Not three weeks into the new year and I was back at it, running my third marathon ever in Baton Rouge, at the Louisiana Marathon, on 17 January 2016. For some reason, I was very nervous about this race going into the last two weeks (and especially on race day); one thought behind that is the holidays were not kind to my training or my diet (funny how that works). So I knew I was not going into the race as prepared as I could have been, and with a flat, fast course, I had expectations for a better time than my previous two marathons. When under-preparedness meets high expectations, nerves are bound to follow. Which is how I went into this race. I don’t recommend it.
I flew out of Cayman on the Thursday, as I wanted to run my first back to back race experience: the 5K on the Saturday and the marathon on the Sunday. The weather forecast was showing perfect running weather for both days (low to mid-30’s at the start, and warming up to high 40’s/low 50’s for the early afternoon), and I could not have been happier!
Friday, I was met by my friend Twyla and her husband (and other out of town friend who was our official cheerleader for the weekend), and we went as a group to packet pick up and the expo in downtown Baton Rouge. Located in a very spacious room, it seemed like a small expo, but in fact, there were quite a few booths once we started meandering. I think we missed the lunch time rush for packet pick up, and we were able to walk in and quickly find our packets (bibs) then pick up our shirts before moving on to the free coffee stop (thank you Community Coffee!) and into the expo itself. Our group had two small children that were having a field day with all the freebies, candy giveaways, sign making station and the face painting. Talk about easy entertainment! Our young friends were with us because they too had to get their packets for the kids race on Saturday, and how can you not allow the race participants to feel the whole energy of the day? After eyeballing a few other races, chatting with the Maniac Fanatic Pace Team and taking a few pictures, we bid adieu to the expo.
Twyla had planned a fun afternoon going to the State Capitol Building, which happens to be the tallest one in the US, and hop up to their observation deck. The building was a work of art itself; constructed in 1931, it had so many beautiful effects from the painted ceilings to the old fashioned brass knobs and mail chute. After taking the seemingly old elevators to the almost top of the building we stepped out into a very windy day to get a good lay of the land. If you didn’t believe the race description that said it was a flat course, this would prove it to you. Baton Rouge is flat. Twyla pointed out places that we would run past on Sunday, and all I could think was hold moly! That is a LONG way to run. I know 26.2 miles is a long way, but when you see it from above it really baffles the mind that a person can (and wants to) run that far!
I headed to bed early that night, knowing my 5:30 wake up call would come way too soon. Which it did. Ugh. And it was REALLY cold. Of course, I was at a hotel about 5 miles away from the start, and with no idea about how long it would take to get to the start area at the Capitol Building with roads being closed for the race, I was my cautious self and ordered my ride for 6:30am (race start time of 8am). I ended up freezing my butt off for well over an hour, and rearranged my early pick up plans for the following day.
Saturday, February 16: 5K (and Quarter Marathon)
I ran the 5K more as a shakeout run than anything else. But I chose to do the official race, paying my $35, because I figured that I travelled all that way to run, and I might as well enjoy the events as the organizers planned them. I am very happy I decided to do this race; not only did I get a t-shirt and medal, but I also had a good time during the race – and certainly at the after party! This was also the day of the virtual run for Meg Menzies, so I was happy that I had the chance to wear my ‘I Run for Meg’ shirt and tell a couple people about her story. The course itself wasn’t too complicated: we started near the Capitol Building, headed out of town, up and over an overpass, started to travel into a nearby neighborhood (it was a bit of a tease!), then turned around to retrace our steps back to the finish line. It was a preview of the start/finish of the marathon on the following day, so I appreciated knowing about having to hit the ‘up’ part of the overpass around mile 25 in the marathon. I completed this out and back in just under 28 minutes according to my Garmin and in the official results (although the unofficial printed results at the Finishers Festival showed a time of 28:30 which was WAY off my Garmin. But the official results came back with 27:55.) The medal was a nice fleur de lis motif in red (all medals had the motif but were done in different colors). Since quarter marathoners went at the same time, the finish line was busy for about a total of 2 hours after the race start, as all runners made their way back.
Once everyone finished, the kids ‘marathon’ of 1.2 miles began at a nearby area. The participants ran until they had the same finish line experience as the adults, complete with the announcer calling their names as they crossed the finish line. It was super cute and I loved watching the kids. They were released in waves, so it was a slow stream of kids coming in, that is until the wave where parents could run with their kids arrived. Then it was non stop triumphant (for the most part) finishes coming in with parents alongside or trying desperately to catch up.
Three things stick out in my mind from this day (and they would carry over to the next day, too):
- There was a very, very long row of port-a-loos available near the start line. As every runner knows, this is critical. Way to forward plan, race organizers!
- Free coffee on a cold morning was so appreciated! Community Coffee provided FREE coffee to those at the event start. Their booth was near the port-a-loos, so it was easily found. I’m not big on drinking the coffee before a race; however, HOLDING a cup of hot liquid when it was 30-something degrees out was much appreciated.
- Louisiana knows how to throw a party. And they did a bang up job of it! Far an away, this was the best post-race festival/party I have been to. I wasn’t as into it on the first day (after only running 3.1 miles, you don’t quite feel right eating lots of food and drinking lots of beer at 8:30am), so my limited time here on Saturday gave me a good preview of what I definitely would enjoy on Sunday.
Sunday, February 17: Louisiana Marathon (and Half Marathon)
With a 7am start to the race and a meet up at 6:30am with a friend, I ordered a ride for 6am. I knew that I would end up being outside prior to the start gun for longer than I wanted, but this seemed like a reasonable amount of time to have with meet ups and gear check prior to the race. It was dark when I arrived and only lightened up as the race began. And did I mention it was cold? In fact, unlike Saturday, it felt cold the entire day Sunday, to the point where I had to put my gloves back on during the race because my hands were so cold. For someone who tends to run very warm as a normal state of being, this is really unusual, and I was surprised that even with a four-hour run and the sun shining down, I was cold the entire day.
First up was meeting Deanna and making a few sassy faces for the camera. After meeting her in person at Tulsa, it was nice to catch up again before the race. She was running the half marathon, and this was her virtual run for Meg; she came prepared with a back bib that had pride of place on her hydration pack. Deanna is a running machine and is a member of the Half Fanatics and is working on running a half-marathon in all 50 states, so she had a couple group pictures to be a part of before the race. She took me along, and I joined in the fun of being in the group (and the bonus was that standing in the groups, it was actually warmer!) for a couple pictures. In fairness to me, I was on my last run of qualifying for the Marathon Maniacs (had to run three marathons in 90 days), so I was a fairly legit addition to the Half Fanatics/Marathon Maniacs photo. And while ‘crashing’ the photo, I saw Ryan who ran the last eight miles with me in Tulsa. He was in Louisiana running his 92nd marathon and was the 4:30 pacer. It’s fun to go to these races and seeing people that I know from other races.
Photo time over, Deanna and I headed into the corrals where we tried to position ourselves properly. However, that wasn’t really happening as things are always a bit messy when it is ‘courtesy corralling’ and people are on the honour system to place themselves. We were shivering, me with my trash bag and Deanna in her Tulsa post-race heat shield. Then a few minutes before the race started we realized that the body heat of all the runners around us warmed us up; we shed our outer layers and got prepared for the gun. The Ainsley’s Angels wheelchair teams had a five minute jump on the rest of the runners, so we knew when they were off, our start was imminent. We did a final picture and wished each other well. I had a goal time of 4:15 in my head, and I really wanted to accomplish that goal.
I felt good for about the first eight miles, then I just started wishing I was finished. Which was not the way I wanted to run this race. I’m not sure if it was the intense cold or the fact that I was on the verge of getting sick (which I didn’t know at the time) that made me feel this way, but continuing on and trying my best was a constant struggle throughout the race for me. And I am very sad about that because I didn’t enjoy the course or the experience nearly as much as normally do in a race. In fact, the course was beautiful – from running around the winding path around the Lakes at LSU, lined with the mansions and seeing waterfowl swimming gracefully along the course to blazing through LSU campus and running past Tiger Stadium, from enjoying the many oak tree lined streets to the cheering crowds that were plentiful on the first half of the course (and a bit more sparse on the second half) – this was a great course that gave runners much to look at throughout the run. Yes, it was bitingly cold wind that blew off the Lakes for a few miles, but seeing Elvis at one point, hearing the crowds of spectators and reading some great signs along the way made up for a lot.
At mile 11, the half marathoners broke off and headed back toward the downtown area and the finish line, while the marathon field continued on towards the second half of the race.In a race like this, there are so many more half-marathon participants than marathon runners, and the bulk of the crowd was gone. It was almost like I was running alone. I wasn’t trying to run around people or fight for space on the road; I simply had as much room as I wanted. In speaking with the gentleman next to me, he agreed it was nice. Then he issued a quick warning to be careful (on the tree-lined road) because of the uneven pavement. Apparently his training partner tripped on the same road back at about mile 2.5, fell and broke his hand. And just before we started talking, we passed a woman who was off to the side of the road getting aid – it looked like she fell and had a bloody nose as a result. It made me more aware that a simple trip when my legs were tired could change my whole day, and not in a good way.
While I wasn’t feeling ‘great’ about my run, I was still doing well and maintaining about a 9:20 pace, which meant I was well ahead of my pace to reach my 4:15 goal. But, as happens in these races, I knew I would slow down once I hit the later miles and the legs/body got tired and sore. At this point, my back also started hurting a bit and I began thinking about where I would take my advil to help ease the pain down the stretch. Unfortunately for me, I forgot to pack a Clif bar in my pouch, so I needed to wait until I had some solid food from a stop before I could take the pain meds.
Which as things go, didn’t happen according to plan at all. Don’t get me wrong, there were aid stations at basically every mile. And you could get water and power aid at each one. It was around here that I started looking for food only to find they didn’t have any. Several stops had gels, which I despise. However, I grabbed one anyway and tried to choke down a bit of it to see if that might work for a partially empty stomach to handle some advil. And the verdict was no. So with water sloshing in my belly and my back growing more sore as I continued on – with no one to blame but myself for this as it was me who forgot my food – I kept looking for someone, anyone, with some food. Finally I saw some spectators with cut up bananas! I was so thankful that I grabbed two pieces, ate them, took my medicine and continued on. Of course, the next aid station had bananas and other food…
There was also a spectator aid station at about mile 17 with beer and pickle juice that I couldn’t resist. Initially the beer brought me in, but then I saw the pickle juice and had to grab that, too. Thank goodness for these wonderful people who support the crazy runners! By the way, there was also a stop early in the race that offered champagne and mimosas…but mile three was just a bit too early for me! I also stopped for some swedish fish from a cute little girl and a (whole) banana from a young boy. I didn’t eat the banana right away, but I took it because no one else was taking any. I stuck it in my pouch and when I decided I didn’t want to carry it any more, I took a few bites then dropped it. But this is all said to show just how many people in the later miles were out there with great support for the runners.
Interestingly enough, the women’s first finisher ended up being disqualified for taking aid along the way. Someone on a bicycle was giving her some support (I am not sure what exactly she was receiving), but after not heeding several warnings, they made the decision to give her a DQ. It turns out that they can DQ anyone for taking non-official aid along the course – from the cute girl with the swedish fish to the kind folks who gave me my pickle juice – I too could have been DQ’d. It is apparently common in race rules, and rarely do they enforce it for anyone other than the lead runners.
At mile 20, I realized the warm up was over and I had my 10K race to begin. Ugh. If it were only that easy. My mind was so focused on my pace and calculating – then re-calculating – whether I could hit my 4:15 goal. At this point, the 4:15 pace group had not caught up with me, so I knew I was still OK. But they did come up behind me around mile 22, and I knew that I was in danger of not reaching my self-imposed goal. I stayed with them for a while, but fell back a little (while still keeping them in sight). I started behind them at the start line then passed them around mile two, so I knew I was still right around that 4:15. At mile 25, with the hill to the overpass coming up, I decided to use some of my ‘banked time’ to walk up the overpass then give it my best to finish strong. It felt so good to walk. And then I knew I was going to have to dig deep to finish it my way. My Facebook friend had posted to my timeline that morning: ‘Counting on you to give it your all.’ Remembering this, I knew that I was so close to my goal, that I didn’t walk when I wanted to during the race because of that goal, that I would push myself beyond my anticipated limits in that last 1.2 miles, all because I could taste that 4:15 goal. And at the end, I gave it what I could, tried to distract myself with chatting with another runner down the last stretch, seeing the long final road toward the finish and while not sprinting towards the end, certainly not slowing down as I heard my ‘Robyn Larkin from Grand Cayman’ from the announcer, with a time on the clock that would likely give me my finish goal, and finally with the 4:15 pacers at the finish to high-5 me and others in their pace group as they completed the run.
I staggered towards the end of the finishers cute, got my heat shield, my medal (a nice purple fleur de lis) and ran into Josh (Twyla’s husband) at the end. After mutual congratulations (he ran his first half in 2:01), he pointed me towards the stretch tent. It was conveniently located next to the finish chute. I had my calves worked for a few minutes, then I got my warm, dry clothes from the gear check area and changed. Upon emerging from the port-a-loo, I saw Ryan, who successfully paced his 4:30 group, and he was already drinking beer.
Sponsored by Abita Beer, this festival was very well done. Runners received their bracelets that gave them six options for ‘items’ at the festival. With those six, you could choose any combination of food or drinks (beer). Ryan and I headed to the far side of the festival to grab our beers (the tent at the closer side of the festival had a significant wait, something I learned the previous day) – of which we had a nice choice from four or five different Abita drafts. Food-wise, there was gumbo and jambalaya available both days during the length of the festival. Other food options were done in shifts and differed from Saturday to Sunday. Sadly, with my no beef/no pork diet, I was unable to eat many things available (including the gumbo and jambalaya); to my delight, there was a whole Vegan Village that ensured I would have a few things to nibble on at the very least. I also did find shrimp ettoufee, which was hot (important on a cold day) and was a substantial food item to fill my belly. I had a few servings of this, and drank the rest of my wristband punches.
I also found the tent where they could print your preliminary results from the race (unofficial). My finish time: 4:15:22, which means I not only PR’d (again!) but I also ran my goal for the race! Because I doubled up and ran not only the marathon, but also completed the 5K, I received a special Rendezvous Deja Vu award: a crawfish bowl! I love the local flavour of all they did at this race; while I don’t have crawfish available at home, will proudly display and find other uses for this prize. (Side note: it makes a great place for your cat to curl up and sleep. I discovered this by accident.)
We met up with Twyla and her group at the finish area. Twyla fought through an IT band injury to finish in about 5 1/2 hours. She certainly earned her medal and her beer! A few final pictures and race day was over. After being taken back to my hotel, I stayed awake as long as possible, ate some salty Mexican food at a local restaurant (which has been my ‘thing’ after a marathon for each of the three I’ve done), and I ended up in bed by 6:15pm. The next morning, I awoke with a sore throat, which later developed into a flu-like thing and nasty head cold that I am still fighting a week later.
In all, this was a fantastic race, even if my head wasn’t 100% in it. Great organization, beautiful course and the hospitality was unbeaten. If I didn’t know that it was only in its fifth year, I never would have guessed that. It certainly operates like a race that has been going on much longer. During the week, we even received an email where we could get our race photos – for FREE! All of them, at no charge. This was a very nice touch. Kudos to the organizers for a job well done all around.
I like to think that I will always continue to try new races and not run the same one more than once, but the Louisiana Marathon has me re-thinking that stance. From start to finish, I certainly wouldn’t mind coming back for a second round of this event!