off that time. When I signed up, my longest race was a 10k, so I overestimated. From corral 24 of 25, I moved up to corral 20. I wandered around the expo checking out the booths and finding a few friends, like Heather from Running with Sass who was a member of my Rouge Orleans relay team, and some #RunLA tweeps. I snagged a hot pink Run Louisiana shirt from Claim Your Journey and the poster from the inaugural Louisiana Marathon, something I had admired for months..
After about an hour and a half at the expo, the crowds and hunger began to take their toll and I headed back to the hotel. In the Central Business District on a Saturday, my only options for a quick, inexpensive snack turned out to be the hotel vending machine. Pretzels and mini cookies would have to hold me over until dinner. A nap and phone call with the boyfriend later, I grabbed a cab to meet my brother and sister-in-law. The day I registered with that amazing discount (rough estimates say about 8,000 people registered with the SaintsWin code), I convinced my sister-in-law to do the race too. She invited a bunch of friends from across the country and they rented a house in the Garden District. Saturday night, my brother David made gumbo for everyone, including me. I left the house a couple hours later well-fed with two Abita Strawberry beers in my belly. The perfect recipe for a good night’s sleep, I hoped.
I laid out my race clothes and climbed into bed. I slept well, waking up about every hour terrified I had missed my alarm (pretty typical for me before a race or early morning flight). I got up around 5:20 and slowly started my day. I thought I was so smart when I decided to pack my usual pre-long run breakfast of Greek yogurt, fruit and honey, but I felt pretty silly eating it with my fingers. Note to self: remember a spoon next time.
The day I registered for the race I booked a hotel as well; weeks later, when the Competitor group released the final race map, I was pleased to find out my hotel was at the start line. All geared up (race belt and bib, water bottle, phone/headphones), I sauntered downstairs to check out the start line.
I found my sister-in-law quickly, or, I should say, she found me. I was deep in composing a tweet when I heard her yell “NeNe” (my nephew and nieces’ name for me). Stacie was worried about the race. Three kids had really derailed any attempt at training; her goal was to survive and finish, which she did. I’m really proud of her.
I wound my way from corral one to my spot. It was a long walk that far back, but I was so pleased to be out there. Saturday had been windy and gloomy; but Sunday’s forecast held only clear, blue skies. It was in the 40s as we waited for the start of the race and I saw lots of people shivering, but I felt great in my tech tee and capris.
I met my friend Damian (@Cajun_Kiwi) in our corral. During lots of tweets back and forth while training we figured out we run about the same pace and agreed that running RnRNOLA together was a good idea. We finally started to move at 7:08 and crossed the start line in a crowd at 7:33. I’ve read other recaps with complaints about the crowds and having a hard time getting started, but I quickly found an easy pace. Maybe my corral was well paced, or just less crowded since it was farther back. It wasn’t long before I noticed I was passing people with much lower corral numbers on their bibs.
As we made the first few turns away from Poydras and toward the Garden District, the sun really started to appear. I spotted tutus galore and these soldiers in full packs and boots. Later, we spotted several firefighters in full gear as well.
The run down St. Charles was picturesque and the fears I had about the road surface (that it would be rough and uneven) were unfounded. Damian and I chatted and passed lots of people. Running with a friend is something I rarely do, so it was wonderful to have company. RnRNOLA was Damian’s third half. He did this race last year with his wife; they finished around 4:00 after blisters seriously held them back. He also completed the Louisiana Marathon half in January, shaving more than an hour off his time. He was looking for a PR during RnRNOLA, but expected to finish in about 2:45.
We passed both the 5K and 10K mile markers while still on St. Charles, which was a long out-and-back, before turning on Melpomene Ave. to make our way to Magazine and into the French Quarter. My splits were 12:20/mile for the 5K and 12:24/mile for the 10K. That was a little slower than I was shooting for, but it was such a nice run that I wasn’t too worried about pace. My goal was to finish, and hopefully finish under 2:45. I refilled my water bottle (which originally held water and half a Nuun tablet) at the water stop around mile seven with a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade. I took my second Gu around this time too.
I did start to move a little faster after we turned off of St. Charles. I grabbed a thimbleful of beer that someone offered me. It was cold and delicious and just what I needed as we crossed mile eight and turned onto Magazine.
Mile eight took us past the World War II museum and several good restaurants before we turned back onto Poydras for a few hundred feet and on to S. Peters. The French Quarter took us under this guy, a weird, crazy rocker blow up. I snapped a bunch of photos of myself running as we passed the St. Louis Cathedral. I have to say that I always run with headphones and music, but put it all away before we even hit a mile. Talking to Damian, listening to the bands (although we had bad luck and only half seemed to be playing as we passed) and just taking it all in was so much better than any playlist.
We walked through the water stop just before mile 10 and turned onto Esplanade. The home stretch! I texted Josh to let him know where I was (as I did when we crossed the start and at the six mile mark), commenting that it was just an easy 5k left. I felt great and still had plenty to give, but Damian was feeling rough. He developed a blister a few miles in and finally dropped back around mile 11. That was my cue to take off. (And I did; my split for the final 3.1 miles was 11:17/mile).
I picked up the pace a little and tried to ignore that I was definitely feeling the miles now, especially without a buddy to chat with, although Damian and I had been talking less and less as the miles went by and he started to feel the pain. Esplanade was also a terrible street surface and all the fears I had for St. Charles came true there. Pock marked and gravely, Esplanade was hell on tired feet. I finally spotted the entrance to City Park. Almost every runner around me followed the Half Marathon signs; a handful of marathoners peeled off for their loop along Lakeshore and all I could think was that I was so glad I wasn’t one of them.
I sped up again as we went over the bridge into City Park. I missed Josh’s dad and Pierre, his mom’s service dog (Josh’s mom was also racing), as I rounded the museum headed toward the final stretch, but I did hear Josh yell my name and spotted him just ahead of the finish line. I passed a few more people and really stretched my legs as I crossed the finish line. I’ll admit that it seemed like there were several timing strips and I wasn’t sure when I could stop. I made sure to cross the finish line with a smile on my face, though…
I loaded up with my medal (!), water, Gatorade, half a bagel, pineapple chunks, a Marathon bar and chocolate milk, but never saw what I wanted most – a banana. I stopped to take a photo with my medal (at the top of this post). If you look closely, you can see my bagel at the bottom and exited the chute to find Josh.
I was so happy to see him and even more excited to sit down! We found a spot on the grass and I chugged some Gatorade, ditched the pineapple, gave the Marathon bar to Josh and caught my breath. I had no idea what my actual time was, since I didn’t see exactly what time we crossed the start line. I was okay with that, though, and just enjoyed finishing. We found my brother, but Stacie hadn’t yet crossed the finish line. It was nearly 10:30 at this point and, since I had to checkout of the hotel at noon, we couldn’t stay to see his mom or Stacie finish, which I felt bad about. Damian crossed the finish line about five minutes behind. Stacie and Josh’s mom finished at 3:15 and 3:09 respectively.
We walked more than a mile back to Josh’s truck and I cleaned up and checked out of the hotel with just minutes to spare. We arranged to meet Josh’s parents for lunch later on and Josh and I headed to the Quarter. I got a milkshake at Stanley Service bar to replace some calories in a delicious, delicious manner and we wandered around, pausing to enjoy the sun in Jackson Square and hitting our favorite antique store on Decatur. We finally met Jim and Barbara around 2:00 at the Ruby Slipper, a great breakfast/brunch spot on Magazine. My eggs Blackstone (eggs benedict on a biscuit with bacon) hit the spot. Josh and I then headed back to Baton Rouge, where I celebrated with a bubble bath/Epsom salt soak and a good night sleep. I had to drive to Shreveport on Monday morning, so recovery had to be quick.
Aftermath — It took me about a week to feel normal and energized again, which I’ll also attribute to two days of travel and lugging camera equipment for work immediately after the race. My left hip pained me for a day or so, but overall I finished with little pain. My final time was 2:38:17, exactly on my target of between 2:35 and 2:40. I felt like I didn’t quite give it my all, though. I’m attributing that to slowing down a little more than expected for my running buddy and worrying about the overall distance, which was nearly two miles longer than I’d ever run before. However, I’m already planning my next races, including another half this calendar year. Right now, RnR San Antonio is a strong contender. I’d love that Heavy Medal!