Saturday, March 5, 2016

Race Recap State #8: Louisiana

Race: Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans (formerly Mardis Gras Marathon)
Date: February 28, 2016
Result: 5:31:55
Charity: St. Jude Children's Hospital
Amount Raised: $579

"I run to eat." That's Blaine's philosophy, he revealed, as our waitress at Katie's Restaurant dropped a plate of chargrilled oysters, a stuffed seafood beignet and some cheesy garlic bread on us like a caloric nuclear bomb.  My friend from U of I whom I hadn't seen in over 20 years and his lovely wife Liz took me and Mae here after grabbing our race packets, exchanging my St. Jude singlet (they sent everyone Mediums, which would have been ok 2 years ago) and picking up some sunglasses and Margarita Clif Bloks at the Expo downtown.

I imagine running to eat is more of a necessity than a philosophy around here, as a plate of cajun spiced chicken alfredo methodically disappeared before me. But man, this beignet stuffed with shrimp, crawfish, crabmeat, jalapenos, onions and cheese was one of the best things I have ever eaten, and I have eaten a lot of things.  We talked running most of the meal, like upcoming races (Disney 2017!) and how to pronounce Blaine and Liz both share a passion for running, and Liz - like Mae and I - are all about that race bling. But if they're not sharing on Facebook their latest race conquest, it's a mouth-watering post about the food they've got there. It's the latter that drew me down here more than anything, and this early dinner has already made the trip worth it.  

A random wedding parade
We made it back to the Embassy Suites near the convention center and just a few blocks from the race start.  We hadn't even begun to unpack when the fire alarm went off and we were told to go to the fire exit and await further instructions, which never came.  So we went out to our balcony on the 14th floor and waved at a wedding parade spilling out into the street. The thought of running a few miles before going to bed came and went and I passed out instead. At 7 pm.

A faint drum and bass and a regularly occurring siren in the distance got me up some time after midnight and after drifting in and out for the next few hours we were up and about by about 5 in the morning. We headed down at around 6 when they were already serving breakfast downstairs and felt a nervous energy in the air. Mae and I split a customary bagel and I forgot to get my coffee.

St. Jude Heroes raised $168,000

Ragnar in the House
At Lafayette Square I kissed Mae goodbye who hadn't run at all since Ragnar Chicago last June and as she headed into her corral and started her 10k race at 7am I started wandering towards the start line of the Half/Full which was around the corner.  I found some other folks wearing red singlets like the one I was wearing and posed for a team picture with the other St. Jude Heroes at the start line.  I got to meet other fundraisers like Cindy who had a picture of her daughter on her back and shared stories with them, and you can read more about her story here.

I had a predicted finish of 9:59:59 and was assigned coral 26, the very last corral in the back of the pack.  I guess I forgot to fill out that part of the registration.  Since I didn't think I was that slow I decided to track down Blaine and Liz and hang out with them before the start and found them in Coral 15.

The Half/Full start was at 7:30, and with 2 minutes in between each coral release we didn't get rolling until 8:09.  I felt bad for Mae since she was almost done with her race, and I hadn't even started yet! On top of that, all this waiting around gave me the urge to go to the bathroom but there weren't any in sight. So I was torn between finishing as fast as I can and holding back to delay the wall I knew I would hit by mile 15 or so.  This is the earliest race I've ever done in the calendar year. I thought I would get my act together after the holidays and train for this, but it never happened.  So I held back and took it easy under crystal clear skies, running 11 minute miles for the first 10 miles or so.

St. Charles Cable Car Line
An early stretch had us running out and back down a pothole laden St. Charles St., and a handful of us took advantage of running down on the dirt lined tracks since the cable cars weren't running.  There were bands playing at every big intersection, and I pulled out my headphones to listen as I ran by. There was also a funny sign where some bro was offering free motivational ass slaps.  Not sure why but I couldn't help but pull the side of my singlet up and yelled, "right here buddy" as he wound up and sent me on my way.  I think this stunt may have jostled my bladder because not long after I had to find a pit stop, and the next group of porta potties had two pretty long lines, each about 8 people deep. The one I picked moved quickly but of course when I made it to the front of the line no one came out for literally 5 minutes but that really is the story of my life. Whenever given the option to pick between lines, I always pick the longest one, whether I'm at the grocery store, driving on the highway, or running a marathon.  And on top of that, the next block had another set of porta potties with no lines whatsoever.

I saw my hotel around Mile 8 after passing the WWII Museum and pulled out my phone to text Mae to see if she found her way back there.  Because the finish line at City Park for all the races was several miles from the start line, they had shuttle buses bringing back people to the start line.  I wasn't sure what her plans were but she texted me back that she was just going to hang out at the park near the finish line. Man, I hope she doesn't get too bored because I was going s-l-o-w.

Approaching the French Quarter
The most lively part of the race took place in the French Quarter between miles 9 and 10.  It really sank in that I was in the heart of New Orleans and really began to absorb the atmosphere as we ran down Decatur Street.  A sweet girl of about six was passing out beads that I will keep forever.  To my left was the St. Louis Cathedral which was as picturesque as a postcard.  On my right I would have stopped for some beignets at Cafe Du Monde if the line wasn't so long. And on the ground was my hotel key, which fell out of my belt that I failed to zip up after my last gel. Thankfully I kicked it on the way down or I wouldn't have even noticed that I dropped it.

Decatur Street
I began to freak out because I didn't know where the split between the half and full runners and we were already on mile 12, so I kept checking behind me for yellow bibs who were running the full.  Finally the split came at almost mile 13 and the course congestion thinned out completely. I was hoping to see Mae somewhere along the way but she was waiting for Blaine and Liz at the finish for their half.  I was also super paranoid about my toe tag falling off, since I ran past a few stray tags laying on the ground.  It also didn't help that I put it on wrong - it's supposed to form a nice circle loop but I joined the ends wrong so it was like a flat teardrop.  I shouldn't attempt to do anything important at 5 in the morning.  Every block or so I'd look down to make sure it was still there.

By mile 15 as I predicted, I felt the bonk hit even though I took it easy - I texted Mae to let her know I was running 13 minute miles at this point. My right ankle was beginning to bother me like it did during training and my right pinky toe was screaming at me. So for the next 10 miles I decided to break down the rest of the race in quarter mile portions. Every quarter mile I hit I would try to run until 0.2 miles have passed, then walk for 0.05 mile and then repeat.  I saw a number of people cutting the course which made me sad.  Every two miles I would text Mae my mile marker hoping to get words of encouragement back from her.  I also tried to find my latest Trap mix I had put together on the iPod shuffle but being set on random it just wouldn't come up.

Some nice houses near Lake Pontchartrain at mile 19
The 25th mile was a merciful one, and I guess to offset the longer miles earlier in the race my Garmin measured this last mile as 0.8 mile long and I got through it relatively quickly.  I could hear the crowd get louder and picked up the pace as the announcer called out my name as a St. Jude Hero and gave him a high five as I crossed the finish.  A volunteer handed me my beaded medal - it's the St. Louis cathedral - and after a finish line selfie I ripped out my earbuds and heard Mae yelling my name as she and Blaine were patiently waiting for me to finish.

Louisiana in the books!
At the exit chute I grabbed a bottled water, more Gatorade, which I was utterly sick of by now, a few bags of pretzels and got in line for the awesome Brooks finisher's jacket that all the cool kids were wearing.  We went straight to the shuttles after that and rode back to the start line where a much needed local beer, wings and a grilled cheese were waiting for us at Stacks Grilled Cheese and Bar, the hotel restaurant.  I was worried I would have stomach issues during the race since I drank three pouches of Glukos that they gave away at various stations, which I've never had before, but I felt pretty good and ready for a real meal.

Post race protein fix
We freshened up and met up with Blaine for dinner at McClure's, a small BBQ place on a lively Magazine Street where I got the last brisket and did some more reminiscing and catching up. There were some crazy good sauces tableside and we made a point not to go another 20 years without seeing each other again, so Disney 2017 it is.  We finished the night passing out in front of the TV watching Leo get his Academy Award and Spotlight take Best Picture.

The muffuletta
The next morning we drove around town and visited a historical cemetery, grabbed lunch with a retired couple from Irvine, CA at Cochon Butcher, and wandered around the French Quarter where we continued our celebration with dinner at Restaurant R'evolution, a super fancy place with exceptional service.  I think I undid the miles I put in the previous day but it was really nice to explore the city and indulge afterwards without the stress of a race looming. We were a bit overdressed walking down Bourbon Street so we didn't spend too much time there - and we found our way back to the French Market Inn that night which I highly recommend. Great staff and nice rooms, and for less than $100.

We did make it to Cafe Du Monde finally on our last morning there, and it was as good as everyone has described.  People watching on the patio listening to a jazz man blow his horn that morning, I felt grateful for the experience.  While walking around the square after breakfast one of the locals approached us, noticed my Hokas and told me he'd be able to tell me exactly where I got my shoes, right down to the street, city and state.  I couldn't figure out his angle so we stopped walking and entertained him.  I think he wanted to bet me $20 but I wasn't having any of that.  "Okay, tell me where I got my shoes," I said.  "You got your shoes right there under your feet, on Decatur Street, New Orleans Louisiana."  The funny part was he then sprayed my shoes in an attempt to shine them but since they're permeable the spray went right through to my sock.  I gave him a few bucks and went on our way.

The only bad part of the trip was that our 6pm flight home on Spirit got cancelled just two hours before departure.  Since it was the only Spirit flight each day from MSY to ORD we could either be put on the same flight tomorrow or get a refund and purchase a one-way flight back on a different airline.  We decided to bite the bullet and flew home on Southwest to MDW, but the leg from MSY to ORD was $20 / person so I was refunded only $70.  But it was worth it to get home to the kids that night.

What kind of car does a Hero rent?  A Nissan Versa of course.
Registration: $0
Flight: $111 there via Spirit, $120 back via Southwest
Hotels: Embassy Suites Convention Center $438 (2 nights), French Market Inn $97

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