A Big Easy Race – RNR New Orleans 2016

Rock n Roll New Orleans is always a tough race to plan for, mainly because the date is based on Mardi Gras so it moves around every year. In 2015, we were in NOLA in late January. This year we’re racing in the last weekend of February. There’s also the matter of the unpredictable winter weather. Earlier this week, the southeast was getting hammered by tornadoes. The weekend was looking clear and mid-50’s when we took off, basically ideal racing conditions.

At least dealing with the weather would be easy!

This was also the race where our friend Joe Harris was coming back to the RNR circuit after surgery. Among our close friends, it seems we’ve seemed had a lot of health issues in the last few years. Statistics say 50-75% of runners get hurt every year, but few of these are the typical joint or muscle pains. I’m happy to say that every single one of us has bounced back to return to racing, something about the group energy that brings us motivation to GetBackUp! As a tribute, Al brainstormed the “VIP Joe 116 mile challenge.” Three of us ran or walked 116 miles in the month of February, one for every Rock n Roll race Joe has completed. Lisa Marie finished her 116 on Thursday.  Al and I hit 116 sometime in the last few miles of the half marathon on Sunday.

We took a late Friday flight in, landing right about when most of downtown NoLA was just coming to life. We skipped the festivities, but I heard George Melichar was putting on an aerobic dance party near his place on Camp. The lights from Canal Street were a peaceful backdrop to get some sleep.

On Saturday morning, we went through the expo pretty quickly – well, for us at least. We took about an hour and a half which is better than usual, and we somehow controlled our CGI swag spending for once. 2015 was the Year of the Half-Zip for Ron. This time, just the usual luggage tags and half marathon pins. This was the first time Al and Joe were able to see the 2015 Hall of Fame banner with pictures of everyone who finished 15 or more RNR half and full marathons last year. It’s really humbling to know so many people who made the Hall this year.

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Seeing Joe was a great lift. A lot of our group skipped out on RNR Arizona so it’s been over two and a half month since most of us had seen each other. Al surprised Joe with a brand new pair of his favorite racing compression pants. After running behind him for a while, he figured it was time to get a backup pair to prevent any on-course wardrobe malfunctions.

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Fortunately, he didn’t try them on right then and there.
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Susan thought up the idea of sending Joe a card for 30 days after his surgery. He ended up treating it like an Advent calendar, enjoying every day and getting motivated to get back to running.

We met up Rick, our friend from Nashville who we met a few years ago in St. Louis and headed off for beignets. Unlike most of the folks who took suggestions from the volunteers, we went to a smaller shop that didn’t have the hour long wait. The beignets were just as good.  We even stayed long enough for Kamika to check his Facebook feed and realize we were just down the street. Social media has it’s advantages.

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What you don’t see is the 5 orders we polished off before Kamika arrived.

We took a quick walk downtown to find some photo ops and ended up next to George Melichar’s house on camp. The hashtag banner will end up in a museum somewhere. I kept expecting him to appear on the balcony so we could throw him some beads. Heh.

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We found some good photo ops. Even in broad daylight, there’s a lot going on downtown.

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St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square was the inspiration for the 2016 race medal
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Really no idea what was going on here, but they were very enthusiastic about it.

I planned to push this race, knowing how flat the course was and having a decent month training, so Susan and I put our feet up at Canal Place for a showing of Deadpool. Probably not the kind of movie Susan was expecting, but it fit into the schedule before dinner.

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Parmesan popcorn, butternut squash spread and blood orange Italian soda. I wish we had these back home!

We joined Sherry, Joe, Al and birthday boy, Don for a quiet dinner at the 5 Fifty 5 on Canal. I’m starting to get out of the habit of taking pictures because I respect the time we spend together. Maybe I’m getting lazy?

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The view before bed.

The Sheraton was one of the Team Challenge hotels and our floor had a few dozen team members. We woke up to a row of doors decorated with motivational signs. The first time we were here, we were with Team in Training and one of those were on our door. Feels like we never left!

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Susan got out a little early to visit our gypsy friends at the Hilton, including local celeb, Geo. He’s got some big projects in the works this year. Stay tuned!

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Geo takes a Juan-inspired selfie.
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And apparently, Geo was really glad to see Dave. Either that or he was choking on a pre-race po-boy.

We started in corral 10 for a quick group selfie or 4. Drew is still not completely healed from the high ankle sprain the put him on a scooter in San Antonio. Rick was working through some nagging back issues. Sandy was gunning for a PR in her 3rd full marathon with Beth and Jim pacing her for the first half. Dave’s friend Jeff was running his first race of ANY distance. Probably the coolest thing about waiting in the corral was that every minute or so, someone else we knew showed up and it seemed like everyone had different objectives.

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The half course is seriously flat. Susan’s Fitbit actually measured zero flights of stairs for the event. I think there was a rise and fall of about 9 feet, but obvious hills were non-existent. The challenge for NOLA is the pavement. The first 8 miles are an out and back on the long curve of St. Charles and hugging the inside tangent put you on the canted gutter on the way out. While it was tempting to shorten the route, it put a lot of stress on my hips. There were a few diversions for road construction in the same place as 2015 and a few crosses over the railroad tracks. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t generate the kind of lift I was getting for the last few weeks. My Garmin data tells me my stride length shortened by 4 cm, translating into a 2.5 minute gap. The PR wasn’t happening this week, but I still walked in just over 2:25 – not bad for February.

It was sunny at the finish and we sat on the track at the City Park listening to headliners J. Roddy Walston and The Business. The beads in the picture below weren’t from a side trip down Bourbon Street, those are the lanyards for the medals. Those of you who’ve been reading our blog will recognize Carl Marino (top left), star of the Investigation Discovery Channel’s Homicide Hunter – Lt. Joe Kenda. It’s quite an addictive show and I’ve been binge watching them on treadmill workouts. His wife Ilona (bottom) has made a dozen appearances in various roles. This was the first time we’d seen her without the knee scooter that she used for almost half of last year.

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Jeff had a good first race, capping it off with a stogie. Joe was overflowing with gratitude for the friends he came back to see and being able to get back on the race circuit again. We had to catch the shuttle back to the hotel before Sandy and Sherry finished the full, but both did well. Sandy got that PR.

IMG_1493NOLA is likely going to be on our 2017 schedule seeing how there isn’t much else to do between mid January and March. If vacation time frees up a bit, we might spend the extra night and actually get to enjoy the city a bit more.

If nothing else, we’d go back for more beignets.

~//~

Rock n Roll New Orleans was run for the 7th time under the Rock n Roll name. This year there were 17,791 finishers. There were 3,625 in the full (median finish time 4:51), 11,553 in the half (2:27), 2,613 in the 10K (1:17). As noted earlier, the course is really damn flat, though by a few reports measured it being a bit long (13.2 miles by my Garmin). Unlike previous trips out, we didn’t have any rain around the weekend at all. Race day, as usual, was clear and sunny.

With only 2 RNR races down so far, John took time to upgrade the Pannell Report, adding some visual basic programming to make it easier to figure out who the Elite Heavy Medal leaders are after each weekend and also highlighting former Hall of Famers to see who is on track to repeat or three-peat. John is focusing on the Race 13.1 Series in his home state of North Carolina this year, but will be doing more than a handful of Rock n Rolls.

After NOLA, 464 participants (about 1.65% of the total number of finishers) have finished half or full marathons for both weekends. We’ll see how this shakes out after a busy March with seven races – DC, Dallas, Mexico City, San Francisco and Raleigh –  in the next two months.

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