Back at the hotel, I secured the timing chip to my shoe and pinned the race number to my shirt. I finished off a Clif bar, shoved some Gu in my fanny pack, and kissed Nell before heading downstairs to meet Chan in front of the hotel.
Five minutes later, we were driving down St. Charles Avenue towards the Starbucks on Washington and Magazine. A few blocks from our turn, Chan suddenly blurted, “Dude, I forgot my race number and chip.” Oops.
We were supposed to meet Dave at 6:30 a.m. Didn’t happen. Instead, we detoured to Chan’s house, slammed our Starbucks, and hurriedly made it to our prearranged pickup spot where Dave was waiting.
By the time we finally got downtown and parked the car for the race (several blocks from the start), the gun had already sounded and the runners were barreling down Poydras Street. In our dash to the Superdome starting line, Dave and I accidentally activated our chips (by walking backwards across the chip mat) several minutes before we actually started running. So we were late to the official start and our chip times were going to be off.
As the race announcer made the last call for marathoners, Dave, Chan, and I finally began running. We ran together for about half a mile until Chan begged off. The pace (about 9 minutes per mile, maybe a little slower) was faster than he wanted to go. Dave, who was running the half marathon, stayed with me until just past mile one, then he decided to take a walk break.
The Mardi Gras Marathon is basically two out-and-back courses, starting and finishing at the Superdome. The first half goes down the far edge of the Quarter to Esplanade and along City Park before turning back and heading downtown to the Superdome. The second half cuts through the Central Business District to Pyrtania and then makes its way from the Garden District through Uptown and into Audubon Park before u-turning back towards the finish.
Running down Decatur through the Quarter, I tried to take in the sights, but I was fighting my natural instinct to pass the slower runners. My competitive juices were flowing, and I felt slighted by our late start. I tried to keep reminding myself that this was a training run, not a race.
We turned down Esplanade and headed toward City Park. The familiarity was comforting. Not only was this my third Mardi Gras Marathon, but I had also run the same route for a couple Crescent City Classics.
There were less people out to cheer us on than in years past, and I noticed several stores in mid-cities that were closed down. A few local markets had their doors boarded up. And other than the huffing and puffing of the runners, it was awfully quiet.
We got to the entrance at City Park and turned right, following the canal. The route was pretty much the same as in previous years, but at one point we turned off the main road for a mile out and back. Along the detour, I was shocked to see so many houses that had been ravaged by the storm. FEMA trailers were parked in nearly every front yard. It’s unbelievable that nearly 18 months after Katrina, people are still living in temporary housing.
Coming back towards downtown, I caught up with Dave, who was waiting at the base of the course’s only hill (a short bridge over the highway). Dave, who has had recurring arch problems for years, had started to develop some foot pain, so he decided to take it easy and not risk further injury. We ran together for another mile or so until he needed to stop to walk.
I hit the halfway point a few minutes over two hours. I felt good, but it was getting pretty warm outside. The forecast had the temperature in the mid-70s, and there was no question we were going to hit it. Without a cloud in the sky, the sun was beating down and I was getting hot.
Running down Pyrtania Street, I saw the familiar crowd of folks outside Bluebird Café waiting for their Sunday breakfast. I had a sudden desire to ditch this marathon foolishness in favor of a cup of coffee and some corned beef hash.
A mile or so later, I met up with Nell, who graciously cheered me on and handed me a cold bottle of water. (She also snapped lots of cool black and white photos!)
At Napoleon, the course turned toward the river for another out-and-bike half mile before resuming down Pyrtania. Not too far down the road, I passed Upperline restaurant and the new Martin Wine Cellar, relocated from its original spot a couple blocks lakeside of St. Charles. We used to go to Martin’s a lot when I was in law school. They had a great deli.
I saw Nell again before leaving Pyrtania for Audubon Park. She was getting around town and doing a great job of fan support.
Into Audubon Park, I started really feeling fatigued. I rubbed my face and was surprised to see that salt had started to form on my cheek. It was time to pop some Sport Beans and hit the Gatorade.
Nell was there again, which was great. I needed all the motivation I could get. This was getting tough.
Heading back up Pyrtania towards downtown, I saw Chan coming from the opposite direction. He was about 4.5 miles behind me on the course. I could tell he was hurting. He told me he was cramping. I felt bad for the guy—he still had eight or nine miles to go.
Passed Jackson Avenue, there was an aid station being manned by the New Orleans Hash Harriers. I don’t know what possessed me, but their offer of a cold beer sounded pretty good. I knew I was close enough that finishing wasn’t a problem. I had also given up any illusion of finishing under 4 hours, telling myself that I was saving it for the Waco 50K in two weeks.
So what the hell? I snagged a cup of ice cold Abita beer. And it was good. Real good. (I also chugged a Gatorade for hydration purposes.)
The last couple miles were actually pretty fun. Between the heat and the beer (and maybe the 24 miles I’d just run), I was a little light-headed. Almost giddy.
The course ends by looping around the backside of the hockey/basketball arena until you come to a short straightaway under the walkway-bridge into the Superdome. Just as I reached the arena, I came up on a young guy who was walking.
“Yeah, but I’m hurting. This is my first marathon.”
“Stay with man, you can do this. We’ll run it in together.”
As we rounded the corner, we could see the crowds of people. They weren’t as massive as Marine Corps or White Rock, but when I started throwing up my arms and encouraging them to cheer, they let loose. It was great. The guy I was running with started getting into it, too. Very cool.
I crossed the finish in 4:14:31, but I’m guessing my actual running time was around 4:08 something. It was a good race.
The next day, Nell and I grabbed dinner with Chan (who finished just under 5 hours) at the best restuarant in New Orleans Jacques-Imo’s.
Very good times.