I registered for the Louisiana Marathon in August of 2015 and had the rest of the summer and fall to look forward to escaping the Chicago winter for a weekend in Baton Rouge and New Orleans for the January 17th race! I was absurdly lucky with the unusually mild November and December and enjoyed all of my long runs sans treadmill, even getting in my last 20 miler in Louisville while home for Christmas in 60 degrees and sun! This was my 7th marathon, but the same mix of excitement and nerves was felt just the same. I think the only difference is that I recognize these feelings and know better how to calm them. I reminded myself time and again that my training was solid, I enjoyed each long run more than I expected, and I was looking at the most beautiful race day forecast one could ask for; 40s and sunny! I was equipped with my orange Fellow Flowers clip from my friend JulieAnn and my Back on My Feet tank, from the organization I raised over $1,000 for while training. Basically, I had a lot of good juju going on!
Mom and I ready to head to the start
Start Line – 10 Miles
Mom was brave enough to drive me and my race-day-morning-anxiety to the start line and got me within one block! The sun was just coming up as I walked to the corral in my overly-thought-out attire and throwaway jacket. It was 38 degrees with little wind, so a bit chilly, but perfect race day scenario. Once you’re in the corral it’s nice and warm, anyway.
Thanks to Louisiana Marathon Facebook page for the photo!
I lined up near the 3:45 pacer, my ultimate goal time, and 2+ minutes faster than my current PR. But I digress. We had 10 minutes until the horn and I felt ready. I was more excited than nervous at this point and shuffled in place to warm up my tense muscles, shedding my throwaway when the countdown clock reached 3 minutes. Now I was really ready to run!
The horn sounded and we started moving forward, I hit start on my Garmin, crossing the start in under a minute from gun time. I was off! With any endurance race I like to mentally split the race into sections. For the half marathon it’s 5-5-5K (5 miles, 5 miles, 5K), and the marathon doesn’t differ much; 10-10-10K. The difference is that I have a rule to not count down until mile 20. Of course the thought of how many miles left will always creep in, but I focus on getting to that next section until I reach 20 miles and then the countdown truly begins.
I was to see my fans – all 5 of them! – around mile 4, 14, and between 20 and 21. In the marathon you don’t really “need” much support at mile 4, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really looking forward to it! It gave me mini sections to focus on, plus the option of dropping of extra layers of gloves and shirts. The first few miles I was wrapping my head around the reality of running the race I had in the back of my mind since August. I had been training specifically for this race since October and now it was paying off.
By mile 4 we had already crossed the edge of University Lake and were just entering the LSU campus. The morning sun was shining enough to make the world beautiful, but not enough to make it hot. A truly gorgeous day for a run! I saw my fan base up ahead on the right, but they hadn’t spotted me yet even though I was waving with both hands like a mad woman. They made eye contact and bursted into cheers. “Look alive!!” I yelled to them, I mean, it’s the least a spectator can do 😉 I wasn’t ready to give up my second layer of gloves and knew I’d see them at 14 so I waved, smiled and told them I’d see them in 10. I kept an eye on my pace, knowing I’d need to maintain 8:34s to break 3:45:00. The last 3 miles were under 8:32 so I focused on settling into that pace and cruising.
The course wound through campus and the entirety of University Lake lined with huge southern houses, nearly each with gaslights on the porches and wooden swings hanging from the towering trees. I made a mental note to check this street out on Zillow when I was done. Past mile 7 there was a group (a flock?) of some big bird I hadn’t seen in ever. I feel like an idiot from the city, but have no idea if it was some type of chicken or turkey or what! The two trying to cross the street wigged out a little with runners rushing past them on either side. They quickly gave up and shuffled back towards the lake. At least I was entertained!
Heading towards mile 10 and away from the lake I saw my favorite sign (other than my moms’!) that actually made me laugh out load – technically it was a, “huh!”, but that counts when running a marathon. It was huge and said, “Congratulations! You’ve won the Louisiana Marathon! Oh wait…I apologize.” with a gigantic cutout of Steve Harvey’s face. If you don’t get it, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself and watch this. Mile 10 came with ease and the half marathoners were going to break off near mile 11. I checked of the first section and headed into the next; 10: check! 10 and 10K: bring it!
1- 8:49 6- 8:22
2- 8:32 7- 8:24
3- 8:28 8- 8:41
4- 8:37 9- 8:23
5-8:33 10- 8:26
The course turned east just before mile 11 and the half marathoners made a sharp turnaround, heading towards downtown Baton Rouge as us marathoners followed the course east with a few miles of a looping south, east, then north past a park. By mile 12 I was warm enough to lose the long sleeved layer (my shirt from the Urban Bourbon half last October) and expertly got it over my hand-warmer-containing-gloves, Garmin and Fitbit, tying it around my waist where it would wait patiently to be tossed to whichever family member who looked capable of catching it in a few short miles.
My dark passenger miles are 16-20. I mentally prep for these miles like I’m entering battle. Having a fanbase break-up the 10-16 mile range helped keep my mind from wandering to those miles and by 13 I was ready for a little fuel. I rely on Clif Shot Gels and fished for the vanilla flavor in my Flipbelt that held 3 gels and my phone, ripped it open with my teeth (I hope you’re picturing a bear tearing into a freshly caught fish, here) and slowly squeezed out little bits, savoring the pudding taste. Seriously, it tastes exactly like pudding. It takes me a good half mile to finish a whole gel and I do this on purpose. The first time I had one I did the whole thing in one go and felt it was sitting in my tummy the rest of the run. This method works much better for me, and entertains me for longer. It truly is the little things. I hit up the next water station and was on my way, passing the 14 mile marker and on the lookout for a familiar face.
I saw my signs as the course turned north/right and got my shirt ready for the handoff. I was sure they were cheering for me – and quite energetically I might add – but a solid 10 seconds later Brett says, “oh, there she is! We thought me missed you!” So, they cheer like that for just any ol’ body I see! “Really?!” I laughed, blew a kiss and my shirt, waved both hands and took off for 15. A little lighter, refueled and mile 15 in the distance, I was feeling good
The turnaround (I immediately thanked the good Lord I didn’t twist an ankle!)
Locking on to the mile 16 sign, I thought – or most likely said aloud – “here we go”. I completely blocked out anything but these next 4 miles. It’s amazing to me how quickly the first 10 miles can seem, but once you pass a certain distance, they feel longer and longer. Running – and endurance running specifically – is so incredibly mental. It’s like some type of time-warp magic. Soon after I passed mile 16, the course veered to the right, eventually looping back, and I saw the lead female gunning my way. I absolutely love seeing the first female and always clap and yell something to the effect of, “get it, girl!!” (Sidenote: I later found out she technically won by nearly 20 minutes, but was disqualified for having the assistance of a biker handling her water and fuel. Read more here.)
Mile 17 came without too much struggle and I checked off 1 of the big bad 4. My legs were feeling it, mainly my hamstrings and glutes, but not in a painful way, just a hey-we’ve-been-doing-a-lot-here-if-you-have’t-noticed way. I decided I’d have my next gel around 19 or 20 and focused on the spectators’ signs and houses. Past 18 (another one down!) a man with his little girl were in the middle of the street (it was a pretty thin group of runners at this point) and she stood facing the oncoming racers with both arms straight out and hands wide. “This is free energy here! Free energy!” her dad yelled and nearly everyone high-fived her, she looked elated! Soon enough mile 19 passed and I felt a surge of energy knowing the countdown would begin soon, I’d have another gel, and see my spectators. My emotions and body changed every few minutes, from “just keep going”, to, “I feel pretty great, maybe I can speed up a bit”. Although I felt like I was moving slower, my Garmin said otherwise and mile 19 clocked in at 8:21, “ok, you need to slow it down a bit. Too early for that” but I won’t lie, I was happy to see that number. Mile 20 was in my sights and I definitely congratulated myself aloud. 10: check! 10: check! 10K: Here I come!
11- 8:27 16- 8:17
12- 8:22 17- 8:21
13- 8:16 18- 8:31
14- 8:27 19- 8:21
15-8:21 20- 8:28
Miles 21 – Finish Line
During mile 21 we were running west, back on the same road we headed out on, so runners were on my left and in the 16 mile stretch. Happy to be done with that section, I whispered to myself, “it’s OK for it to be hard now”. Any miles before 20, but especially up to 16, I want to feel easy. I get nervous if it really feels like hard work before that, but once you’re past 20 it’s totally acceptable to feel a little beat up. I was on the lookout for my squad and got my second layer of gloves off and ready to toss, confident I wouldn’t regret having one pair the final 5 miles.
The hand off. Gloves in one hand, Clif Shot in the other.
My legs were tired, but the feeling of having under 5 miles left kept my spirits up. When we hit 22 I saw my speed was gaining, which was good, but I wasn’t close enough to push harder so I stayed steady and kept my eyes entertained with spectator signs and the runners who still had a lot of race to run. By 24 miles we joined up with the half marathoners as they made their turnaround. Most were power walking or doing run/walk intervals so I suddenly felt fast. It’s a weird feeling, almost like sitting at a light and the car next to you slowly creeps forward and you think you’re going backwards. I was running the same pace as those around me for so long and suddenly there are people running much slower, it’s hard to gauge what you’re really doing!
With 2 miles to go the roads were open with few runners around me. I latched on to 2 girls and stayed with them a solid mile. Then the overpass came. We went over this same overpass heading into mile 2 but I swear it was twice as steep! I focused on the crest of the hill and the 25 mile marker which sat squarely at the top. The same smell of doughnuts hit me, just like it did at the start. There must be a bakery nearby because I wasn’t having a stroke. It. Smelled. So. Good.
Under a mile to go and I felt amazing. Yeah, I was ready to be done, but I was going to hit my goal time even if I slowed down to a 10 minute mile. I started to picture the finish, then I saw my fans! They were right by mile 26 and were cheering like crazy; what a great surprise!
All signs are approved by me.
I saw the finish and dug in, passing a girl I hoped to be in my division.
The music, the cheers, the fans and volunteers; I took it all in, raised my hands and crossed the finish line of my 7th marathon in 3:41:38! A 5-1/2 minute PR and beautiful finishers medal were all mine. I very quickly found my tribe and let the post-race feeling wash over me.
Dad couldn’t resist making good use of the steps and I managed to channel what was left of my energy and Rocky out with him.
Overall a truly great day!