The alarm went off at 4AM. I normally get up at 5, usually without an alarm. I am perfectly fine with 5AM most mornings, but an hour earlier, that seems ungodly. I rose and clicked the brew button on the coffee maker. I had set out a number of possible running outfits the night before. I was prepared for everything. Before dressing I jumped on the scale. It read 5 pounds higher than my normal. There have been a number of holiday parties and I have not been diligent with my diet. This worried me.
I poured myself two travel mugs and drove in darkness across town to meet friends for the drive to New Orleans. This race takes place at City Park in New Orleans – one of the largest and oldest urban parks in the country).
I have raced the Ole Man River Half Marathon the past 2 years. Both of those years I achieved PR’s, first by several minutes and the next by several seconds. I was fearful about this year’s race. I developed a race plan in my head – I would go out at PR pace and then kick it up at mile 10 (or crash and burn). My confidence was lacking.
The drive was painless and I enjoyed the conversation with Dawn, Terri and Tanya. Tanya was gunning for a PR and Terri was going to pace her to the finish. Dawn had planned on running but a recent injury has her sidelined, she still rode down for moral support (and to pick up her race packet).
This is Louisiana. There is always beer at the finish line. On top of that, this race also has one of those pancake machines. You race and reward yourself with pancakes and beer. I call it a Vermont Car-bomb. I was actually thinking of getting a shot glass full of maple syrup and dropping it into my beer – mmmm. Good stuff.
I had brought several possible race outfits. Everything from log sleeves to sleeveless, from visor to insulated cap. At the start, the temperature was 40 degrees. I wore what I always wear – shorts, sleeveless shirt, sunglasses and a cap (I guess that is not what I always wear – I usually wear a visor). Oh yeah, I also had a pair of knit gloves. Standing near the start of the race I was already warm.
I had my virtual nemesis queued up for my PR time – that would be 6:40 pace for 13.2 miles. I always input just a little long so that the watch does not cut off early. I had looked at my past two years and I had run 13.15 and 13.16 miles (I would end up with 13.9 this year). This US Track and Field certified course is accurate. On top of that, I have become a better racer with the tangents. There is a run / bike path that winds its way along part of the course, most people follow the edge of the trail. Not me! I clip each and every apex on that trail. I do not want to run a yard farther than necessary.
Although I have PR’d the past two years at this race, I have also gone out too fast. I was damned and determined to slow my roll and pace the first few miles better. I hate blowing up in the beginning and suffering to hold pace for 10 miles. Remember, my strategy was to hold my PR pace and then try to pick it up at the end (easier said than done).
The race started promptly at 8AM. I took off towards the front of the pack but not on the pointy end. There is also a 5K that runs the first couple of miles with the half marathon. There is no need to even pretend that you can run with the 5k big dogs. I settled into my pace with several whole packs in front of me. The pace was brisk but unattainable. It was hard but not too hard. Mile one came quick, people were starting to drop off and I passed a few. There was a large pack of 5 or 6 in front of me. I was two miles into the race but I knew I need the comfort of group. I accelerated and caught the back of the pack and settled in. There was not much wind but I run much better on someone’s shoulder than I do when I am out in the open. Mentally I attached the elastic band to the runner in front of me. It would pull and stretch but it kept me along. Even thought this is just a middle distance race I am amazed at ups and downs that I experience. There were times when I thought the pace was just right and other times when I knew I could not last. But I kept on; I used the pacing of the Garmin and group.
We were passing a few runners here and there. Some would stick and some would fade. We lost a few of our group. The group started to thin out. There were just four of us. I learned that the leader was named Cory. Once we had turned at the out and back point, dozens of people shouted his name. He had ready told me that this was a training run (he pointed out that he had already run 9 that morning) and he was pacing his buddy. He was pacing me as well. I made a point to limit the water stops. I had two gels with me and took them at miles 6 and 9. At mile 10, the guy that Cory was pacing yelled that he needed water. He was hurting – he was done with the pace that we were running. The group was shattered. I was now in my much familiar “no man’s land”. I hate this place. I can run the paces. I can keep from fading. The effort, however, is so much more. This is when self doubt creeps in – this is when you have to have your mantras ready. Game on!
I hunkered down and targeted the runner ahead of me. I kept my pace measured but I threw that elastic lasso way out in front. It caught him on the waist. I started to close the gap. It took nearly a mile to cover that 100 feet but the victory was mine. Actually, I was not speeding up, he was fading slowing – but in the late stages of a race not slowing down is the victory!
I was burning up in the 40 degree weather. The gloves had been off since mile two; the beanie cap now came off. I stuffed it in my running shorts. I was still sweating like it was the dog days of summer. My sunglasses had sweat dripping down the insides. I kept taking them off and clearing the moisture from my eye sockets. Finally, I took the glasses completely off and stuffed them in my waist band. I should have worn the visor (lesson learned).
It was too far to bridge to the next racer but I still held the pace. I was hurting – not a specific hurt but a whole body ache. I WANTED to stop but I was not going to allow myself to stop. The decision was made. I kept the pace and brought the run home.
I gave all to pick up the pace in the last quarter mile of the race. I ran towards the stadium and through the tunnel. The race finishes on the track at Tad Gormley Stadium. This is where the 1992 US Olympic Track and Field Trials were held. Olympic dreams were made here! I sprinted the last turn of the quarter mile track. The door to my half marathon PR time was closing quickly on the clock. I ran hard and passed the line. I was not sure if I had achieved my goal.
Tad Gormley Stadium
I crossed the finish line and waited for Cory and the other guy. I shook their hands and thanked them for carrying me. The next couple of runners, who I did not see the entire run, shook my hand and thanked me for carrying them! I love the camaraderie of sport!
I spoke with Dawn, who was bundled up in a blanket watching the finishers. There were no pancakes this year – my visions of a Vermont Car-bomb would be delayed. I ate light and drank a lite beer or two (not my favorite). Dawn and I saw Terri and Tanya finish a few minutes later. Tanya PR’d by 3 minutes. It was a great day of racing.
I ended up with a 1:27:27 (a PR by 7 seconds)!
Side note – I did see Nester at the race. It seems that he is at just about every race that I am at!