Hi guys! I am back from New Orleans and I have to say, it was a really great weekend. It was my first time visiting the city, and while I wasn’t as completely head over heels in love with it as a lot of my friends have been, there were definitely things about the city I loved and the race itself was a great experience.
This was my third time doing a Rock ‘n’ Roll Series event. I have always loved the energy and spirit of the Rock ‘n’ Roll races, but things always tend to go wrong for me when I sign up for them. At my first one, in DC last year, I sprained my ankle on a freak trip off a curb hurrying to my corral, and ran the whole race on a fresh injury. At my second, in Vegas, I was still nursing an injury from my first marathon the month prior, and had to walk most of the race. So I was nervous something freak would happen to make RnRNOLA go wrong somehow.
But it didn’t! Everything was awesome!
When I told my friend Ali last June I had signed up for this race as my way of getting South for a winter getaway (as I did with Charleston last January), she immediately decided to join, being a big fan of New Orleans. She had run her first half marathon at the NYC Half last March, and we decided our goal for this race was for Ali to PR. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from myself time-wise, as I am now injury-free (and loving it!) but still building my mileage back up. While NOLA would have been a great course to shoot for a PR on had I been at my peak training, I wanted to be more realistic. Ali’s insta-PR from the NYC Half was 2:39. We decided to shoot for somewhere in the 2:3X range.
We flew in on Thursday night, and hit the Expo on Friday just after it opened.
Rock ‘n’ Roll race expos are almost as fun as the races themselves. Ali and I made it our personal mission to reap as much free stuff at the Expo as we could. I wasn’t very impressed with the designs for the official race merchandise as I have been for other RnR races, so that was a little disappointing, but it made it a lot less tempting to blow a ton of cash before even leaving the official Brooks merchandise area. After we made our official merch purchases (I collect pint glasses so that was my main goal), we explored the other vendors.
Free stuff we reaped included the Got Chocolate Milk towel from playing trivia, a Westin water bottle for playing Plinko, 10 minutes of electrostim from a company I can’t remember the name of, another free water bottle for spending $35 at Bondi (on adorable pink and gray argyle compression socks!), a little crawfish chatchke from a local running company, samples of sustainably raised tuna and sardines, a few discounts on races, and more. The only other purchase I made was a wide silver headband from SweatyBands to match the ribbon on my tutu (!!!), the extra width to handle my ridiculous awkward bang-length right now from the grow-out process. So I controlled my Expo purchases pretty well!
We had the rest of Friday and Saturday morning to troll around New Orleans, and I began to worry that I was doing too much walking in not the right shoes (my boots, mainly) that I was going to tire out my feet before we even ran the race. I wore compression socks to bed both nights to let my feet recover from being a tourist and it was definitely a strong choice.
Saturday night we took the bus to a part of downtown NOLA that looked a little shady but sure enough, we found Arabella di Pasta NOLA, where we were treated to a straightforward build-your-own pasta menu that was absolutely delicious. I could have had three servings, but after we left, which was just as it began to get super crowded with runners ready to carbload, that pasta fullness set in, as did a food coma. Ali and I laid our stuff out for the next morning, setting alarms and a plan of action about when to be ready by, and thankfully from the food coma I fell asleep pretty quickly after getting in bed at 9pm.
I was totally psyched about my race outfit. I made the arm warmers just from a pair of $4 cable-knit knee socks from Target that I cut holes into for my fingers and they were great the whole race. I rolled them down to just be wrist warmers in the last few miles of the race but they were crucial to those first couple of hours after checking our sweatshirts and warming up in the early morning. And as a true rock ‘n’ roll spirit, I went with black and silver, though it was tempting to go with a Mardi Gras theme. Instead, I found Ali a $15 Mardi Gras tutu at Walgreens and
made her she was totally psyched to wear it and post her #flatrunner.
(True story, I actually just kind of wanted to channel a rock star for this race, like I did with Johnny Cash at #RnRUSA in DC last March, so when I saw this photoshoot of my favorite rockstar, I knew I could pull off a tutu for this RnR race.)
We left the hotel a little after 6:15 and walked less than a mile to the start line at Lafayette Square. We waited out some of the cold in a hotel lobby, thinking we should try to pee, but mainly just used it to kill time staying warm closer to the start line. We walked into Runner’s Village around 6:50am, in time to hear the National Anthem sung for the 10K runners (a new distance added to RnRNOLA this year) who began their race at 7am.
A little after 7am Ali and I finally, sadly, parted with our warm sweatshirts and froze our tushes off waiting for the start of the race. We killed some time taking in the beauty of the gorgeous morning that was rising on Lafayette Square. However cold it felt at that moment, there was not a cloud in the sky and we knew it was going to warm up to be an absolutely perfect day for a run.
After huddling with other runners for body heat, we heard the distinctive voice of Miranda Lambert coming over the loudspeakers at the corrals, singing “Bout to tear it up down to New Orleans…” and I was officially amped. I LOVE Miranda Lambert and hearing her singing “Somethin’ Bad” with Carrie Underwood at the start made me so jazzed. I was with a partner in crime of my own, about to run the course into the ground. Let’s roll!, I kept thinking! Let’s get this thing started! We kept our corral entertained with our dancing a la Taylor Swift in our tutus to Lil John’s “Turn Down for What” and finally, our corral, lucky #7, was off.
Ali and I were trying to beware going out too fast to start with so we kept our music off in order to check in with each other for the first few miles. About a half a mile into the race I asked Ali how she felt and she said “I feel okay. I don’t feel like we’re going too fast, I just need my body to accept that we’re doing this.” We had decided to run 10:1 intervals, so our first mile was 10:06, but I knew after that we’d slow down because we’d start incorporating walk breaks. We were aiming to stay below an 11:30 pace.
Mile 1: 10:06
Mile 2: 10:41
Mile 3: 10:45
Mile 4: 10:54
The first couple miles took us through a not so scenic part of downtown NOLA, but once we hit about the 5K mark we were in a beautiful residential area full of gorgeous old houses on St. Charles Avenue. I was taking a GU every 5K, and Ali wasn’t carrying water so was taking Powerade and water at the aid stations. During our walk breaks, Ali’s New Yorker paced walk made itself known, so she’d walk way ahead of me and when the walk break was over I’d run to catch up with her. Throwing in sprints for about a minute during a run interval actually felt pretty cool, knowing I didn’t have to keep that pace but that I could motor over a tenth of a mile in about 45 seconds when needed.
Around mile 5, we were still feeling good. Ali said she was already feeling like she was running stronger than she had at the NYC Half, and that a couple of times she was able to, when her body started to think it felt tired, tell her body, “No, we can totally do this!” I told Ali of a mantra I’d learned from a blog post I’d read months and months ago – when you feel like you want to stop to walk or slow down, you do a quick check in. “Legs okay? Lungs okay?” If the answer to both is yes, you know it’s all mental and you’re stronger than that. So a few times throughout the race I’d ask her, “Legs okay? Lungs okay?” For most of the first half of the race, it was always a definite yes for both of us.
Mile 5: 11:05
Mile 6: 11:03
Mile 7: 11:01
Mile 8: 11:14
Mile 5 was when we decided to put our music on and just keep eyes on each other rather than keep up conversation. My playlist wasn’t as on point as it had been for past training runs, but I was still giggling about one of the on-course bands that had been playing Creed like a mile or 2 into the race so I didn’t mind that my playlist was weak at first.
We may have slowed down just a few seconds since the first 5K of the race, but I was really happy that we were maintaining such a steady ~11:00 pace. I was psyched to hit the 7 mile marker because that had been the length of my last training run before this event and I was still feeling strong. Approaching the mile 8 marker I needed to refill my water, but didn’t get enough at the aid station. So I took two walk breaks on this interval, making mile 9 our slowest. But I was okay with that, because we’d been banking so much time under our goal pace.
Plus, miles 8-9 took us by Cafe Du Monde and the French Market, so it wasn’t too bad a stretch to take in the sights.
Mile 9: 12:02
Mile 10: 11:31
Mile 11: 11:41
Mile 12: 11:48
Once we hit the 10 mile marker 3 minutes ahead of where I’d planned for us to be for our ambitious goal of a 2:31 finish time, I tapped Ali on the shoulder and she pulled an earbud out. “Hey Ali,” I said. “Wanna go sub-2:30?”
Her eyes got huge. “THAT CAN HAPPEN?!”
“It can if we stay strong.”
“THEN HELL YES!”
Staying strong wasn’t quite as easy as I made it sound, at least not for me. My posture problems that led to my injury last fall – that I talked about here – were starting to make themselves known in my lower back. I tried to remember to keep my core engaged so my lower back wouldn’t take over the work, but I also knew I needed to take 2 minute walk breaks instead of just 1 now. But we had banked enough of our goal pace that we didn’t need to sprint in the final miles to go sub-2:30. So Ali would speedwalk ahead and I would walk to knead out my back with my knuckles and then sprint to catch up with her, where we would then ease back into a comfortable pace. At mile 12 Ali was putting the jets on, and I told her to reign it in or else she’d crash by about mile 12.5.
I was also, much to my chagrin, starting to chafe and was just generally ready to be done, even though I was so stoked we were about to blast Ali’s PR out of the water and I had felt strong for so much of the race. It’s always hitting that final mile in a race that mentally makes me think “okay I’m done, can the finish line just be here now?”
As we rounded by the New Orleans Museum of Art, my watch read 13 miles about a tenth of a mile early, saying we’d done it in 11:47. Watching the time, I knew we were about to come in under 2:30, we just needed to stay strong for that final 400ish meters. Once we could see the finish line banner, we grabbed hands and broke into a sprint.
I stopped my watch as soon as we crossed the finish line together, but I’d been tracking myself on my phone as well and got a text not long after crossing the finish with our official time. We’d run that last 10th of a mile in a sub-10 pace and came in with an official net time of 2:27:31, which was a 12:04 PR for Ali and my 6th fastest half marathon time out of 10. More important to me than a PR was a strong time, faster than I’d expected, after injury, and more important than any of that, was HOW STOKED ALI WAS!
And yes, that’s right, this was half marathon #10 for me! To celebrate, I chugged my chocolate milk, hobbled through my chafing and aching lower back to the gear check trucks to grab my beloved sweatshirt, because I always find the space blankets rather clumsy, and then found a flat spot on the grass near the headliner concert stage to go into semi-supine. My back rejoiced in finding flatness and gravity. Ali, blessedly, amazingly, have I mentioned how much I love her, went to get me my free beer. While she was gone, I lay on my back listening to Trombone Shorty, who was AMAZING, and drinking in the gorgeous blue sky and slight breeze.
I was happy. I was happy my friend was so happy. I was happy I’d run a strong run. I was happy to be in a beautiful city. I was happy it was a beautiful day. I was happy we didn’t have to rush to get back to the hotel and had another night to recover from the race and celebrate our accomplishment in New Orleans. I was happy to have started 2015 spring race season off with an awesome start. I was happy.
The course was point to point but the line for the shuttles back to the start area moved fast. We were back near Lafayette Square within 20-ish minutes and once I had satisfied my runger with a cheeseburger from across the street from our hotel, I was ready to shower off the race and take a well-deserved nap!
Thank you, Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon 2015, for being well-organized, beautiful, having awesome spectators and volunteers, a kickass medal, and while you kinda just lucked out on this one, having absolutely pitch-perfect weather!
Net time: 2:27:31