2011 Race Reports: Mardi Gras Rock and Roll Half Marathon (New Orleans, LA – State #3)

Three down, 47 to go… February 13, 2011

(smiling and waving at The Fates) Thanks for throwing all you had at me to try to get me off kilter, including the chest cold, the leg cramps, long span bridges over water followed by a tunnel (thanks Alabama) and the pre-trip fender bender. But, I still went. I still did it. I stunk it up, but I did it.

Pre-Race

I registered for this race in early December and had been looking forward to it since then. This was going to be my first official year as a 50-stater – at least, the first year when I actually said it out loud. Now I was accountable. Now, I actually had to do it. Now, I have to lower my voice an octave when I respond “yeah” to the inevitable question people ask me now: “really? All 50 states?”

So, I was not only excited for the journey that surely was ahead of me, but I was also excited about the trip itself: I was going alone and I decided to drive. Very interesting for a number of reasons, but specifically because I tend to be a social person – I love being surrounded by people, even if I’m not very adept at actually socializing with them. I am not really all that great by myself, which is why I felt like I needed to go by myself so badly – to prove I could do it.

So I did.

This trip was rife with challenges from the start… mounting pressures at work; endless questions from my soon-to-be-ex; a fender-bender 2 weeks before I left, topped off with a very sick son the day before I left (this comes up again, so remember this one)… let’s not mention the snow the day of, too… one thing after another that tried to break my spirit, but I was singularly focused on that 13.1. Oh, and on the flat, fast route, of course 🙂

I decided to split my trip – which turned out to be a good thing due to my cramping and aging legs – and as a result, I got to New Orleans around 4:30 on Saturday. This was just enough time to find a parking deck (pricey one at that) and get my packet.

First of all, this was probably the biggest convention center I’ve ever seen in my life. I walked for what seemed like miles to get there – and there were sooooo many people coming into and out of the place. It seemed to be never ending!  I got in and got my packet, got my shirt and saw I was still corral 5 (which I’m still not sure I deserved…) I was tired, but I decided to walk around a bit, look at some merchandise, see if there were any freebies (none that I could find, and I was kind of disappointed about that) and maybe see if there are any other races that piqued my interest. I was a little surprised that the vendors seemed to be a little light – seemed like there were more in Virginia Beach. Also, and unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as much fun as I had hoped it would be, considering I was in New Orleans and I didn’t have two kids complaining about how bored they were like I did in Virginia Beach. I actually kind of missed their griping (shhh… don’t tell THEM that!) Nonetheless, the Prefontaine fortune teller and the Brooks dressing rooms gave me a good chuckle, as did the running themed carnival games. I was just exhausted from my trip and worried about my car and dragging all my stuff 2 blocks down to my hotel. I left the expo and walked back from the enormous convention center back to my car for load #1 and checked into my hotel. By the time I finished dragging load #2 back to my room, I was feeling half dead – uh oh… oh no! NO! NO NO NO! I was coming down with the same fever/cold my son had 2 days before. Damn! I had no appetite! I was hot/cold/hot/cold/hot/cold. Damn! I was exhausted. No wonder the expo was no fun – I was sick. I decided to nip it in the bud as much as humanly possible, so I ordered a chicken Caesar salad, which I picked at, and called it a night. It was 7:30 local time at this point.

Race Day

To my utter surprise, I actually slept well that night (not so well the nights after) and I was shocked at how easy it was for me to wake up. I guess I was still pretty excited. I made my free ‘room coffee’ and tried desperately to choke down some of my usual pre-race food: peanut butter toast with a banana. ugh… my stomach wholly rejected the peanut butter toast and I wasn’t going to tempt the fates further with the banana (especially since I was bringing coconut water with me instead of plain water – more on why later) so I took a break from eating for a while, sat down and tried to relax a little before I decided to head out.

Getting worried and nervous that I hadn’t had enough to eat (that was a problem during some of my training runs) I decided to try choking down a Kashi nutrition bar… I got about 3/4 of it down before I started gagging. At least the fever seemed to be gone… I think… the cough was pretty bad, though. Had this been a training run and I hadn’t just spent a small saved fortune for this trip, I would have bagged it. But… I paid for it. I wanted to be here. Damn it, I was running. So, I headed out.

It was such a beautiful morning! It was a little crisp – about 40 degrees – but still a lot warmer than it was at home, so I was grateful. I walked down the block to the start line and saw a sight I will never, ever forget as long as I live. I wish I had just taken a photo of it, but I was worried the photo wouldn’t do the sight justice: it was literally a river of people. Now, I know there were 17,000 people in this race, but my lord, I have never seen anything like that before. The Convention Center blvd was literally packed with hundreds of people all going in the same direction and it looked fluid… it was pretty amazing. Once I got to my corral, I finished my extra water and jumped in, ready to go. I decided that, for this race, I was going to wear my earphones because I wanted to make use of the audio cues from my Runkeeper app. I got everything started and waiting, and then I turned around to see all the corrals behind me and the sun coming up over the convention center – I had to snap a shot of that one. Around the time I got my phone put away again, we were singing the national anthem and it was time to go! Yay!

The first couple of miles actually went very well – as a matter of fact, I started actually feeling much better after the first two. These miles were in the warehouse district and I was enjoying looking at all the buildings. There weren’t many spectators yet, other than friends and family who were supporting the insanity that brought them there, but they were cheering for all of us, which was really nice. Now… I ran a race where I missed a turn off and ended up running a lot longer than I should have (Tarheel 10-miler) last year, and that was my biggest fear in this race. Running 10 miles instead of 4 is one thing; running 26.2 instead of 13.1, quite another. I had it committed to memory that I was supposed to turn off after mile 5, so I became acutely aware of mile 5. I don’t remember too much before it and not a whole lot after it, but mile 5 is indelibly etched in my memory because of the fear of the turn off. Thankfully, it was very well marked! All the 13.1 folks had purple bibs and everything for us was color coded accordingly; the full folks had green bibs and all of their signs were color coded accordingly. Even in my spacey state, I managed to make the turn off and I was feeling very, very good about my race at this point. My average time was actually 8:39! A very, very good PR – by almost 10 minutes!

And then I hit mile 7. Oh… mile 7. Yes, I’ve hit walls before. And, yes, I’ve hit them in races. But mile 7 kind of scared me because I’m not sure I remember ever hitting a wall like that before. I still cringe when I think of mile 7. Actually, it was more like mile 7.63, to be fair. Seems like a random number, but that was the audio cue I had and that’s when my body just said “yeah.. that’s enough for today”. I couldn’t hold a pace under 9mm for longer than .5 mile, then .3, then .25, then .1. I was sad and very, very frustrated, but I continued because I thought to myself “I banked all that time at the front of the race” – my average was still under a 9mm, so I was still ok, right? Right?

(sigh) no.

By the time I hit the 15k marker, I was barely keeping it under a 10mm – Damn! I still had 4 miles to go – if I could just get to 12, then I would be OK, right? right?

(sigh) no.

I got as far as 11. 3 and I had to stop. (sigh). I walked for .3 mile because I was just too tired to keep going – I was coughing up a storm by this time and I started to feel feverish. The only thing that kept me going was the coconut water, which I gladly took (even if it still tasted like behind) and I started running again. 20k sign – almost there. I saw the entrance to City Park and I knew I was almost there – I swear to God, this was probably the longest .5 mile I have ever run – including the last .5 mile of the Virginia Beach pikermi. I finished with a time of 2:01:27.

Post Race

I finished up the race, got my incredibly terrible photo taken (my eyes are only half open and I didn’t get a chance to take my ear buds out before they snapped it). I walked around like a zombie for a while and answered a few text messages from friends and family and then I found my bag and got changed. I found a nice sunny spot in the middle of the park where I sat and spaced out for a bit while I waited for my friend to finish her first full (sooo proud of her!!) I watched Bowling for Soup (they were pretty funny!) and tried to choke down some food. After my friend finished, I went back to my room, took a shower and ordered in again (burger this time) and watched School of Rock. I was asleep by 8 in anticipation of my long journey home the next day.

Reflections and Learnings

I hate being bummed about that time, especially when there are a lot of folks who are healthy and can train more often than I do and still never make that time. But… I’m a competitor and I compete with myself and, to me, “winning” only really happens when you improve over your last race. That did not happen. As a matter of fact, I’ve been getting slower since my first, which is disappointing. The biggest learning to be sure is the coconut water. I drank it non-stop for 2 days before and all during the race and I did not feel the normal dehydration issues I have felt on other training and/longer races, so I think I’m going to stick to that formula for now. It is very, very expensive, but if I don’t feel like I’m going to loose my intestines after 13 miles, it might just be worth it.

Another take away: I need to be a lot more disciplined about my training. No excuses and work just cannot get in the way any more. I have to get all my training done in a week if I’m ever going to make this work. That includes yoga. I did some yoga a couple of days before this race and I believe it did make a big difference with my run. I need to make that a regular thing.

Now… to look for #4… and to kick this cold once and for all!

Anticipation… is getting the better of me

I’m so excited right now, I’m finding it hard to find a place to put all this energy.

A week from today, I’ll have hopefully finished my 3rd half marathon in as many states. I think of this as a true test as to whether or not this was just an insane idea, or if it is really a super-long-term (some might argue insane) goal. I hope it is the latter.

My only goal for next week is to finish under 2 hours as I did for the previous two races. I’d like a Personal Record (PR), but I’m also realistic – I was injured during part of my training and I have missed a lot of training runs recently due to work and life stuff… my goal this year is to be a lot more disciplined about making my training runs and cross-training workouts. Oh, and to do Yoga. So far, I’m not doing so great with it, so I have some work to do.

Regardless…

I’m excited about this time next week. If nothing else, I’ll have the experience of traveling to a new city and running with about 20k of like-minded folks, and that makes me happy.

I’m sure this will come up again this week, so my apologies in advance for being as giddy as a 12-year old at a Jonas Brother’s concert.