Friday, March 9, 2012

The Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathons

They say the marathon is the type of race that can change in the blink of an eye. Your months of training and preparation can disappear because of a twist of an ankle or even a slight change in the weather. Weather can change just like that and derail all of your preparations. Which explains why Jo and I were in a Walmart in new Orleans at 9:30pm the night before the marathon.

First a little background.  After running the Disney Marathon in January 2011, I came up with the crazy idea of doing the Goofy (1/2 marathon on Saturday, full marathon on Sunday) at Disney in 2012, despite completely messing up my IT band at the 2011 race.

As Jo and I started gearing up for Disney, we heard about the inaugural Rock n Roll Savannah Race, and thinking it would be fun signed up for that too.  And then Jo saw the New Orleans race.  We’ve both wanted to go to New Orleans, and this seemed like fun, though I was a bit concerned about 3 marathons so close together.  My previous best had been 2 years between marathons, and now we were talking 3 in 5 months and 4 in a year’s time.  The topper was that there was a promotion that every time the New Orleans Saints won a game, you got the margin of victory off the price of the marathon.  I looked at the Saints schedule and saw they were going to be playing the Colts, who were terrible this year.  I circled that date as the day I’d probably sign up.  The Saints won 62-7 which meant we got a $55 dollar discount each off the race.  So Jo and I got in for $40 each.  You can’t beat that price for a marathon.

My IT was in bad shape after Disney, and it took me 2 months to start running again.  But over the summer, things started to look better, and our long training runs seemed to go well.  It all came crashing down at Savannah where my IT started acting up at mile 8.  Since I knew I had Disney and New Orleans coming up, I bailed at the halfway point, even though it killed me to do it.

Disney was an interesting experience.  The half went fine, but my knee flared up again at 14.5.  I was able to finish it in pain, but took a week off and was able to start running again.  We had our next long run 2 weeks after Disney, on a very cold, rainy day.  My knee felt like the cold settled into it and it ached the entire way, not a good run.  The next training run was 3 weeks later and 3 weeks before New Orleans.  The first 16.5 miles were pretty good, but then the knee started up again and I limped through 3 more miles with quite a few walk breaks.  So I wasn’t exactly heading to NOLA brimming with confidence.

We took an early flight so we could head over to the expo on Friday and then take it easy  Saturday to be well rested for Sunday.  The expo was nice, though a little small by Rock N Roll standards.  We didn’t walk around too much since I felt that walking around the expo at Savannah helped bother my knee, plus we didn’t really need anything.  I did manage to score some more KT Pro tape cheap, plus I won a cool hat from my friends at Brooks.  And we got our marathon shirts.  Nice design even though I wasn't a fan of the white color.
Nice shirt, except for the white color
I like my new hat

After the expo it was back to the hotel for a nap for Jo, and my daily mile run for me.  I unwisely decided to check out Bourbon Street on my run, not realizing that; a) at 3 in the afternoon,  it would already be packed with drunk people, b) the road surface was awful, and c) it smelled horrible!  So I ducked off bourbon and finished my mile elsewhere.

Bourbon Street - the world's most foul smelling street

Saturday we decided to take a bus tour to eliminate too much walking.  Since it had turned chilly and rainy this worked out.  We went to dinner at John Besh’s Domenica, a modern Italian place for pasta and bread.  Excellent by the way.  While there we looked at the weather forecast again.  While we had been checking from home the temps in NOLA were all in the 65 low, 75 high range, so we had only packed shorts, a dart short sleeve shirt for me, and a dart tank for Jo.  Now the weather forecast said lows of 45!  We were realizing that we were going to be freezing at the start, so figured out we better find the Walmart and get some throw away sweats.  We headed out to Walmart where we discovered that apparently everyone in NOLA is either a 2x, 3x, or 4x since those were the only sizes they had.  We bought 2x stuff and were laughing hysterically when we tried it on.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of 112 pound Jo in her 2x Tinkerbell sweatpants.  Classic.

Ready to go

Anyway, race day came and we got up at what seemed, after Disney, a fairly reasonable 5am,  grabbed our Mardi Gras beads and headed to the start at Lafayette Square.  After the usual ½ hour wait for the bathroom, we headed for our start corral.  Unlike the corral nazi’s at Disney, this was pretty loose and you could move about a bit if you wanted.  

Getting ready to go

We pulled up right as our corral was starting and we jumped in.  One of the big issues my massage therapist has is my not warming up properly before a race, so she’s got me walking the first half mile of the marathon if I don’t have time to warm up before (which I never do).  So we walked the first ½ mile so that my knee was loose.  I might’ve walked further except Jo was a bit, um, “disgruntled”  at the walking so we started running.  The course runs through a little of the central business district before heading out through the Garden District on St Charles for about 3 miles and then back for 4.  St Charles was a great place to run.  
Heading down St Charles
Look at me!

Still heading down St Charles

Usually I hate out and back, but I really liked this.  Both sides of the street were wide and there was a wide grass median in the middle where the trolley’s normally run.  Many folks took advantage of the non running trolleys and ran on the dirt.  There was amazing crowd support through these miles and a lot of nice scenery.  Plenty of nice houses to look at.  We were sticking to our plan of 4/10 run 1/10 walk.  We had done Galloway for Disney and I thought there hadn’t been enough time between the two to switch back, so here we were.  Even though the first miles were pretty I had my usual thoughts of how far there was to go and nervousness and fears of “I’m never going to make it”.  I seemed so far to go.  At mile 6 I had my first gu and the energy/sugar made my spirits lift a little.

After we left the Garden Distract we headed past the museum section including the World War II museum, a really interesting part of town.  After a brief lull, the crowds were back in full force, which was great.
Still running

After the museum area we headed through the French Quarter.  Thankfully, it wasn't on Bourbon Street but on Decatur, which had a better road.  At this point we were pretty familiar with this part of town, so it was cool to see the areas we had visited already.  We even spotted the waiter who had server us lunch before as we passed the French Market Cafe.
Hey, didn't we have lunch there yesterday?  Why yes, we did

After this quick trip through the French Quarter, we headed up Esplanade for about 3 miles to the halfway point where the marathoners and half marathoners split up.  The esplanade was another nice area, with tons of crowd support, and interesting houses to see.  There were also tons of people giving out beads and Jo and I augmented our supply.  The only downside was that the Esplanade was apparently a VERY old road, so I had to spend almost 3 miles watching the road to make sure I didn't step in a ditch.  I couldn't afford a mis-step at this point.
Carefully watching every step

As we hit mile 12 it was decision time.  When I had originally signed us up, Jo wanted to do the 1/2 marathon and I wanted to do the full.  As we got closer to the race, our opinions switched.  I knew if I was feeling lousy I could bail at the halfway point.  We had a brief conversation and decided to press on since we both felt pretty good at that point.  

Of course, we had gone only about a mile, when my knee started to hurt.  I had a brief moment of panic and then stopped and tightened my cho-pat strap, not thinking that would change anything.  Miraculously, it did!  My pain went away for quite some time.  Around mile 14.5 we hit the alcohol/refreshment stop.  Amazingly, they were serving martini's, bloody mary's and beer.  Since it was only mile 14 and I knew we'd come back at mile 24, I skipped the drinks and went for the 4 or 5 peanut m&m's.  It was like heaven.  And kept rolling. 

After the full and half split the full course goes out to Lake Pontchartrain where you make a left turn and go about a mile down the road then about 3 miles in the other direction then 2 more to go back down the way you came.  I had heard this part was a bit boring and could be hot, but we really got lucky with the weather.  The temps were quite cool and there was even a bit of a breeze.  The lake looked so nice we even stopped for a quick picture.
Jo on the waterfront
Really a beautiful day!

After the turn around we kept running along the water.  Around mile 19 I did get a little hot, but once I took my hat off and tied it to my waist, I felt a little better.  At this point I felt like I was carrying pounds of extra stuff.  I was carrying my own water belt (so I could control my water/gu brew, plus carry gu packets), I still had my sweatshirt tied around my waist, plus now my hat, plus the mardi gras beads.  We wound up running for a couple of miles with some folks from California and chatting with them passed the time.

Around this time we hit the first of the "uphills" a series of 4 little bridges over the waterways.  After the previous 19 miles of flat it was a little jarring, but a bit nice for a change in the routine.

After passing through the University of New Orleans around mile 20, there were a bunch of female students in tie-dye shirts giving out flowers.  They gave one to Jo, which I though was a quite nice touch.

On the way to mile 21, I started getting really hungry, so I broke out my honey stinger waffle that I started carrying on my long runs, after a suggestion from Kara Vincent.  I find it's really something to look forward to as a little treat.

Around this time I started thinking that I was still running pretty good.  But didn't want to think about it.  Just as I was thinking "please don't let Jo say anything about it", she said "so how are you feeling, you seem to be going pretty good, better than Disney".  I had to give her the "I don't want to talk about it, let's just keep going" (and an explanation later.  She always forgets how superstitious I am!).

We kept rolling to mile 24.  At that point the beer sounded pretty good, so I had a beer shot, but Jo went all out and hit the martini.  It was probably the best beer I've ever had. And it kept me going.

Right after that, Jo wanted to just run the whole rest in to finish up, but I knew that my knee was aching, and I was just barely making it to each walk segment.  Each walk was like a reset button on the knee pain.  It stopped while we walked, and then gradually built on each run segment until the next walk.
Ready for it to be over

Eventually we got to the sprawling city park complex, and headed into the park.  The park was really nice and felt pretty large.  There were again some nice sights to see, as we headed for mile 26.  Right before mile 26 you passed the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), a neat looking builing, so we took a quick pic and kept going.
26 is around the corner!

Around the corner was the 26 mile mark and I was still running. 

Interestingly, the finish line was past where the finish pictures were being taken.  Surprisingly, I was able to throw on a little kick at the end and we passed some other people.

And then we were across the line.
We did it!

Cool finishers medal with a mardi gras bead ribbon

In another amazing move, my new favorite recovery drink, chocolate milk was waiting just over the finish line. I got to have some chocolate milk, got our picture taken, got a finisher shirt and headed for the long bus line back to the city.
Finisher shirt

Overall, I thought this was a great marathon, and redeemed the rock n roll series in my mind.  It was a fun, beautiful course, the support was great, and I really had a good time.

While it wasn't my fastest marathon, it was my most consistant.  Every mile was within 45 seconds of each other.  The last 3 were the fastest.  I ran every mile start to finish.  I was pleased.

On a slightly ominous note, Jo has always talked about running an ultra, even a 50K.  She always says that it's only 5 more miles past a marathon.  I've always said that I never have felt like running 5 more feet let alone 5 more miles after a marathon.  After this one I siad "you know, I think I could go a little farther"  uh oh
Jo celebrating on Bourbon Street