The Rock n' Roll Mardi Gras half marathon would be the first official race of my adult life. Prior to our training, I had never run more than 2 miles at a time. When we started training, I simply wanted to finish the race. After a few more weeks of training, I changed my goal to finishing under two hours. Upon realizing that the friends I was training with had finished last year's half marathon in 1:57, we decided to train with our goal time being 1:55.
Our training went very well and by time race day got here, we felt prepared and ready.
I got up at 5:30 a.m. on race day. It was a cool February morning in Nola with the morning highs in the low 50's. As we arrived downtown around 6:30, the traffic was backed up, so my friend's wife dropped us off and we walked about 1/4 mile to the start line.
We got to our corral (#5) around 6:45 and had just 15 minutes until the gun would fire. The adrenaline rush was incredible and I could not wait for this thing to start. Our group was 5 strong. Heading towards the start line, my friend Ana and I felt like we could nail 1:55. Two of our other friends were using the race as a training run for an upcoming marathon, so they were planning on a slightly slower pace. Our 5th friend actually decided to register for the race the night before, so none of us (including him) had any idea what his pace would be like. Ana and I knew that if we were going to finish in 1:55, we would have to set our pace early and stay steady.
In order to keep us on track, I kept a piece of paper in my pocket with mile markers and times that we should hit each marker (aka splits). Our goal was to hit mile #1 at 8 minutes 42 seconds.
As we stood in our corral, they began playing 'Eye of the Tiger' over the PA system. It was finally time for the race to begin and then the gun sounded! As we approached the line, we started our watches and took off. Those first 500 yards were challenging, like a pack of greyhounds trying to jockey for position. After that first 1/2 mile, we were able to settle into a decent pace - me, Ana and Mike (buddy who signed up for the race the night before). Robb and Tommy (guys training for full marathon) were not far behind.
We made it to mile marker #1 in 8 minutes 40 seconds. We were ahead of schedule! The race became very comfortable after our first mile. It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed great conversation as we worked our way through uptown neighborhoods and eventually through downtown. When we finally reached mile marker #12 we arrived there in 1 hour 41 minutes. At this point we were more than 4 minutes ahead of our target time. With just one mile left we were looking to destroy our intended time. We kept our same pace for that final mile until we hit mile 13. With just 1/10 of a mile left we finished our race with an all out sprint, weaving in and out of other racers to cross the finish line in 1:49:20.
It was so amazing, finishing the race almost 6 minutes faster than our target time. We ended up running 8:21 miles, which was 21 seconds faster per mile than we had trained for.
There are a couple of specific things I remember about the race:
1. Because this was a Rock n' Roll series race, the course was lined with over 1o bands that were playing live music as we ran through the streets. Most of the bands were great, but around mile 9 we passed a Scottish Bagpipe band. I remember thinking, "I love bagpipe music, but I feel like I'm at a Scottish funeral. How is this going to help us run faster?"
2. At mile #3, a woman on the side of the road was there cheering everyone on. She yelled out "3 miles down, only 23 more to go". The guy next to me says, "Easy for her to say, she's standing still."
3. Running with our friend Ana is motivation in and of itself. She is quite chipper and talkative and able to keep one's spirits high even when tired. Along the race, there were plenty of spectators there to cheer us on and any time Ana could, she would shout out a very chipper "Good Morning!" Most spectators were surprised by her exuberance. Around mile 10 we passed some spectators who told us hello. Ana did not respond. Mike and I recognized this and we knew it was time to get Ana another energy packet of Gu...quickly.
4. Running down streets like Magazine and Decatur was amazing.
5. At mile 12 (after the Gu had kicked in) we were back to carrying on conversation. Most people in the race were pretty tired by this point, but the adrenaline was still moving through our bodies. Spectators were there trying to cheer on the racers and I overheard one spectator say to another, 'wow, they're still talking!' That was kind of cool.
6. The last 1/10 of a mile was so cool. We could see the finish line and took off on a full sprint. It truly felt like we were flying and then we crossed the finish line 6 minutes ahead of our goal. That was an amazing moment. As soon as I crossed the line, I heard the voice of my wife coming from the crowd as she called my name. At that moment I had to intentionally hold back the tears. It was so wonderful having her there, along with a very good friend of mine, to watch us finish.
All in all, I would say that this was a great experience. So much so, that I am planning on running the Rock n' Roll Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville, TN at the end of April.
So....the training continues!