Monday, March 1, 2010

From 5,000 to 15,000 never looked so smooth

The Big Easy has been host to a marathon for over 45 years but the event went through a major makeover this year thanks to Competitor Group who took over the event, adding it to its stable of Rock & Roll events and more than tripling it is size in the process. New this year was the course, a serious stimulus in support, elite runners including half marathon winner Martin Lel and a fabulous finish line concert that nearly stole the memories of the race itself.

Despite threats of rain that actually came down late Friday night, race day couldn’t have been better. Clear skies and cool 40 degree temperatures met us at the start which was in a small park at the bend of the Mississippi river near the New Orleans Convention Center. I met up with podcaster and fellow blogger, Adam Riklefts in corral two and we paced each other through more than the first half. The race started by skirting the warehouse district before detouring into the Garden district. We shared the course at this point with the half marathoners who turned right at Audubon Park while we turned left to loop around it. The pace at this point was a comfortable sub 8 minute mile with bursts of energy at each band stand filled with the talents one would expect in this city. Every kind of music was found on the course from Dixieland, soul, R&B, classic jazz and every kind of rock, including a questionable choice for mile 26 – a speed metal death rock band blasting ear piercing screeches. Made me go faster, though.

When reviewing the course map the day prior I was concerned about what came after the Audubon park loop. At this point we were to rejoin the half marathoners as we ran down St. Charles Street toward downtown. We would have separated from the half marathoners for about four miles and rejoining them sounded like a mess in the making as a much slower group of half marathoners would have been on the course at this point. But Elite Racing’s course planning was perfect as they ran the marathoners left of the streetcar tracks and the halfers on the right. We stayed separated on the streets all the way through downtown, around the French Quarter and out to City Park. Great planning, guys!

City Park is New Orlean’s answer to central park and is a wide expansive multiuse park that houses the city’s Museum of Art. Halfers cut straight to the finish line as we looped the park then detoured into the Maribeau Gardens district. This neighborhood sits on the banks of the Mississippi River and was clearly hit hard by Katrina. For every restored home there were two that were either still rebuilding or boarded up. It pulled at my heartstrings as we passed one single-level brick home with “Please don’t demolish” spray painted across its bay window. The streets here and on several other parts of the course were rooted in potholes filled with loose rock. They are on the long list of the city’s repair priorities and should be smooth by next year’s event, we were told, which will make this flat fast course a record setter in future years.

Maribeau came around mile 17 where I started to fall off the pace and had to let Adam go ahead. The heat was starting to rise toward 70 and the miles were catching up to me.

After Maribeau we jumped back over the Mississippi River and back into City Park. I got a surge of energy at mile 22 and picked up the pace considerably. From here we snaked our way to a great wide road that led up to the Museum of Art. It was a perfect setting for a finish as it felt grand and was great for spectators. The actual finish line sat in the shady grove behind the Museum and was lined with cheering race fans rooting for their loved ones. Reesa was right behind the Museum with camera in hand. She gave me the burst of energy I needed to pick up the pace a bit more as I shot through the corral and finished in 3:27, just two minutes behind Adam, who had made his goal time for the event. If you are wondering why I’m holding my medal this way in the photo, it’s because its beaded necklace broke just before this photo (I got a replacement).

Hillary and Johanna from the north peninsula TNT team ran and Johanna’s step son Steve ran the half and had great days. The full was a first for Wendy, Hillary’s sister, also from the team, who finished in 4:45. Way to go, Wendy!

As tired as every runner was, we were quickly our my feet when Sister Hazel stepped onto the finish line stage. I’ve been a fan of this Gainesville, Florida band since college and found myself dancing away to their classics such as Champagne High [video] and new songs. We were able to get right up to the stage’s edge for the 90 minute show and I was feeling no pain – literally. Sister Hazel put on what was one of the best live shows I’ve seen and even took time to shake hands and sign my bib afterwards.

But nothing prepared me for the next band – Cowboy Mouth. This local band has been playing the clubs of New Orleans for over 15 years. Before their kit was set up I was starting to unwind from the race and get a little tired and hot but then their front man, drummer Fred LeBlanc jumped behind his drums pounded out a strong beat and got the show started with a serious bang. He then lept from his drums grabbed his mike and hopped off the stage, down into the crowd and emplored everyone to get on their feet and crowd the stage all while the rest of the band kept up a furious party rhythm that brought us all to our feet and into the verbal embrace of Fred who is an electric personality on stage. At that moment, Reesa and I knew we were in for something special. Cowboy Mouth is clearly one of the great party bands in the country. Furious sound, infectious lyrics, happy goading of the crowd and a following of super excited local fans kept the energy high and the pain far from my legs and feet. Wow.

If you come to New Orleans be sure to find out where these guys are playing. You won’t want to miss it.

And so Rock & Roll event number two came to a close. For more on my visit to New Orleans read the trip report below. Next up is the Rock & Roll Dallas Half Marathon in just two weeks.

Big thanks to my sponsor PowerBar for providing the energy foods I needed at the start of the race and to Elite Racing and Competitor Group who put on another fantastic event. And the biggest thanks of all, to all of you who have helped me raise over $5,800 thus far for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Go Team!

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