I've been meaning to write this report for about a week now, but work has been crazy and I had yet another busy weekend last weekend including a trip to cheer on some Team Asha buddies running their 1st ever 50-miler in Huntsville TX (more on that next time)!
The race weekend started off with a 9 hour drive from Austin, TX to New Orleans, Louisiana, via Houston, TX. We had planned for the 500-mile ride to take a shorter but ended up having a little adventure in the middle! The drive started at 7:30am with some yummalicious Eintein Bagels (Green Chile Bagel with Jalapeno Salsa...mmmm)...We drove the 2.30 hrs to Houston comfortably, listening to music and jabbering about everything under the sun...From Houston, we drove, what seemed like an endless distance, to the border of TX and Louisiana! New Orleans (aka NOLA) is about an additional 200+ miles from the TX-LA border. About 100 miles from NOLA, we hit a terrible traffic jam; the traffic was literally standstill. We were lucky enough to have stopped close to a freeway exit and took the exit. We talked to a local store owner who gave us an alternate route via some farm roads and dirt roads! I was hesitant as first because we were driving my little Corolla, but the prospect of being stuck in traffic for 2-3 hours was even less appealing! So off we went through the dirt roads...my poor car bouncing along...I felt like I was on a mini roller-coaster ride! It was especially "exciting" when a much larger truck would pass us and we both had to make way for each other! :) We finally got through the 9-miles of dirt road...and another 9 miles took us to a highway running parallel to I-10 and also headed to Nola! We finally reached NOLA around 4pm, went to our hotel, collected the race packets and then got an early dinner in at an awesome pizzeria in the French Quarter! When we got back to the hotel, I got all my race gear ready and then went to bed! I needed as much zzzzs as possible for the next day!
I got up the next morning around 5am - feeling all nervous, but excited at the same time. We showered, ate, got dressed and walked the mile or so distance to the race start at the Superdome. The weather was pretty lovely - cool with a slight breeze blowing. LA is infamous for its humidity, but at that time, I could not feel a thing. I felt great! We checked in our race bags and headed to the race start. I love race starts! There's something very thrilling about standing among a large group runners (or triathletes), who have come from near and far, to do the best that they can! I had trained as much as I could given my busy schedule and was ready for the race to start!
Miles 0-8: This was probably my favorite part of the course. We ran through the French Quarter for about 2 miles, including Bourbon St and Royal St, famous (or infamous), for their jazz clubs, bars, live music and lots of other entertainment! From the French Quarter, we entered Nola's Garden District. We ran a 4 mile distance on the historic St' Charles Avenue, which was lined with rustic NOLA buildings, charming cafes, and spectacular mansions. While we were running up the road, we got to see the elite leaders returning from the loop on the other side of the road. It was pretty exciting to see them - typically, because of the way race courses are designed, it's practically impossible to get a sighting of the race leaders - so this was definitely a treat! Miles 7-8 were around the gorgeous Audubon Park, which also housed a lovely golf course. I was feeling great at this point. I had been running about 10-11 min miles, which in hindsight, was probably a little faster than I should have gone, but I was feeling absolutely great!
Miles 9-13.1: From Mile 9-12, we ran on the other side of St' Charles Ave, back to NOLA downtown. At about Mile 10, the 5:00 hr pace group passed me. This was when I kind of realized that I was probably going a little too fast, and decided to slow it down a little! I was still feeling pretty good though....the sun had come out...but there was no real heat or humidity yet. I had been taking salt tablets - 1 every half hr and eating my Cliff Shot Blocks! I was enjoying the crowds and cheers and generally having a good time. At Mile 13, the 1/2 marathoners split from the full-marathoners! I could hear roaring crowds at the 1/2 marathon finish line. I myself reached my 1/2 marathon point at about exactly 2:30h (~11:27 pace). This is my personal best time for a half-marathon, so I was feeling pretty happy! In order to finish the marathon in 5:30h, I had to run the remaining distance at about a 13:45 pace. I felt that was a pace that I could maintain pretty well! Little did I know what was in store for me!
Miles 13.1-16: This part of the course veered through the north part of downtown and led up to the State Park. From Miles 14-16, we ran on a gravel path and on a quite a bumpy road. My feet took a little bit of pounding during that time, but I tried to keep running. Cheer support had dwindled by then and the runner crowd had also shrunk down significantly since the half-marathoners were no longer there! This is one major advantage of running a race that has both half-marathoners and full-marathoners. After the split from the half-marathoners, you suddenly feel like you are all alone. And this is when the mind really start playing games with you! :)
Miles 16 - 22: Miles 16-22 took me through a loop around the New Orleans City Park. This is one of the hugest parks I have ever seen - it had everything from tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, swimming pools and even a golf course! The loop was pretty enough - but the weather gods decided to not be so nice anymore....the clouds opened up and the sun came out...bringing with some strong heat....the humidity level suddenly seemed to have gone up notches as well! I took a potty break at Mile 16, and then continued running till Mile 17. The heat and humidity really got to me by then and I had to slow down my pace considerably, alternating between running and walking! I took a gu, more salt tablets and kept munching on them cliff blocks (I love them btw! They are my new fave race snacks, except they are cumbersome to carry around! :( ) The water-stops at the race were located every 2 miles, and some of them were themed which was pretty fun! My favourite was one which was vampire-themed and volunteers were dressed as vampires, with the fangs and capes and everything! It was awesome! They even hung up bats on the trees next to the water-stop and offered "blood" - red gatorade! :p I tried to get through the run 2 miles at a time, looking forward to each water-stop!
Miles 22-26:Mile 22 brought me back to the end of the park loop and the remaining 4 miles essentially followed the same roads back to the Race Start. I was pretty energyless by then and close to hitting the wall! I just do very badly in heat and humidity, and it's something I am really going to have to work on when I decide to train for a marathon again! Just when I was feeling really burnt out, at Mile 24, I had a pleasant surprise! I saw my running buddy Vish, who had completed his half-marathon earlier (and set a killer PR may I add!). This instantly cheered me up! It's always nice to see familiar faces show up during a tough race! I picked up my pace a little during Mile 24, and told Vish to not let me walk even a bit from Mile 25 to the race finish! And he did just that! With some renewed energy and Vish's support, I finished the last 2 miles, and even managed to sprint the last 100m to the finish! I love finish lines as much as start lines! You always feel like a rockstar running through the finisher's chute whether you had a great race or a not-so-great race! I crossed the finish line, got my medal (which is uber cool by the way!!) and went to get some drinks and met up with the other runners!
One of my main goals during this race was to beat 5:30h - I did not manage to do that, but I did beat my previous PR time (5:53) by a whole 11 mins, for which, I am happy. I could have definitely done better! I'd like to blame the heat and humidity, but the truth is, I could have also trained harder, been more consistent with my shorter runs and Quality Workouts, and tried to get more long runs in. Given that, I'll take my 5:42!
Of course this also means that, I'm gonna have to do another marathon sometime to try another attempt at beating 5:30! :) But no marathon training for me anytime soon though! My goals from now on are to work on speed and running efficiency! I will focus on running some faster 10Ks and Half-Marathons before I attempt another Full! I'm also psyched up for Tri season coming up in a couple of months - and my plan is to focus more energy on getting more fit and toned for that!
The Final Numbers:
1st 13.1 Miles: 2:30h (11.26min/mile)
2nd 13.1 Miles: 3:12h (14:38min/mile)
26.2 Miles: 5:42h (13.02min/mile)
Previous Best: 5:53h (13.28min/mile)
As always, a big big thanks to all my family and friends and Team Asha for their fantastic support!! I could never run a 26.2 JLT without you guys! :)