Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Marathon: The 2012 Recap

The 2012 edition of Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans has come and gone, thus a race report is in order.

I’ll start with the negative first to get it out the way: Whose genius idea was it to put an extra six miles on the unshaded lakefront … at the end of the race?

Now that I have that taken care of, I am excited to say that those six miles didn’t stand in my way for another successful marathon finish! Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans proved to be the challenge I knew it would be, but little did I know that I was more mentally and physically prepared for it than I thought I was. There’s no secret that I went in to race weekend undertrained and injured (see skeptical pre-race blog post HERE), so the end result was nothing short of a pleasant surprise.

Race weekend started on Friday when I waited for a lull time at the expo to swing by and pick up my number and race shirt. There was a brisk walk through some of the vendors to find the CYJ booth, the procurement of a couple “Run Louisiana” shirts, and a quick exodus to get back to the office to wrap up the week.

Saturday morning found me back at the expo to man the CYJ booth, meet a ton of members of the CYJ Family, and eventually take a more leisurely stroll through the expo to see what was being offered. I will say that the expo was the most disappointing element of the weekend. While Brooks had a massive setup showcasing their products, and the Competitor Group did a fine job with race merch (really stepped up their game), the rest of the expo was lackluster. For a race with a reported 22,000 pre-registered runners, you would think a lot more vendors would want to have their wares available. I got my fill of Snickers Marathon bar samples and left after being on my feet for five hours to have a pre-race meal of sushi. Maybe not traditional, but the white carbs and lean protein satisfied my cravings, and was sure to not upset my already nervous stomach.

Race morning had me wake up at 4:45am, a solid fifteen minutes prior to my first alarm. After going through my pre-race routine, I ate a larger amount of breakfast than I normally consumed on marathon mornings: multiple slices of raisin bread, a banana, and a large Gatorade was the first round to go down before leaving home. At 5:45am, the best friend who traveled in from NYC arrived at my place to carpool to the start. Fortunately, I had the very generous offer from another friend to park in her spare parking spot in the Warehouse District minutes from the starting line. We parked, stopped in for a quick greeting and pre-race pep talk, and headed out to the corrals. At this point I ate a GU and water to top off the fuel tank. The corrals were all very organized, the race started on time, and I had very little to worry about as I waited for the 6th corral to toe the line and be sent on our way through the streets of New Orleans.

The initial leg of the race up and Down St. Charles Avenue was all too familiar, as I use this as my typical running route. However, I had hoped for more supportive spectators on this newly condensed first half of the route. The opportunity for friends and family to see their runners twice in one place didn’t act as much of a draw for this portion of the route, but thanks to my ever trusty iPod, I hardly noticed.

An eventual turn off St. Charles Avenue up to Magazine Street through the Warehouse District gave me my first encounters with personalized support on the course. Seeing a familiar face always puts a little speed back in to my pace and reminds me why I must keep going. This stretch also brought the first race supported GU station on-course, which I had decided to consume. The eventual exit of the business district led to a quick sprint through the French Quarter and turn on to a very rough tour of Esplanade Avenue. The street is in very poor condition, and it amazes me that the two biggest road races (Crescent City Classic 10K and New Orleans Marathon) include it in their course. While it may be the quickest way from point A to point B, it can’t be the safest. I’m sure many a runner ate pavement thanks to the holes in the concrete.

At the midway mark at the top of Esplanade Avenue is where the racers split off. The Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans half marathon runners ran side by side with the full marathon runners throughout the first thirteen miles of the race, and only split off after finishing the length of Esplanade. The first eight miles were quite congested until it thinned out and runners fell in to comfortable pacing. I did enjoy the closer quarters shared with half runners, but certain turns were too tight and made runners get dangerously close to each other. Breaking free and turning off to complete my second half was liberating yet daunting, but it meant I was that much closer to completion.

Just past the midway mark was where I planned on meeting up with my parents for the first time in the race. I had asked them to meet me close to mile fourteen on the backside of City Park, allowing them to see me again at mile twenty four and then quickly walk in to the park to rendezvous at the finish. It had been pre-discussed with my mother that I would take about two hours to get to mile fourteen, and even then the corral setup wouldn’t get me to the start line until well after 7 a.m. I also asked what she would be wearing so I could spot it from a distance. Her plan to don a “Creole Blue” Hornets sweatshirt was an excellent plan and I knew I would recognize it before I could ever recognize her. As I rounded the corner to where they should be standing, there was no Hornets gear to be spotted. I continued along hoping they were closer to the fourteen mile mark, or had to park further away than expected and just stayed in one place to make sure to see me. No parents anywhere in sight, so I just kept moving.

Needless to say, there was a good bit of concern for where my parents could be. Knowing them as well as I do, they are always early for everything and when they say they will be somewhere … they are there without fail. I assumed something happened, but I kept on track and hoped to see them on the return to the finish. The back half of the course was sunny, mundane, and as a result felt like it took an eternity. The best support of the course was at the water stations on this leg of the course, but sporadic cheering from volunteers and the occasional spectator didn’t help with the glare and lack of scenery. Seeing the leader of the race pass going in the opposite direction was exhilarating yet frustrating as I knew he was almost done and I still had an hour left to run.

After completing the lackluster six mile loop on the lakefront that included another race-supported GU station and the consumption of a third on-course GU that I had brought along, a sudden feeling crept up on me. Something that hadn’t occurred in any of my previous marathons. I became AUDIBLY hungry. Not just a slight craving for a post-race pancake, but my stomach began to rumble from emptiness. I have made a point of describing my nutrition through the race in this blog to get to this point. I was so hungry at mile twenty two, it was almost crippling to my performance. I couldn’t determine if it was because I had consumed 4 GUs and a large breakfast that I needed more, or if I was just working that hard and burning calories … but my reaction was uncommon. Thankfully the water station at mile twenty three had cookies, pretzels, cheese balls, and other snack items to get me through the final stretch. As soon as I took three off-brand Oreo Cookies and downed them, I was back on my way and felt better than I had since mile five.

As I entered the last two miles and home stretch around City Park, I knew I was back close to where my parents should be standing. Sure enough, as I passed the back side of Tad Gormley Stadium on Marconi Avenue, I could see my father from a half mile away (the LSU purple gave him away) with my mother in a white shirt next to him. So much for looking for a Hornets Fleur-De-Bee, but I guess the warm weather impacted not only the runners that day. A quick greeting, confirmation that they had only just missed me on the first pass by, and quick direction on how to meet up at the finish put me on my way to complete the race. The victory lap through City Park and up to the New Orleans Museum of Art was a lot of fun, seeing numerous half marathon finishers leave the park with medals around their necks and smiles on their faces. That final surge of emotion was just enough of a final push to get me across the line.

I ended up finishing the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon in 04:04:50 (chip time). That’s far off my PR, since I had been routinely finishing marathons sub 4 hours throughout the fall of 2011; however, considering the lack of training that I had been able to complete leading up to this race, I am quite pleased. I felt great at the finish, quickly got my medal, bypassed the photo area, and scavenged for bottled water, Gatorade, Snickers Marathon bars, Dole fruit cups, chocolate milk, and a banana. Coming out of the finishers’ chute, I looked like I had just robbed the healthiest convenience store ever.

My parents were of course waiting for me as close to the finish as they could, and much to my surprise I had a friend show up at the finish to support me as well. It was one of those moments you can’t describe, but reminds you why you undertake such an awesome challenge. Running a marathon (or half) takes determination and commitment, may cause some pain and discomfort, and leaves you hobbling for days … but in the end, having friends and family rally around you in support and the eventual acknowledgment that “You did it!” makes all of the sacrifice worth it.

Race day concluded with lunch with the parents and a decadent steak dinner with friends and fellow runners. It was by far a great experience and the best New Orleans Marathon to date. I can’t wait for the 2013 edition, and will see what I can do to rope in more friends to be a part of it (as a runner or spectator) along the way.

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