Rock n Roll New Orleans Race Recap

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Oh, Rock n Roll, how you tempt us. A year ago, friends convinced hubby and I to take advantage of the deep-discounted registration fee for Rock’n’Roll New Orleans and join all the cool kids. Never mind that I knew full well last January that 2016 would be completely crazy with Alex’s final semester of high school. Never mind that planning a year out for me is completely dumb. The only smart thing I did was register for the half marathon instead of the full.

Fast forward a year, NOLA was looming. A hotel was booked, although I didn’t know anything about the hotel. All I had to go on was that “it was on the list” of host hotels. I looked at the hotel’s site and the sparse photos. I just went for it. I had no idea how far away the hotel would be from the start line or the finish line or how any of this would work. We booked airfare and made sure my parents could watch our little girl. I figured my boy would be ok on his own.

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French Quarter shenanigans before our weekend went from adult to family

 

Two weeks before race weekend, my life (as expected) took a turn for the crazy. Alex was scheduled for an audition with the LSU marching band director for that following Monday. Oh, did I tell you, my sweet boy decided on LSU for college??? Hubby got a bad strain of the flu that knocked him completely out of running. I battled turf toe from mountain climbers. That is a whole-nother story!

So, I registered Alex on the very last day of on-line registration for the RnR NOLA half marathon. It was oh-my-god expensive, but worth it. But then came the next chapter of crazy: boy had a track meet for his high school the day before the race. No big deal, I’d just shuffle around flights so that he could fly to NOLA after he ran. It would be tight, but we’ve done stupid stuff like this before. Flights had to be changed and a rental car had to be booked because we would now fly home from Baton Rouge on Monday. Hindsight being twenty-twenty, I should have just cancelled the trip and eaten the $50 race fees paid a year ago.

Race Recap

Expo: Well, it was just hubby and I at the expo. Boy wasn’t able to make it because of

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RRCA RoadRunner at the Expo

his track meet. The volunteers and race director were dead-set that I would not be able to pick up my son’s bib without him with me. While I understand policy, there is always room for a race director to show a small amount of compassion and reasonableness on a one-off situation. Not even a quick facetime with the boy would have swayed them. Instead I was given the “show up at 5:30 am on race day and add a little more stupid to the day.” The expo was smaller than I had expected, considering there were so many registrants. Even worse, they shoved all the vendors they did have in an extremely tight part of the convention center. It was worse than Manhattan at rush hour. You couldn’t move and the effect was beyond claustrophobic. I was able to register for a couple of races I already planned to run in the coming months while I was there and save a little money, but after the debacle with the bib for my son, I was pissed off and not really in the mood to be there so we didn’t stay long. (For the record, no volunteers were harmed in the making of this blog post. For real, it wasn’t their call on whether or not to be completely unreasonable, so I let it be.)

 

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How is it that this kid still needs help pinning his bib?

Pre-Race: 5:30am came pretty damn early. There were something like 25 or 30 corrals and they were completely open with no one to ensure that we were going into the right ones.  I can only call the process “stupid.” For a race director that purports to take the rules pretty seriously, one would think they would enforce people going into the correct corrals. But being the rule follower I am, I went dutifully into my assigned area. It was chilly enough to need a ditch shirt or jacket at the start line. I elected to just go with my tank, a pair of arm warmers, ditch gloves and my favorite running skirt and shiver until the race started. My 2:30ish estimated finish time landed me in corral 19 which resulted in not even beginning my race until 47 minutes after the start of the race. It’s always a little disappointing to think that the first place winner would likely cross the half finish line before the last runner crosses the start line. Insert eye roll and pursed lips here – whatever…

 

Mile 1: The race began along Poydras and made a couple of turns to make it over to St. Charles Ave. I was a little faster than my target pace for the race, but I always give myself the first mile to settle in to the race and it wasn’t so fast that I would tire.

Mile 2-almost 8: This is an out-and-back along St. Charles through some really pretty old homes. I feel like I missed a lot of the course because the road was so crummy that a lot of people chose to jump into the median and run on the trolley tracks. I remember seeing a band early on and they were not bad. I think the balance of the music was mostly piped in, which is kind of a bummer. My pace was just about what I was looking to target, considering I didn’t really have much of a goal time. The temperature was really climbing fast, so I ditched my gloves and arm warmers early on and made a conscious effort to stop at the water stops and ensure I was staying hydrated.

Mile 8-10:This stretch was through the streets where all the hotels were at. I had to giggle a little as we passed right by our hotel and I “offered” myself an out to just go back to bed. It was at this point I was getting a little hungry and craving a taco. My pace was picking up and I felt really strong. I remember distinctly hitting the 10 mile mat and looking at my watch. I had never run ten miles that fast (ok, we’re talking about only shaving off a couple of minutes here, but it was faster!) and I actually pulled out my phone to text hubby about it! Yep, this is what it’s like to run with me – be ready for texting and selfies! But then I got to thinking, that’s only a 5K left and I know how fast I have been able to run that distance lately. A PR was possible! Are you kidding me??? That poor little half marathon PR has stood for years! The phone immediately went back into my skirt and I began to focus.

Mile 10-12.5: This portion of the race was all down Esplanade Ave. and the French Quarter area. It is probably my favorite part of the race because there is so much activity. This is where I remember hearing the bagpipes. For real, I’m a sucker for a drum line or bagpipes. I realized that I had watered down my Tailwind over the last six miles through refills to the point where I absolutely had to stop and refill my water bottle at the final water stop. I was sweating pretty badly and fading fast, and I don’t use any other nutrition than my trusty Tailwind. It took a little more time than I would like to deal with my little Ziploc baggies of white powder (LOL), but it was a must. Note to self, I must figure out a better way to deal with this stuff on my road races… Up til now, the marathon and half marathon course was shared, but I was never so happy about my decision to run the half as when the branch off occurred. My pace was good, but not good enough for that PR. No biggie since I hadn’t aimed for a PR in the first place.

Final 3/4 mile: Yep, so this is where we enter City Park. It’s really big and pretty. It might officially qualify as the longest “finisher chute” ever. After such a strong race, I almost cried when, with more than a quarter mile to go, I took a step and my leg wouldn’t move. Yep, calf cramps! Are you kidding me??? I must have looked like a complete lunatic shaking my leg like a wet dog out there mid stride. This was just going to be one of those races that I couldn’t speed up at the end or give that little extra kick. The one thing Rock n Roll generally does well is the finish line. Plenty of water and Gatorade, bananas and salty snacks. I got one of the coveted finishers medals with the Mardi Gras beads. Some of the later finishers got a printed ribbon instead.

Finish: The tough part about a point-to-point race is the travel back to the start line. As in most cases, the race used school buses to transport everyone back. I feel bad for the kids on Monday, because we sure were a stinky bunch! The bus ride was a very long thirty minutes that we shared with an extremely loud guy that had far more energy than the rest of us. My son and husband said they enjoyed the concert put on by Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but I was tired

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You know you’re in NOLA when a girl is willing to run 26 miles with a veil and a bouquet.

and really just wanted a shower, so we didn’t stay for the party after the race. I felt like I had run a trail race, I was so beat up. Overall, I didn’t remember a whole lot of bands on the course (mostly it was just music being played like a DJ) and the water stops felt sporadic at best.

 

Hotel

We stayed at the Old No. 77 Hotel on Tchoupitoulas St. It was listed as a race hotel on the site and looked pretty modern and edgy. I was able to get two queen beds at the last minute when my adult weekend went family. It was fairly spendy for my taste. If I spend $250 a night, I better be treated well. We weren’t. Check-in was delayed because rooms weren’t ready. We were exhausted from an early morning flight and being on our feet all day and the best they could do was say they were sorry. Ironically, I saw plenty of people checking in quite early, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t just find us an available room if the original one was still dirty. The hard wood floors were sticky and we didn’t have enough towels. Thank goodness we were able to run down a poor housekeeper on another floor and beg for a few more. The walls were a bit thin, but at least the beds were comfortable. Or I was too exhausted that I could have slept on cement. Who knows.

Travel from the airport

OK, so this is what you need to know about traveling to New Orleans for races. Parking at the hotels is stupid expensive and it is a solid eight hour drive, so it just didn’t make a ton of sense to drive for a short weekend trip. But, airfare is fairly pricey from Dallas if you don’t get it on a deep-discount sale that Southwest does periodically. And even with the sale, the best you can do is about $73 each way. However, I was able to secure airfare on American Airlines from Baton Rouge to Dallas for less than $100 per person a week out! I’m not a great planner when it comes to travel and really just fly by the seat of my pants. I figured we would use Uber from the airport. However, know that it is a minimum trip of $75 from the airport to the French Quarter and surrounding areas. A cab is about $45 each way. There is a shuttle that you can book online with 24 hours minimum advance notice that is $24 per person.

Would I do this race again? Well, that’s a big question. I felt like everyone I knew from Dallas was in New Orleans for this race. So it’s no surprise that the group is already planning their trip for next year and taking advantage of the $50 race entry. Sure, it’s a flat course. But it wasn’t anything to write home about. The cost of the race wasn’t bad but all the rest of the costs really add up. Ultimately, I won’t run this race again. It wasn’t as great as it should have been. But every race teaches us something about ourselves. This race taught me that running a smaller, local, more personal race is what I crave. I prefer to be a runner and not just another damn bib number.

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Yep, could have slept anywhere after this weekend

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Medal Monday: Big D Half Marathon

Big D Half Marathon - DONE!I think I might have lost my mind. I’m not sure what happened that I find myself looking at April with a little apprehension. I signed up with Marcy to run the Diva Half Marathon in Galveston on April 19th. This would be our goal race. But I am also going to Des Moines, Iowa for the National RRCA Convention the weekend of the 25th and there is a race. Knowing that it would be a week after my goal race, I smartly signed up for the 10K. Safe, right? But then my fellow board members of DRC talked me into upgrading to the half (It will be slow! We will have fun! – famous last words before I always seem to pull that trigger… hahaha). So imagine my surprise when I get asked to then also pace the Big D Half Marathon…the week before Galveston. I didn’t want to run. In fact, I had the perfect spot picked out to go cheer everyone on at! But here I am, running Big D.

Pretty cool that even my boy got to pace this morning!

Pretty cool that even my boy got to pace this morning!

The Big D Half and Full Marathon has been run for a number of years and this year they changed up the course, promising a flat course for your fastest half marathon finish. In Dallas, that’s usually code for “this is gonna suck, we’ve found every elevation change we could and shoved it all into this awesome course.” True to form, there was no elevation map included with the course map online. However, a quick perusal of the streets, I knew it wasn’t flat. I’ve run West Shore before. Seriously. After my calves nearly blew up on the Rock n Roll Dallas course, I started to dread the race. I know what my legs are capable of and no amount of training or running slower or faster or ingesting various forms of electrolytes or water is going to change that my legs and I have a love-hate relationship. My kidney’s decision to sometimes not function on all cylinders typically causes most of my angst. It’s certainly a delicate balancing act of water, salt and other electrolytes to keep from cramping up because of the toxin build-up inside my pesky kidney.

Best Pace Sister EVAHH!!Determined to make this a great race, Marcy and I grabbed our blue running skirts (Skirt Sports, of course!) and our orange flowers. The orange flower from FellowFlowers.com represents runners “fiercely united.” It’s one of my favorite flowers to wear when I am with my running friends. Marcy and I set out doing 2:1 intervals. We were pacing the 2:50 finish group and this interval made the most sense. Within a quarter of a mile, we had been asked by people running near us about the intervals and asked if they could join us. The answer is always “of course!” Pacing a race is hard because you HAVE to have a great race. You can’t be the one to fall apart because runners who paid to run are counting on you to help them reach their goals. But, pacing a race is also one of the most rewarding things I do. That pace stick breaks down barriers, pulls headphones out of ears, and lets you meet the most amazing athletes. Every walk of life can be found out on a course, all running for various reasons, all with great stories of obstacles overcome.

The nitty gritty of the race: this was hilly! OK, not San Francisco-hilly, but for imageDallas, there were some inclines! Training with Dallas Running Club, we run those hills every weekend. If I was running by myself, I would likely skip those streets and only run on flat land. But that wouldn’t make me a better, faster or stronger runner, so I could do the hills, but I certainly felt inclined to complain a little under my breath as we approached each one. The day was exceptionally humid. In the end, this was the deciding factor for a whole lot of runners Sunday morning. The higher than expected temperature with 85% humidity was like running through pea soup. The water stops were spaced really weird. We would go almost three miles with no water then hit two stops in less than one mile. Stuff like that is why I ALWAYS carry my own water. That and the pesky kidney. Every water stop, I grabbed water, took a sip or two and then dumped the rest of it on my neck to try to keep cool. I really struggled with cooling myself off during the race and looking back at my Garmin, my heart rate was really high too… curiouser and curiouser.

imageAs Marcy and I approached mile 7, we got a text from my hubby who was pacing a much faster group. The humidity caught up with him and he had gotten sick on the course. He was unable to keep going at his pace (that’s why we have two pacers for each time – anything can happen on race morning). Marcy and I told him to just walk and we would catch up with him. He could finish with us. Ironically, he has never finished a half with me (he’s speedy, even if he is having an “off” race). We picked him up about mile 9. Marcy and I were really happy that everyone who wanted to run with the group was still with us and doing really well. We tried to pass the time with some jokes and I called out the miles with elapsed time as we got there.

We had just passed mile 12 when a girl collapsed to her knees right in front of us. She had been in front of us the whole race and she looked really strong, so the three of us immediately ran over to help. Her leg was cramping up and she was crying. It had locked up and she couldn’t move her foot and the cramping was so bad it was beginning to radiate to her hamstring and quad. I knew exactly what the cramping was like and hoped I could help her get it to subside, but it would take a minute. We agreed that Marcy would get the stick and the others across the finish line at the goal time and Sean and I would stay back with the injured runner. Thank goodness, the final water stop of the course was just ahead. We worked the cramp back a little and I ran ahead to get her water and Gatorade. She said she didn’t have any more energy gels left. Quick thinking prevailed. As a pacer, I always carry extra pretzels and jelly beans in a pouch for anyone that needs them. I knew she needed salt, so I offered her the pretzels, which she thankfully took. They quickly helped and she wanted to try to run it in. Sean and I assured her we would not leave her side until she crossed the finish line to her family.

Marcy, Sean and I with Elizabeth. She is truly an inspiration!

Marcy, Sean and I with Elizabeth. She is truly an inspiration!

We learned that her name was Elizabeth and this was her first half in five years. Sean told every story he could think of to take her mind off of any pain she might have been experiencing and gave her tips on running form and we invited her to come run with us at DRC. The best part was seeing the kick she had left in her as she saw that finish line. I could almost not keep up. As we crossed the mat, I grabbed a medal from a volunteer and put it on her neck. Elizabeth hugged me tight and just started to cry. She whispered that she hadn’t run a half in five years because she was looking for a kidney in that time and had just had a kidney transplant. Everything began to make sense and I told her I understood more than she knew. I was so proud of her and what she had accomplished. Marcy met the three of us at the finish line for pictures and we got to meet Elizabeth’s husband. The orange flower made so much sense at that moment. My orange flower was my declaration that we were there for all the runners out there that needed a boost, a little laugh, a few pretzels, or someone to just help you across the finish line. I was reminded that every day I get to run is a good day. Everything happens for a reason and I am now certain that I was meant to pace and be there to meet Elizabeth.

Seriously, the blog is called The Cupcake Mile. How does one not add the cupcake-after-the-race pic? ;)

Seriously, the blog is called The Cupcake Mile. How does one not add the cupcake-after-the-race pic? 😉

Well played, Mother Nature. Well played.

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I have written a race recap for the BCS Marathon three times and not been satisfied with any of them. The fact of the matter is that my race was awful. It was too hot for me to maintain race pace. I got dehydrated and my wheels completely fell off. I cried a lot, sat on a curb and felt sorry for myself. Did so much walking I felt like I was on a death march. But I’ve had a day to reflect on the race and I have changed my outlook on it.

Was it hot? Sure!
Was it humid? Yep, 100%.
Did the sun beat down? Check.
Did my once perfect race nutrition turn into an epic fail? Unfortunately, yes.
Did I get so dehydrated that I quit sweating? Sure did.
Did I PR? Nope.
Did I finish? YES.

I allowed conditions outside of my control to control me. I was trained and ready and was feeling sorry for myself.

The reality is the marathon isn’t just the final 26.2 miles. I am more fit than I was in July. I had an entire training season with no injuries. I made some lifelong friends and enjoyed the entire journey. I ran when others were unable and completed 26.2 miles!!! We raised good money for the race charities.

I am alive and there is no CAN’T in my vocabulary!! I am choosing to not measure this season’s success using my finish time this year. I have so many reasons to be happy!