The Louisiana Marathon race recap
Nine months ago, I signed up for the inaugural Louisiana Marathon, which was held on Sunday January 15th. Originally, this race was intended to be one where I left everything out on the course in an attempt to qualify for Boston. But with the rollback in qualifying times, as well as a disappointing marathon performance in New York City back in November, I scrapped those plans. And since then, I’ve signed up for a two-person relay team for the 126.2 mile Rouge-Orleans ultramarathon on February 11th and 12th, as well as the Mississippi 50 mile trail ultra 3 weeks later. With Rouge-Orleans only four weeks away, it would do my race partner no good if I came away from the Louisiana Marathon injured or needing a long recovery. So, I looked at this one as a nice long training run. I didn’t really have a goal time, but would be happy running 8-minute miles, which would be a 3:30 finish.
One of the best aspects of this marathon is that it would allow me to stay in a familiar setting and sleep in my own comfortable bed the night before. I was able to stay off my feet most of the day Saturday and I passed on the normal pasta carb load for a couple of beers and an early dinner of a chicken burrito. I hit the sack before 10 pm Saturday night and slept well with the 5:30 alarm waking me up. A Clif bar and a Boost shake served as breakfast and I headed out the door shortly after 6:00 for the 7:00 start.
I was rather concerned at the heavy fog I encountered on the drive. It was dark, and impossible to see beyond 50 feet or so. Thoughts of running through a cold fog were dancing through my head when all the sudden it was gone. I found a parking spot less than a quarter mile from the starting line, made sure I had my gels and salt capsules as well as my water bottle, then headed to the starting area. It was chilly, but not brutally cold and I didn’t have long to wait in it before the race started. The start was right in front of the 50 steps of the state capitol building and provided for a historical setting.
Soon we were off and I tried to go out at that 8-minute pace. The course weaved a bit around downtown, making it tough to run the tangents since it was still a bit crowded at that point. I was initially behind the 3:25 pace group, but jumped in front of them mainly because there was less of a crowd there. My Garmin beeped at the first mile, and I looked to see a 7:51 pace. I was happy with that, since it wasn’t far off my goal pace and it’s always hard to keep that first mile slow.
We ascended the North Boulevard overpass, which didn’t seem terribly difficult just a mile into the race, but I think we all knew it would be a different story on the way back. I turned onto 19th Street, which eventually changes names to Park then to Dalrymple. I ran the next several miles with a runner who had come out to the last Rouge-Orleans levee run the previous Tuesday night and we chatted a good bit as my pace sped up. Those few miles were run closer to a 7:35 pace, and I knew I had to slow it down some. We came upon the familiar section of Dalrymple at City Park headed towards LSU, a route I could probably run in my sleep. There’s something to be said for running a familiar stretch in a marathon, because it makes you more comfortable knowing where you are. As we headed up South Stadium Drive, the half marathoners made a U-turn, while the marathoners continued on throughout LSU’s campus. We ran in front of the union and Memorial Tower before taking a left towards Mike the Tiger’s habitat and then running right next to Tiger Stadium and then back to South Stadium and on to where the half U-turn was. At mile 7, my cold hands struggled to get to my Saltstick capsules and Crank e-Gel, so I ended up stopping to consume those. It made for a slower mile split, but that was probably necessary. We split off again from the half to run through the College Town neighborhood, then emerged onto Stanford to run with them again. We all ran together around the lakes towards City Park and the Hillsdale neighborhood. Somewhere around mile 12 ½, I spotted my family and stopped to give my girls a hug. It was really great to see their smiling faces cheering daddy on, especially since I knew they would be cold in the low 40 temperatures. It was after that stop that I noticed the 3:25 pace group was right behind me, so my plan was to stick with them as long as I could hold it.
We split off from the half marathoners for good at Kleinart, and headed off for the lonliest half of the race. The beautiful tree lined street made for easy running and this too was a familiar stretch. At mile 14, I downed another e-Gel and 2 more Saltstick capsules, according to plan.
We turned for a block to Claycut and headed towards the Webb Park golf course and Jefferson Highway for 2 miles. The pace group was chatting and holding a nice 7:45-ish pace. Somewhere around the 16 mile mark, I passed some friends’ house on Sevenoaks. They were having a nice marathon party and cheering the spectators on. My Rouge-Orleans teammate, Kristin, was in the crowd there as well, and she got a picture of me.
We continued on and made a loop in the Tara subdivision where I saw my daughter’s soccer coach and family helping out at an aid station. And at long last, we were headed back downtown towards the finish.
I had my last e-Gel and Saltstick capsules at the 21 mile mark. It was beginning to feel nice knowing that we were clicking off the miles at a good pace. My legs still felt good, if not a bit tired. We passed a lot of marathoners coming back in and the support was great. Again we cut back over to Kleinart and I saw my family around mile 23. When you know all you have left is a 5K, it starts to set in that you’re gonna make it.
We turned on Park and headed to North Boulevard again when we came across Varsity Sports’ own Jenni Peters, who was pulling another marathoner along with her encouraging words.
The last dreadful moment was seeing that overpass. And honestly, it was tough sledding going up that bridge. After a 7:34 mile 24, that 25th mile was slow. But it was still right on pace, at 7:51, although it took me close to half a mile to recover from the effort. Then I got my second wind. I breezed through mile 26 at a sub-7:30 pace, passing 6 runners in the last half mile stretch. We made several turns downtown, and I kept waiting to see the finish line. Finally, one more turn, and my first cramp (in my right hamstring) and there it was. I had to ease off a bit to keep from cramping more, but I crossed the finish line in 3:24:20, well under my 3:30 hopeful time.
It’s funny that after a marathon, you’d think all you‘d want to do is stop and get off your feet. But that’s the last thing you should do. I knew I needed to walk a good bit to keep the lactic acid buildup at bay. And walking after running 26.2 miles is sometimes difficult. I had several people ask if I was OK, but I just needed to keep walking and get my legs back under me. I walked back to the start to retrieve the fleece pullover I left there, then took the short walk back to the car so I could change clothes. I find the sooner I get out of sweaty running clothes, the better I feel. And I had my celebratory beer waiting for me in the car, a Westvleteren 12, which is a nearly impossible to find Belgian Trappist ale. And it tasted so sweet!
I made my way back to the finish festival to eat some food, listen to some music, and have some more post-run recovery drinks. The organizers of the finish festival did a fantastic job. The entertainment was top notch, the food celebrated Louisiana with dishes such as chicken and sausage gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, and my personal favorite, grits and grillades from Doe’s eat place. I also liked that they stayed away from the light macrobrews and went with local and regional craft beers from Tin Roof, Covington Brewhouse, Bayou Teche Brewing, Lazy Magnolia and Saint Arnold. Hopefully this exposure showed runners that there’s more to beer than Bud Light.
I enjoyed hanging around with the other finishers and my family soon joined me. Of course, my girls were more excited about the bouncy slides at the finish than anything else. I got to visit with many friends, old and new. I was even able to see an old high school classmate that I haven’t seen in years finish her first marathon. Congrats Claire!
Congratulations to Craig Sweeney, Pat Fellows, Susan Hayden and all who helped make the inaugural Louisiana Marathon such a roaring success. They really put on a first class event, and it’s one that I’ll return to, whether to run or to volunteer in next year. I know they have some lofty aspirations for it, and they’ll achieve them when word gets out on just how well this event was staged.
As for me, I got in a 4 mile recovery run this morning, at a way-too-faster-than-I-should-have-run pace. I’m cursing the foam roller torture device tonight! But I’ve got to get ready for my next race 5 days from now, the Forge Dirty Soles half marathon in Mandeville.