A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 1st Edition
26.2 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Louisiana Marathon
Place: Baton Rouge, LA
Miles from home: 2460
Weather: 40s; Sunny
I was supposed to run a marathon in Louisiana ten years ago. Then Hurricane Katrina happened 11 years ago. Needing to revamp my plans for 2006 and the 52 Marathons I ran weekly that year, Louisiana got out of the mix. Some of the races I had been planning to run were still run while others did not. I couldn't take the chance that Louisiana would still have a marathon when I needed it so I scheduled one elsewhere. Until last year's Crescent City Classic 10k, I had never even set foot in Louisiana. The time to run a marathon there had finally come.
While visiting every corner of the country has always been a dream and running there as well a side dream, I was never on a huge quest to run a marathon in every state. Completion goals alone have long since left me. So, I was looking for the right time and place to run a marathon in Louisiana. I knew it would eventually happen but I was in no rush. I needed a compelling reason to make this my 49th marathon state. After reading all the good reviews, and getting to know the organizers of the Louisiana Marathon, I knew this was the one I wanted to be my first ever in the Pelican State.
Steamtown Marathon recap and routinely get thank yous for pointing out its deceptive hills, I feel it is my duty. Do not get me wrong; this is a solid course with no major hills to speak of. I would categorize it as "fair" and by that I mean any time run on the course could not be argued by anyone as having been acquired with any assistance from downhill, uphill or anything else. You can't ask for much more than that. Well, meeting a slew of new friends is not a bad thing while doing a book signing. That you can ask for. But you have to write a book to do it.
Leading up to the race, I had dealt with a small batch of the "notsofeelgoods." I hoped by the morning of the marathon, they would be gone, even though the day prior I had woken feeling like crud. The weather looked fairly close to ideal and I didn't want to waste it on being sick. I was already dealing with the handicap of having broken my hand three weeks earlier and didn't need any further problems. Didn't my body know I had plans? Fortunately when I woke on race day, the sickness seemed to subside and I found myself standing in front of the tallest capitol building in the United States (sorry, Texas.)
I situated myself near the front of the race, grabbed a quick sip of ASEA, and at exactly 7:00 a.m. we were off.
First 8 miles:
Before I broke the 5th metacarpal bone in my hand on a fall the day after Christmas, I had designs on knocking off a sub-3 here. A leisurely 50k win in mid December showed me I was in good shape to do so and all cylinders were clicking. Then I tripped. Over a branch, that I saw. In the broad daylight. But I figured stranger things have happened (like running my first ever sub-3 in my 42nd of 52 marathons in a row in 2006) so perhaps it might happen today. The plan was to run at sub-3 pace as long as it felt it was a good thing to do. If I had to slow later in the race, so be it.
We ran through downtown Baton Rouge and across the North Blvd overpass right after mile one. I made note of this bridge and its lovely lady humps as we would have to cross it again one mile before the finish. In other words, it wasn't flat. (see above). First mile was spot on pace. Mile Two took us south toward City Park Lake and I was a few seconds off. It was 38 degrees, I was sleeveless and I was still breaking a sweat. Welcome to my body. Mile 3 was still solidly on time and I wondered how long this would last. At we hit mile four I had my time hit an even 7:00 for the mile. I figured perhaps this is where I slowed the pace. However, as we passed by LSU's football stadium on our tour of campus, my time was well under pace and I was back on track by mile five.
While slightly chilly, there was a bright sun and I was wondering how long we would stay shaded from it. Approaching the 6th mile, again on pace, we still only felt the deathly grip of those sunny rays here and there. Well-shaded, the course provided respite from the sun which is soul-sucking even on a cold marathon day. Nevertheless, as always I was happy to be wearing a pair of Julbo sunglasses. If nothing else, it hides he look of death in my eyes.
Mile seven had us beginning our jaunt around the University Lake and I again was under pace. About here I knew we could begin 3-4 miles around a narrowish twisty-turny path. A wonderful view and no doubt enjoyable to run on a daily basis, paths like this never sit well with me in a race. Protective of my broken hand, I was even less happy with a crowd of runners in close proximity. With a slew of half-marathoners surrounding me working with a pacer, I was curious what I would do. Would I keep running with this group or would I speed up or slow down to gain exasperation.
When I hit the 8th mile, I laughed as I was absolutely 100% dead-on a sub-3 hour marathon to the second. However, I could also tell that I was working too hard. It was time to back off or things could get bad later.
To the Half:
The funny thing is that when you decided to slow down, sometimes you don't realize by how much you are slowing. You enjoy the ease of tension and relaxation and all of a sudden: CRAP! That mile was 19 seconds slower than the last! I wanted to slow down, not stop.
The next few miles were marginally better but all right around 7 minutes. I guessed that maybe I hadn't made the decision to slow down at mile 8 all by myself. My body knew it was not where it needed to be to continue this pace. I did allow myself an opportunity to look around a bit, however. This is a gorgeous section of an overall wonderful course. Lakefront house with beautiful views. One house that had an Audi, Lamborghini and Ferrari in its parking spaces out front. Well, I am happy they are doing well.
This makes it a little more interesting that the lead female runner, Mandy West, was later disqualified for accepting outside aid.Not sure why she did that but I am not going to speculate. Rules sometimes need to be broken but usually only if there is a good reason. Some labeled her a cheater. I think that was a bit too harsh. She broke some rules. Then again, it was not like this was her first marathon and she wasn't warned. But I digress.
I enjoyed departing this area as we began to run a bit more on straight streets. I always seem to do better on those than on curvy paths. Personal preference. The sun again was blocked by the wonderful oak trees lining the streets. Moss hanging from their limbs created a serene and cool shade. As we approached the halfway point my only lament is the same lament I have had with any race that goes through any neighborhood: where are all the people? When the half marathoners left us at mile 11, it got rather desolate. Here, snaking through gorgeous neighborhood, there were a plethora of opportunities for people to come out and show some southern hospitality. I have said it many times that if I ever had a home on a race route, I would have the most festive display possible (if I was in town and not running the race, obviously). This is no knock on the race itself and really on these particular people, either. It happen in cities across the country. I just wish they knew how nice it would be to have strangers cheering for strangers.
To Mile 20:
Having said all of that, I have to admit that I saw one of the more original marathon signs I have seen in a decade. The "Smile if you peed a little" and "Worst.Parade.Ever" signs are nice but a little played out. Any cheering is good cheering but variety is also good. However, when I saw a sign that said, right after the halfway point, "You have Les Miles to run than before!" with a picture of LSU football coach Les Miles, I literally laughed out loud. No one was standing around the sign for me to congratulate but that, dear creator, was a beauty.
For the next few miles I could tell a pacing group was catching up to me. How could I tell? Because of the awful loud flapping of the pace leader's minimalist shoes. I was trying to figure out which pace group it was and not until they passed me near mile 16 did I see it was the 3:05 pace group. At this juncture, I was still on pace for a 3:03. This group of 3-4 started behind me and were moving fast. Not knowing what they had decided to run, I can't cast aspersions but if they were trying for 3:05, they were way of base at this point. I had a small sinking spell here and as I placed a small bit of Shurky Jurky in my mouth to help with calories, I was happy to let the flapping feet pass me by. I saw the leader was a Marathon Maniac which was a group that had a large presence at the race. Many of them are friends who had stopped by during the expo to say hello and catch up. Always nice when that happens. Attending an expo by myself leaves me little ability to leave the booth so I always love when my friends say hello. But I digress.
However, about a mile or so later, I felt revived. We went through another small neighborhood with plenty of people cheering us on at another of the plentiful aid stations. Even though the pace group stayed far in front of me, I was beginning to move up on other runners. Or they were beginning to slow. Sometimes it is hard to tell. As we passed over a timing mat at a weird point of mile 19 (my guess is that it was there to catch people tempted to cut the course earlier) I began to pick it up. I often am able to really turn it on in the last 6 miles and I felt I might just be able to do that here. I wouldn't go sub-3, barring a miracle, but maybe a 3:02 was in the cards. Yet, hitting the 20th mile at a 7:20, when it felt like a 6:52 was a wrench in my plans.
The next mile had me in 6:18 and I knew that wasn't right. Was this mile marker askew or was the previous? Or the next? Only way to find out was to run. When I hit mile 22 it said 8:15. OK, I guess the last three miles have all been around 7:15-7:20. Given the people I was passing, this just didn't feel right. But given the average of the last three miles, it probably was what I was running. Now, while some of the mile markers seemed to be a touch off here and there, don't let it seem like I am complaining. Having mile markers is a luxury and runners should know they are placed as close to the miles as possible. They are not, however, certified. I say this as I often hear laments about mile markers when runners do not know how lucky we are to have them in the first place.
I hit the 22nd mile shortly after seeing the friendly face of a runner I had met the day before. Out taking pictures of his wife, Dixie, who herself was running her first marathon, I was flattered he remembered my name. I gave him a wave and steadied myself for the last 3 miles.
I knew the next mile would include a little uphill as it was the wrong way of the downhill we had run after splitting from the half marathoners earlier. I steadied myself for the hill and it turned out to be not as bad as I thought it would be. Right around here I caught up to a runner who had been running near me around the 8th mile. He was discussing with some friends his race pace and they seemed to be encouraging him to slow a touch. "But these legs want to run!" he said with hubris. I had a touch of schadenfreude that I was catching him here but was far too focused on my own race to care. After I passed him, he must not have liked it too much as he caught up to me.
"Let's finish this thing!" he said.
"I appreciate the help but I am just going to have to run the pace I have when I have it," was my reply.
We then proceeded to run near each other but not with each other. We hit the 25th mile and then I remembered we still had the North Blvd overpass to conquer. I passed my running mate going up this hill and put a little more distance between us on the other side going down. But he simply had more in his legs than I did and soon inched by me. Then he footed by me. Soon it was meters. Keeping to my own race, I was doing math and realizing that I had lost nearly two minutes off my pace in the last 10k here. My 3:03 turned into a 3:05 and then was inching closer to 3:07. When I hit the 26th mile, I knew I had roughly 84 seconds to make it under 3:07 at the picked up pace I was running. Problem is I only had 79 seconds.
I took what little energy I had left and focused on form. I picked up my Karhu-clad feet and threw them down with what felt like grace and speed but probably looked like a drunk baby giraffe on ice. Fortunately, no time is added to one's overall finish for style or lack thereof.
Dallas Half Marathon last month, I rebounded to be King of the Danes in this race, beating a nice gentleman I had met many years before named Dane McGuffee.
My announcer friend, Jeremy Pate, who had himself run his first ever marathon at Disney last weekend, was kind enough to give me an elongated shoutout. I only had the energy to wave one hand as I stood, bent over, tugging on my short. A few seconds later I was good to go and was accosted by another friend, Ted, who, well, I think Ted does a little bit of everything on race day. He seems to be everywhere with boundless energy. He took a selfie of the two of us in which I looked wretched and then bounded away to put out some other fire elsewhere.
I had about a mile to walk back to my hotel to think about the event. Unfortunately, I could not stay for the post-race party which everyone raves about. However, I can tell you my experience as a runner and a racer at this event was absolutely top-notch. In only its 5th year, the Louisiana Marathon has already established itself as one of the must-do races in the nation. The course is solid, the weather is usually fairly predictable and good for racing and the organization was top-notch. They have partnered with a group called Ainsley's Angels and their wheelchair pushers and athletes in chairs throughout the race were a welcome reminder of how lucky we all are to be out there pounding the pavement.
All told, while I don't repeat too many races, I would be surprised if I don't find myself in Red Stick (That's Baton Rouge to the rest of you) again in 2017.