As I passed the "baton" to my friend and watched her take off, I couldn't help but feel like those three little words were more than just our feelings for each other. "I love you" was the way I'd best describe my experience (overall, of course) at Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans.
Pre-race. The starting line was about a mile and a half from our hotel and with a 7 a.m. start, I figured that I would have to get up by 5:15, be down to the complimentary breakfast by 5:45 and out of the hotel no later than 6.
Too bad someone had other plans in mind. And by someone, I mean a group of 21-year-olds staying at the hotel for a fraternity formal. They were caught in the throes of college drunk drama the entire night, and I was awake every half hour from 3 a.m. to 4:55, when Pattie and I said fig it and got up.
While I would never recommend intermittent sleep at the hands of 21-year-old girls screaming, "Why don't you love me?", it was nice not to rush. I put on my Running Skirt, braided my hair and even remembered to brush my teeth.
I grabbed a bagel, peanut butter and jelly from the breakfast bar as well as a cup of coffee (duh). I ate about three-quarters of the bagel before parting ways with Pattie and heading to the start.
Once I arrived, I immediately got in line for the portable bathrooms. Better safe than sorry, I say. The line moved quickly and it seemed even more so because I had some lovely people to chat with. And that's what I want to stress. Not the bathroom but the people. Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans was, hands down, the nicest race I've ever run. I talked to people in line for the toilet. I talked to people in the corral. I talked to people along the course and on the walk back to the shuttle. I talked to people on the shuttle and at the finish. I talked so much that I never felt alone, something I was worried about with a relay.
The race. I was so busy chatting about other races and babies that I was a bit shocked to hear the national anthem. Wave by wave, runners were off. I was in corral 9 or 10 (I got to pick as a relay) and so it was a bit before we got to the start but soon enough I was off.
I was a bit unsure about how to race my leg of the relay. I knew that even at 7.5 miles (which was actually more like 8) that I'd have to pace myself but I wanted to leave it all out there. I wanted nothing in the tank when I handed off the "baton" (a drum stick). I decided to go out comfortably hard and allowed myself to get caught up in the excitement of the race start.
My leg took me through the Central Business District (uneventful) to St. Charles Avenue, through the Garden District and down to Loyola, and then back through the Garden District. While I typically hate out-and-backs, St. Charles Avenue is wide enough that you can look at the homes on one side of the street and lose yourself in the architecture and gardens. To say it was gorgeous would be an understatement.
Or, if you are me, you can lose yourself in an effort trying to locate the "Real World: New Orleans" house. I passed it (according to the map) but never did notice it. Bummer.
The first couple miles seemed to go pretty quickly but once I saw the half marathon winner blaze past the 10K mark on the other side of the street, my mind started to race. "Where is the turnaround?" "Where was the 5K mark?" "God, there are a ton of people. I wish I could settle into a pace." "Are we at the turnaround?"
One of my questions got answered before the other - the 5K mark. I crossed a timing mat and took a Peanut Butter Gu, which, by the way, is amazing. A Gu for 8 miles is probably not that necessary but it was humid and warm, and the water stations were pretty far apart (about 1.75 miles). I wanted to make sure that if I bonked, it would be because I went out too hard.
And I was pretty sure I did so by the time I hit the turnaround. Or maybe it was when I caught up to another runner who said, "You again? I saw you blaze past me a while back." Oops. Whatev. While I was enjoying the race and the course, I was getting tired and antsy to start seeing some signs of the transition. It didn't help that I saw a lot of kids out with signs cheering on their moms. Just shy of the 6-mile marker, I nearly lost it when I saw a "Go Mommy Go" sign. I felt so guilty for leaving Miles and, at the same time, couldn't help but picture him a couple years older and out cheering for me.
I gave myself a moment to feel what I was feeling and then made myself get it together - I didn't go to NOLA to cry during a race. I came to NOLA to race a race.
I allowed myself to ease up till the 10K marker and then it was going to be hard until I got to the transition. I don't remember much during this part of the race. It was all about getting to the next milestone - the 7-mile mark and the sign for the transition and when my watch hit 7.5 miles.
And when my watch hit 7.6 ... 7.75. Another first legger came up from behind me and headed toward his partner. I tried to dig deep and pass him but I couldn't. And with no transition in sight, it was hard to kick it. Finally, around 7.85, I saw the second leg runners and ran toward Pattie. I saw her push through the crowd in her matching Running Skirt.
"I love you," she said as I passed the drum stick. And she was off.
About 20 seconds after I stopped running, I finally stopped the MOTOACTV. It read 8 miles in 1:03:20. Best case scenario had me finishing in 72 minutes and I guessed that 7.5 would take me between 72 and 75 so I'm pretty stoked about my time (9:09 pace). I ran negative splits, with the last two miles under 9, and I left everything I had on the road.
Post race. There were Snickers Marathon bars, bananas and water waiting for us (sadly, no chocolate milk) and I stocked up. For once, I was starving finishing a race. From there, it was a "4 block" walk (more like a mile) to the shuttle, which I took to City Park so I could see Pattie finish.
I had been worried that I might miss her because the shuttle took forever but I got there just a few minutes early. It was so incredibly awesome to get to cheer her onto a spectacular finish. She came in under an hour, besting her 5-mile PR by more than 5 minutes - and she even ran farther (5.25) this time around.
To quote one of my favorite signs of the day, "OUCH! I just tripped over your awesomeness."
To celebrate, we cashed in our bibs at the beer tent and enjoyed our Michelob Ultras in city park as we listened to the band and people watched.