Friday, 16 March 2012
Friday, 9 March 2012
It was not without a certain level of trepidation that I boarded my Southwest flight to the Big Easy for my first marathon in more than two years. Over a period of 8 years that began when I turned 50, I started 31 marys...and finished all but one. In 2009 I ran 12...and...until last weekend had not gone the distance since December of that year.
This was going to be a test mostly of my mental commitment. A few weeks previous I had run 20, in a shorter test of the same, and to see if it was safe to run long in my minimal Altra shoes. All went well then, but last Sunday I tacked on 6 more miles and another hour...in Rock and Roll New Orleans.
Turns out I was up to it all. It was as sweet as New Orleans jazz.
My first day in NOLA was frightening. As I walked out my apartment door for the first time, I was well-smacked in the face by a wall of near-visible humidity. I have lived in Pittsburgh during the summer, so I know sweltering heat...but this was insane. It immediately became my number one concern to the point where I let my friends and fellow marathoners who were coming out from the Bay Area on later flights know that if this weather held through the marathon we were in deep doo-doo.
Spent the day doing the sight-seeing thing, walking so much that I developed the beginnings of blister on one foot. Met my friend Patti for dinner in the French Quarter, where I opted for carb-rich red beans and rice. She went for blackened catfish. We both had beers. Carbs, you know.
Saturday was all about cheering the weather gods for blowing the sticky out overnight...and some early morning sightseeing....
...followed by a cooking class at...
Our delightful lecturer, Sandra, showed us how to make jambalaya, gumbo, bread pudding, and pralines (prah...not pray). Then we got to scarf it all down. More race prep.
Then it was off to the marathon expo, where we all...me, Patti, John, and Carrie, met up. After that, I headed to my digs, to go through my still-familiar pre-race rituals...and dinner...that consisted of the second half of my muffaletta lunch from the day before.
I woke up a minute before my 5am alarm went off, had english muffins and creamed cheese and coffee and headed for the starting line in downtown. Patti and I met up and had another cup of coffee then entered corral 16.
As you may know, I am a devout follower of Jeff Galloway and veteran marathon run-walk guy. Patti does not run-walk. Therefore, we ran together for about 5 minutes...then she took off...as I slipped into my first walk interval. I would not see her again until mile 20, when we passed on an out-and-back along the shore of Lake Ponchartrain.
This was by far the flattest marathon course I have ever run...even flatter than Chicago. The scenery was as beautiful and interesting. The supporting crowd was not huge. Chicago's got NOLA beat where that's concerned. But the folks who did turn out to cheer did it with gusto.
Shortly after running under the start banner, 29 minutes after the first corral left, we turned onto tree-lined St. Charles Avenue, and stayed on that historic street until we reached Loyola, then turned around, and headed for the French Quarter, then up Esplanade to City Park, then up to Lake Ponchartrain. After the aforementioned out-and-back there it was back to City Park where we wrapped it all up. All three of my friends were there, thrilled that it was all over. We've already started talking about where we're going next.
This was definitely one of the strongest marathon's I've run. My Garmin says my total time was 5:26...but I had about 6 minutes of non-moving time (ie. porta potties)which puts my moving time at 5:20. The shoes performed better than I could ever have hoped for. I maintained my intervals from beginning to end, which was a real challenge on a number of occasions when I would rather have been walking. One of the best moments was as I approached the finish line...where John Bingham, the "No Need for Speed" guy, was welcoming the runners home said "Man, you look strong". Doesn't get any better than that.
What followed was two of the best nights of eating I have ever experienced. Us runners were wined and dined by Patti's exceedingly generous husband, Rusty, at two amazing top flight restaurants. At the Palace Cafe I had turtle soup for the first time and chicken with truffled mashed potatoes...and...a Hurricane. The next night we met at one of the hottest spots in the Big Easy, Cochon, a pork-themed place that could not have been better. I will just say, if you've never had real southern grits...you have not lived.
This was also the first time I'd opted for an AirBNB room, instead of a hotel or hostel, and, if everyone is as gracious a host as Ronnie Woods was for me, I may never stay in a hotel again. He did come up with one of the best lines of the weekend the night I arrived. After I told him I was there to run Rock and Roll Marathon he asked if it was "one of the long ones?" Yes, Ronnie. It was.