Back in the fall, my best friend and I decided to sign up for the Rock 'n Roll New Orleans Half Marathon. I had been looking for a race to cap off my OutSeason Training Plan and have also always wanted to go to New Orleans. And when we registered, I had no clue how miserable this winter would be for getting in longer runs outside..
The race was last weekend and the short version is that I learned not to eat your way through New Orleans and expect to run a good race. Time- 1:55 something. My second slowest half marathon ever. Disappointed, yes, but really I should have expected it. In the scheme of things, it was a great weekend and I got a hefty dose of motivation to up my training (and diet), served up with some humble pie.
The Weekend (minus the race)
I got into New Orleans on Thursday night, after my original flight was cancelled. My friend wasn't getting in until the next day. We were staying at Hilton Garden Inn French Quarter/CBD. I arrived a bit scared since I kept hearing that if you step one foot off the main drag, you will be mugged/raped/killed. The hotel was nice though and perfectly located- close to the French Quarter, race start, and the trolley line.
My friend got in Friday morning and we were immediately off to breakfast at Red Gravy. Cue the delicious eating. I had an amazing omelette with sausage and veggies and tomato sauce. We walked down to the French Quarter, where we walked around a bit and got pralines at Leah's Pralines. Praliens are good, bacon pecan brittle is better. Wow. We sat on the riverfront and ate way too many. It was surprisingly chilly that day. Then we took the St Charles Trolley to the Garden District and did a walking tour of the cemetery and neighborhood. The cemetery was really cool- learning about all the burial customs and seeing tombs in varying conditions. The Garden District was also awesome- so much different architecture, and we got to see some famous people's homes including Sandra Bullock.
On Friday night we ate at Oceana, another delicious and way too big meal. Then we went to see Rebirth Brass Band at The Howlin' Wolf. They didn't get on stage til almost midnight! It was really cool to see live jazz in New Orleans, and we stayed until about 1am, way past my bedtime.
Saturday was a bit more chill. We just had breakfast at the hotel and then made our way to the expo, a much longer walk than we expected. Then we were off to the zoo. The zoo was located in a beautiful park, and just seemed perfectly southern. I love zoos, and the added bonus here was the alligator, just chilling in the algae swamp. We definitely were on our feet more than would probably be recommended, but I would've regretted not seeing New Orleans otherwise. We ate dinner at the hotel, and then watched a movie and bed.
Sunday morning was the race (see below) and then we went to brunch at The Columns Hotel. We got to sit out on the porch and enjoy a gigantic 4 course meal. I got beef tournedos (expected a funnel cloud of beef) with poached eggs over mashed potatoes. Damn. Creme brulee wasn't too shabby either. My friend left after brunch, and I spent the rest of the day relaxing with a very unhappy GI system. Before leaving on Monday morning, I walked around the French Quarter a bit (and had some more pralines).
The Race Itself
We woke up at 5am and left the hotel at 6:15. I had a yogurt and banana for breakfast, with a bit of coffee. We were just a few blocks from the race start, which was great. Found a porta-potty with a surprisingly short line, dropped the bag at gear check, and went to the corrals. We started at the front of the third corral with the 1:45 pace group. I had a gu about 15 minutes before the start. It was a staggered start, but we started pretty close to the end of the 2nd corral. The pace leaders went out pretty fast and I panicked- no way I was going to be able to hold that pace. Then it calmed down a bit and it was hard, but doable. The 8 min/mile pace had been my threshold pace in training, so I hadn't done more than 1.5 mi at a time at it. I was hoping the motivation of the race would make it possible. It was about 100% humidity, which didn't make me any happier. I was hanging in there until the first water stop. I still haven't mastered running and drinking, and really love the mental break of walking the water stops, so I got behind the group at that point. I then kept them in sight until mile 3 when my race started falling apart.
I mentally turned off. I realized it was going to be hard and hurt, and I shut down. I just gave up. I slowed down, then walked. I stopped to pee because I was slightly uncomfortable. There goes my goal. From mile 3 on, it was pretty pathetic, especially in hindsight. I completely shied away from discomfort. Because running a half marathon should be unicorns and rainbows, right? Yes, my stomach was legitimately upset (see above on what I ate- makes me nauseous thinking about it), and that might have been a limiter regardless, but I didn't even try to push through. Walking leads to walking.
Maybe I am making it sound worse than it was. I did run most of it, but just kept giving up over and over again, which is honestly hard to think about looking back at it. The main limiter was definitely just my mental resolve, followed by cardiovascular. My legs felt pretty good until the end. My mood went from bad to worse, as I was then upset with myself for my performance.
Nutrition wise, one of my only complaints about the race would be that the aid stations were almost 2 miles apart. Maybe I'm just spoiled by the fact that most of the Chi-town races have buffet tables every mile or so, but in the heat this seemed rough. I took water at every aid station and gatorade at a few as well. I had a gu around mile 5 and then mile 9. Nothing I'd change there.
The course wasn't all that exciting. Most of it was an out and back along one road. Didn't really matter, as it was so humid that my glasses were fogged and I had no clue where I was. Strangely, the humidity suddenly broke around mile 9, and there was on and off drizzle. Spectator support was ok, some good areas, some empty. I know there had to be frequent music since it was a Rock N Roll race, but I honestly didn't notice most of it, I was so miserable.
I think the half is a tough distance for me mentally. I am so accustomed to my 10 mile runs (even though they've been few and far between this year). I am use to 5 miles being half way, not 8 more to go. When I was at 6.5 miles and realized I was just half way, I wanted to cry. My stomach was also going crazy at that point, and I made a couple portapotty stops that also slowed me down and threw off my rhythm, if I had one. I tried to rally for the last few miles, and was somewhat successful, but still giving up on myself. That last mile seemed to stretch on forever. I do know that I was limited by fitness as much as mentality towards the end, as I could not get myself to sprint those last few meters no matter how much I wanted to.
I should mention that my Garmin went nuts the whole race. It was just beeping non-stop. I tried to stop it, but apparently it had a mind of its own and wouldn't stop, just kept beeping. I did pause it a few times though, so the beeping wasn't even giving me anything accurate. I crossed the line having really no clue how I did, thinking between 1:52 and 1:55.
The medals were awesome- on Mardi Gras beads! I grabbed my post-race food and found my friend at the reunite area. She ran a 1:40:xx, so that was good for her. We got our gear and walked forever to get to the shuttles back to the start line.
My stomach stayed pretty upset the rest of the day. The following day I was pretty sore, which surprised me as I pretty much just did a pathetic long run, rather than actually race. The reality is sinking in that while I did just give up, I really was in just not that great of shape. My physical demise showed when I got my race photos. Not only did that capture many of me walking, but in those where I am running I am rotating at my trunk like crazy. My core just fell apart along with the rest of my race. I need to be more aware of this in my long runs (and finally do those core exercises...).
So What Went Wrong...
1) Nutrition- My food intake leading up to the race is a ridiculous example of what not to do. And my long term nutrition had me heavier that would be ideal by a long shot.
2) Lack of endurance- I haven't run longer than 10 miles since the Ironman, and only a few 10 mile runs at that. While I have done some speedwork, being on the treadmill and bored has limited my long runs this winter. The long runs that I have done have been similar to my race- lots of giving up. Yes, I got them done, but I'd probably "pause" every mile or so due to something- stomach cramp, adjust hat, etc. I need to train like I race, or at least want to race. In addition to the long run, my overall mileage has been low. Lots of skipped runs, some for legitimate reasons, some not. Consistency is key, and the opposite of what I've been.
3) Pacing- I went out too fast. 1:45 was definitely a lofty goal considering #1 and 2. And when we went out even faster than that, I just burned out. I should've at least started at a more realistic pace, and sped up if possible. The fast pace and how I felt trying to keep it definitely contributed to me just giving up. Also, my broken watch was no help with pacing. Garmin, you'll be hearing from me.
4) Mental weakness- This was the biggie. I've known it, but here it showed itself again. I need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I think part of the problem too is that I know I am not in my peak shape, so my chances of actually PR-ing are pretty slim. That doesn't help to encourage me. I think I need to just get more racing experience and see that I can survive the hurt.
First, it was a great weekend, even with the marathon. And, I still ran 13.1 miles, and under 2 hrs, which is a goal I realize many strive for. So I really shouldn't complain. I was extremely happy that my shins didn't hurt at all. That was a huge victory. Sign that I can up the running? But most importantly, this was a motivator. When I got my time and saw that it was slower than 1:55, part of me was crushed, but I realized I had no one to blame but myself. If I want to do better, I have to be better. The fire has been lit.
Today I registered for the Chi-Town Half Marathon on April 6- hoping that will have a very different outcome!