Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rock 'n' Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon Race Report

Up early, had our bagels, and then walked the mile or so to the starting area. I always love the walk to the start of a big event -- seeing the other runners, in ones and twos, all heading the same direction. Most people are quiet, but a few groups are chatty. Some are in singlets and split shorts, others in full sweats. Everyone has a mixture of determination and nerves on their face -- even if they're trying to hide it.

The morning was crisp and cool - but as the sun rose, it was a gorgeous, perfect blue sky. Later when we were in the corrals, John Bingham called it a "no-excuses day". Lovely and cool, no wind, no rain. Gorgeous.

This was my first opportunity to check our the Brooks VIP Porta Potty -- boy oh boy, how awesome is it to have clean, fresh toilets with lines of, say, 4 or 6 people rather than hold-your-breath stinky porta potties with 40 people in line in front of you?

The Brooks Gurus (including Carlos, above) and many local running store folks staffed the area, offering coffee or Gatorade along with GU Chomp "appetizers" and mints. Very nice -- very Run Happy!

At one point the attendant for the men's toilet asked the line of 8 or 9 men if "anyone just needed number one", telling those folks they could just go in. I looked at the men who remained in line and thought, "Hmm... I feel I know too much about these men."

We chatted with the gurus and the HQ team, nibbled on Chomps, and did a bit of stretching. Then it was time to go to the corrals.

First we went to the front -- spotting Scott Jurek and the 3:30 pace group, resplendent in their Brite Green "I ran with Scott Jurek" Podium Ts. We cheered them off, and then headed back to our corral -- 17 out of 21 -- and climbed the barricade to get in. One overly bright (or overly shadowy?) image later, we started to move up towards the start line.

When we got to the start line, there was a strange pause. Not sure why, but it felt as if we had a lot of time to chat with the Penguin. I wanted to say "We're going on a cruise with you in Alaska!" but then felt like a dork.

And then we were off, into the perfect morning. The first part of the race was a bit "industrial" -- we spent a couple of miles running past warehouses and along train lines. Not super scenic. One of the few things I remember was a band playing "Summer of '69"... and two women chatting:
"Summer of '69" ... that's Bryan Adams, right?"
"Honey, it's a cover band."

We then turned and ran through part of the Garden District -- first running along Prytania, then hairpin turning on to St. Charles. The houses were gorgeous, the roads were broad and flat, and it was beautiful... except that I kept watching my feet because the pavements were a bit broken up.

I haven't said much about the actual RUNNING yet... So far, things were going okay. We were running our usual 5:1s, running at our usual pace, and my knee wasn't hurting too much. The stretch along St. Charles (which makes me think alternately about Anne Rice and "Princess and the Frog"...) was long and pretty shady (and of course very pretty), so it wasn't until we made the turns to go under the big overpass around mile 8 that I thought, "Well, this is starting to suck."

But we carried on. It was a little sad to see the nearly deserted "relay exchange area" -- what had once clearly been full of runners was now a holding pen for only a couple of dozen, all worrying that their relay partner had dropped out, or something.

We approached the French Quarter, running along Decatur past places we had wandered around the day before. One huge highlight: a man with a megaphone calling out runners. Two women in crazy matching mardi gras jester outfits were running along in front of us, and the megaphone guy deadpanned, "Oh, man, how embarassing that both of you showed up in the same outfit." Awesome!

A tiny bit farther along and we came to the other HUGE highlight -- the Brooks Running Dude straddling the course. Gorgeous! Love the Dude! (and the other dude in the picture, of course!)

At the 10-mile point we turned onto Esplanade for a straight shot to the park. I had been getting slower and slower, so when we hit 10 I decided that I needed to walk. The rest of the way. Weirdly enough, we had kept up a fast(ish) pace for the first 10 miles, so if we had even done a little running we would have hit close to our normal time range. But we didn't.

Esplanade is another pretty, shady street lined with big, gorgeous houses. We passed Degas's house, for example. Some cute cafes. And a water stop manned by Hash House Harriers... all wearing red "dresses". Awesome. Every time I see the HHHs I think that I need to find a slow and happy group near here.

As we made our way towards the park, we started watching the full marathoners -- who were still 10 miles from their finish. I didn't envy them AT ALL. But interesting to hear "coaching" in a pace group.

Finally, we entered the park. Again, it was thrilling to be so close to the end. I pitied the full marathoners who still had NINE MILES to go. Yikes! We started running -- especially after someone near us asked a Team in Training coach how far we were from the finish, and he said "it's just on the other side of that building... plus maybe a couple of hundred yards."

Bliss! joy! We started running, passing a surprising number of people, and then grabbed hands and ran across the finish line. Wil got a shout out (lucky!) but other than that I don't remember much.

There was plenty of food and snacks (as usual), though we both thought how much more organized the post-race food at the NYC Marathon was. "Here's your bag." Boom, boom, boom. We ate fruit cups and bagels, had our first Snickers Marathon bar (which tastes just like every other "energy bar", I'm afraid), and chugged down some water.

One of the local bands was playing on the big stage, and there was a nice vibe, but we decided that we would just head back the few miles to the hotel. (Bowling for Soup? Nah.) So we walked back along the course -- down Esplanade, where we whooped and cheered for the remaining runners, telling them that they were less than a mile from the finish, etc. We turned to walk through the French Quarter and decided that we should stop in for a Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's. It wasn't very crowded on the patio yet -- after all, it was before 11am -- but most of the people there were in their running gear, wearing their medals. We had that lovely "Ooh, congratulations!" exchange with several groups of folks, which is always wonderful. I do love the community of runners.

Looking back, it was a fun race. I wasn't anywhere near trained enough, however, and the hurty knee didn't help. So, yes, it was a new PW (other than the self-imposed walking half marathon at Disney World the year we did the Goofy Challenge). But the course was pretty, we saw way more of New Orleans than we would otherwise have done, and it meant we had a great, relaxing remaining week of vacation. So while I plan on running more (running at all... ahem...) before my next half, I still feel good about the Rock 'n' Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon.

We somehow missed taking a photo of ourselves with our medals, but we did take one of our cocktails...

Result: 2:47:22
Rock 'n' Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon 2011 Map

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