Sunday, February 29, 2004

Mardi Gras Marathon

Mardi Gras Marathon
New Orleans
Feb 29/04

This trip/race was unscheduled as late as a few weeks ago. As I was planning the trip to Mrytle Beach I knew that a close friend in Dallas was planning to run the Mardi Gras marathon in New Orleans the weekend after. So I thought “why not do New Orleans also”? Some other running friends from across the USA and even a few from the UK were going to run Mardi Gras so it would be nice to join them?
It was not until last Tue that ‘my friend’ from Dallas informed me that he was not going – so I could have the room he reserved at the Hilton all to myself! Well, I have a size 10 shoe that I am going to repay him with on his fat, lazy butt when I see him next weekend at our son’s wedding in TX.

Since we have relatives visiting from Tundraland I booked a quick trip – fly in Sat, run the race on Sun morning and leave Sun night. I arrived in the ‘Big Easy’ early Sat morning and headed straight to the Hilton. It was the host hotel and is located right on the Mississippi riverfront. Great location but about one mile from the Superdome where the race started and finished. For future reference the closest hotels to the Superdome are the Hyatt, Holiday Inn and Homewood Suites.
After checking in I made the first of many long walks/treks to the Superdome to pick up my race package. Then I visited the expo that had many vendors with some great sales on running shoes and gear. The 50 State Club had a booth at the expo so I stopped and talked to many club members/friends that I have not seen for a few years. By coincidence I bumped into my friend Roger Biggs from the UK at the booth. The club was holding a ‘reunion’ meeting at 4pm so we agreed to meet there later.

Another long trek back to the hotel to call some old (meaning long-time since none of us are really old) friends that I had not seen in many years. Joe and Brenda Treige are from TundraLand but now live in New Orleans. They picked me up at the hotel and took me out for a great pizza lunch as part of my carbo-loading routine. Then we toured around sections of the city that I had not seen/visited as a tourist. It was a short visit but I hope to see them again next weekend when we drive through New Orleans on our way home from TX. They dropped me off at the Superdome for my 4 pm meeting where I met several more running friends from around the US including Edson Sanches, one of the ‘Tres Amigos’. That meant that I would have to defend my ‘Tres Amigos’ championship but Edson had already informed me that he was not in good shape and would not offer any challenge.

After the meeting several of us formed a group to go for the traditional pasta dinner and then it was time for bed. Unfortunately no partying on Sat night in the Big Easy!
Sun was M –Day! The race started at 7am in front of the Superdome. There were 2100+ runners in the Marathon and 6000+ runners in the Half so the Superdome was a great starting area. Although the weather was in the low 50s it was still nice to stay inside the Superdome until the last minute. With 8000+ runners I made sure I was on the start line to avoid all the idiots that go to the front of the race and then run a 10+-minute pace and block all the runners behind. I quickly dropped in behind a pack of half-marathoners running a fast pace and followed them through the first 3 miles in 22:47. The weather forecast called for warm, cloudy weather with strong winds so I wanted a pack of runners to draft behind. I was concerned that the 7:35 pace was a bit too fast for my current conditioning but decided to stick with the pack through the first Half and see what happened.
The course is flat and fast. The roads were completely closed down and traffic control was good. There were distance markers every mile and water/aid stations very two miles.
The wind didn’t seem to be as bad as forecast but I stayed right behind that pack as they pulled me through the first Half in 1:40:53.

I felt OK but was not very confident that I could hold that pace through 26 miles? As the pack of Half-marathon runners peeled off into their finish in the Superdome a pack of young marathoners came by at a good pace and I decided to drop in behind them because the runners had now thinned out drastically. This new pack was running a smooth and constant 7:40 pace so I hung on and let them block the wind as they pulled me through the 20-mile mark in 2:34:25! Damn – if I could hold this pace I would break 3:25!
But alas – not to be! At 20 miles my pack of wind blockers started to fade badly and slow down so I had to sidestep them and surge forward on my own. I managed to run a 7:45 for mile 21 but then the wheels started to fall off. By mile 23 I was struggling to hold an 8:15 pace and I knew ‘the wall’ was not far away? Somehow I managed to dig deep, find some energy fumes and run 8:20s over miles 24 and 25. But the wall was waiting at mile 25! I completely ran out of energy at that point!

My body started to rebel and wanted to give up. But I knew that if I stopped and walked the race would be over for me. So I tried to dig deeper and find something to fuel the old bod for one more mile. But there was nothing left! Thus I had to play mind/psyche games for each and every step. I convinced myself that ‘there was only one more step for all 5280 feet of that last mile’! With only ½ mile left both arms became tingly and numb and from past experience I realized that I was dehydrated and my blood sugar level was out of wack! I was somewhat surprised because I had been drinking my normal amount of water at every water station but I guess I did not realize how warm and humid it had become? The only solution (other than stopping and getting medical attention which was not an option) was to get to the finish line as quickly as possible! It has been a long time since I remember such a painful and long last mile. But somehow I pushed my tormented/screaming body through that last mile in 9:02 although it seemed much longer than that? As I approached mile 26 and could see the entrance to the Superdome the old bod gave me one final shot of adrenaline to help me surge across the finish line inside the Superdome in 3:25:47.

As soon as I crossed the finish line – and I mean about two feet across- the old bod shut down and refused to move. It needed whatever was left just to breathe and wasn’t moving. A concerned race volunteer rushed forward with a wheelchair and asked if I needed assistance? That was all it took. No way was the Maddog’s proud ass going to be wheeled through the finish chute in a wheelchair!! I managed to stumble forward to the end of the finish chute where a cute young volunteer hung a 50-pound ‘finisher’s medal’ (at least it felt like it weighed 50 pounds at that moment??) around my neck. But more importantly another volunteer handed me a bottle of water that I gulped down in about two seconds. I couldn’t believe how thirsty I was and I quickly gulped down two more bottles of water and started to feel better. Now I needed some sugar to raise my blood sugar levels. I realize that my mind and body were only partially functional at that point but I could not find any sugar/food/snacks at the finish line? But I did find a bottle of sports drink that seemed to help some.

I retrieved my warm-up clothes and tried to find the results but they still had not been posted. I figured that my time had at least placed me in my age group. Since I was still hurting and in need of sugar I decided to return to my hotel where a coke, chocolate bar and scaulding hot bath awaited. As I made the long trek back to the hotel and passed the Hyatt a few blocks from the Superdome I was really wishing that I had stayed there?
After a long, slow 25-minute walk I finally made it back and dispensed the needed medical cures/attention. An hour later I was ready to party!!!

But first I had to make yet another trek back to the Superdome to check on the race results. They were finally posted and there were a few pleasant surprises: 1) my official time was indeed 3:25:47 and placed me 119th overall. That is eerie because it is the exact same position I finished in Mrytle Beach the previous week? 2) I placed 1st in my age group- exactly one minute in front of 2nd place who finished exactly one minute in front of 3rd. Obviously if I had given up instead of sucking it up on that last mile I would most certainly have been relegated to 3rd place or lower. There is a lesson or moral to life to be learned from this experience! And NO – it is NOT – to not run marathons! You can figure it out! Unfortunately there was some kind of screw up with the awards so I was told that they would be mailed out this week. I don’t even know what they look like so I guess I will just have to wait and be surprised?

Now it was time to party! A local running club had invited all members of the 50 State Club to a post-race part with lots of free food and beer. Roger was the only person I could find that was interested in going to the party so off we went. There weren’t many 50 State members there but we had a great time meeting with the local runners and certainly enjoyed their Cajun food and beer and hospitality! I am glad that I had to fly home Sun night because if I had stayed I am sure there would have been a wee hangover to contend with on Mon morning?

So I am back home and have no more marathons planned until the end of March. Maddog’s training program (that seems to be working well thus far) calls for a month of speed work and hill training. Hill training you say with a laugh? How can I do hill training in FL you ask? Good question since there are no hills within 150 miles of Sarasota! Fortunately they just built a bridge from Lido Key to Sarasota that is 65 feet high and one mile long. So the plan is to do several mile repeats back and forth over the bridge two times a week. Hope it works?

Finally I want to provide an evaluation and comments about the race for the race director and any running friends thinking about running the Mardi Gras Marathon.
The website is good – lots of information and easy to register on-line. Packet pick up at the Superdome was easy and efficient. The expo, although not large, was good with many vendors and great deals on running gear. Having the start and finish at the Superdome is great as it can accommodate lots of people.
The course is fast and flat and runs through the French quarter and many sections of the city. The roads on the course are completely closed and traffic control is good. There are distance markers every mile and water/aid stations every two miles.
The finish inside the Superdome is a nice touch.
There were a few glitches that should be fixed/improved. No food/snacks, etc at the finish line. Note (Update): I was informed by the race director after he read my report that there was indeed food, etc in the Superdome. Apparently it was on the south side of the Superdome. I believe I exited from the finish chute to the north side and was too tired/delirious to go over to the other side of the finish chute. Will try not to make that mistake again as I really needed that food!
The race results were not released very quickly considering that the race was timed by chips?
There is not much crowd support for a race of that size and a city that big?

Other suggestions that could make the race more memorable and fun:
Provide awards or incentives for the water station volunteers to dress up in Mardi Gras costumes of different themes.
There was only one jazz band along the course in the city of Jazz? In Nashville there are bands at every mile along the course.

John Wallace aka Maddog

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