Tuesday, March 01, 2016

RnR New Orleans Half Race Report

Well, it was bound to happen eventually - I had a terrible race this weekend. On paper, 1:36:22 does not look like an atrocious time, but given my hopes/expectations/estimated current fitness...it was a pretty big blow to the old confidence. There were a wide variety of things that I think played into the meltdown I had, but one major factor that I keep thinking about is the abrupt change in my expectations. In the week leading up to the race, I had pretty much written off running a PR or even close, since I know full well I'm a poor warm weather racer and 65-70 was going to be HOT to my New England winter acclimated body. But then, somewhere in the 24 hours before the race, I got the idea into my head that I was going to have this incredible race and run a PR. That, I think, was a big part of my undoing. Luckily, I had a really great experience with the rest of the weekend (and the race itself, I have no complaints about) so the feeling I'm left with is overwhelmingly positive! I'm not mad I did the race, I'm just a little frustrated with my performance - clearly, there are some kinks to be worked out before Boston!

Prerace, I had delightfully uneventful flights down to New Orleans and proceeded through packet pickup without a problem. I then walked over to the hotel and went out for a quick shakeout run - only 3 miles, but better than nothing! - along the Mississippi which was fun. Joy and I ended up randomly going to a New Orleans Pelicans game because the tickets were cheap and really, the only other things to do would have been eating and drinking...far too tempting. The game was actually quite fun (especially the random mascot games that occurred during timeouts...#pierresmascotparty for life) and we got back to the hotel around 10. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised since we were staying less than a block off Bourbon Street, but our next door neighbors were a gang of guys who appeared to have come to town for one reason: to drink as much as possible. Thanks to some extremely thin walls I felt like I became friends with them, particularly one guy named Dave who had many stories about the times that he had been "totally sober..and then WHAM! BAM! I was drunk!". Thankfully, they departed for the bars around 11 - just in time for us to go to bed!

Race day dawned, and I awoke not to my alarm, but Dave and company returning from the bars full of stories about the large women who had attempted to abduct them into their van. Luckily it was close enough to my wake up call anyway. Soon enough we were up and getting ready - I had bought an iced coffee the night before and put it in the ice tub which actually worked out perfectly for morning caffeine intake, and I also ate a banana and half of a Clif bar (the second part, I think was a mistake). Also a mistake: I think I only drank about 6 oz of water before leaving the hotel room. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But a\s we warmed up towards the start, I was excited! I mean, sure I was sweating and absolutely did not need to be wearing warmups (never a good sign), but my legs felt good and I saw no reason why today couldn't be an awesome day.
Pre-race, when everything was still exciting

We headed into the corrals and were trying to figure out where we should line up when I ran into Grace! I guess wearing a Greater Boston singlet in a race nowhere close to there helps to pick you out of a crowd. She was getting ready to run her comeback marathon, and it was fun meeting her in real life! I wished her good luck and we headed up a few more rows...then it was time to go! Bullhorns! Music! Excitement! Possibility! Gotta love race starts. 

For exactly one mile, things went more or less according to plan. I had decided in my fit of "wait, I AM going to run a PR!" madness the previous night that I was going to try to go out in 6:50 and see how long I could hold on. Well. Turns out the answer to that question on this particular day was ONE LOUSY MILE. Things basically felt OK up until the mile mark, but pretty much immediately after that they took a turn for the worse - not really what you want to have happen at mile 2/13. The first section of the course was a long out and back through the Garden District, which was lovely and perhaps more importantly, shaded. I perceived that we were running downhill but in reality I think I'm just REALLY not used to running on flats! But despite the shade and the flatness, problems continued to emerge. Problem #1 was nausea. Between about miles 2-4 I basically just felt like I was going to barf. I tried to slow down the pace a bit in the hopes that it would help and it did - a little bit. But not really enough to decrease my concerns. I took some water at the first opportunity, hoping that THAT would solve my problems. And it pretty much did fix the stomach issues...what it did not fix was the fact that my legs just felt totally unresponsive. After the opening mile, I slowed down to 7:10ish and pretty much accepted that that was where I might be for the rest of the day. But THAT still felt hard! WTF was going on?

As I tried to figure out what my stupid body wanted or needed, I tried to at least look at the crowd and the stuff that was going on around me. I've never done a Rock N Roll race before and I will admit that I enjoyed the bands, etc. that they had out on the course. On the way out we passed a jazz band which was also the point where I decided that someone with a tuba should always be around when I'm running. There were also some hilarious little New Orleans touches, like the group of spectators handing out king cake at mile 3, or the mimosa table around mile 5. Oh, how I wish I'd just gone for the mimosa!  We continued running out, and things didn't seem to be getting worse but they sure as hell weren't getting better either. By the time we hit the turnaround, I was becoming mildly concerned. Interestingly, my splits seem to indicate that 5K-10K was my most consistent section of the race, and there were moments that I did start to feel just slightly better. I heard "Don't Stop Believin'" at one point and that was exciting, although whoever was playing it cut it off in favor of another song, party foul! But I still felt like literally transforming into a unicorn was more of a possibility than running a sub-7 mile, to my great frustration. "Well, maybe if you stay relaxed enough here, you'll have something left for a kick at the end!" I thought to myself. Oh, self. How very, VERY wrong you were.

Things had already thinned out somewhat after the turnaround, and I found myself briefly in conversation with a girl who apparently used to run for WMDP. This was quite possibly the most annoying thing that could have happened to me, as she looked to be bouncing along, loving life, practically skipping down the course and asking me what brought me to this race. Meanwhile, I was pondering the meaning of life and why I choose to put myself through such torture, and could barely summon the strength to answer. Slog, slog, slog. I noticed my pace dipping into the 7:20s and felt my life force draining away. I was running my goal MARATHON pace. Ugh. Some clog dancers distracted me for a second, and a sign that literally just said "Fuck you, run harder" propped up by the side of the road also made me pick it up briefly, but in general I was just riding the struggle bus, and there were wayyy too many miles still left to go. I was getting some great "Go Greater Boston" and "GBTC" cheers along the way, and I wished I could be representing the club better. 

I took my Gu at mile 7, again, in the hopes that it would spark something, ANYTHING, in the useless things known as my legs. Maybe I was hungry. Maybe I needed salt. Maybe I was dehydrated...there had to be SOME reason why this was becoming such a mess. The Gu perked me up ever so briefly (or it may have been the water I dumped over my head). And then we turned off the lovely shady road and onto a blazingly sunny industrial street and all I could think was "WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?!"
I took this photo on the streetcar the next day just to remember the horror of this turn

I realize this whole thing is sounding extremely dramatic, but it's just been such a long time since I had a race just go so spectacularly wrong that I wasn't even sure how to process it. Everything just sucked. In retrospect, it's pretty obvious that I was a) dehydrated, b) just not having a good day, and c) hot, but none of those things felt like they were good enough excuses. I feel like I can be OK about feeling terrible if I'm running fast, because obviously running fast is hard and it hurts. But the problem was, I wasn't running fast! And I was barely able to hang on to the pace I was running - 30 seconds slower than the pace I was hoping to run. I think that's what was really making me feel miserable. We eventually turned off the sunny road and I had another slightly uplifting moment with this cool acapella group (there were possibly also some kind of pipe/drums involved). But any happiness I had left shattered when I saw I had just run a 7:34 split. And that slowdown had not helped me feel better, not even a little bit. 

My 10 mile split was actually reasonable at 1:12:15 - that's technically a PR - but then I just fell apart so spectacularly the last 3 miles that there's really not much to say. I ran a 7:40 mile 11 and when I saw that split on my watch I just wanted to cry. I FELT so terrible that I couldn't believe I was going that slowly. I then tried to make an effort to pick it up and was rewarded with...a 7:37. Ouch. Add to all this that somewhere around mile 7 my left hamstring/butt problem that has been bothering me on and off started tightening up and I felt it for the remainder of the race, and I was just not enjoying my day. At this point, the goal had just become survival. Finally at mile 12, in similar fashion to a bad day I had at Boston way back in the day, I mentally told myself "well, you have to TRY". It's not that I wasn't trying - because man, was I ever trying - but in that moment I felt like I had to be wimping out on myself somehow, that it couldn't actually be as bad as I was making it out to be. Honestly, I think it kind of was. I apparently managed to pull it together enough to run 7:23 pace for the last 1.1 miles (super kick, that) and crossing the finish line I felt nothing other than pure relief to no longer be running. About 10 seconds later though, my relief turned to frustration. This was it? This was ALL I had to give after a huge last 6 weeks of training, was the exact same freaking time as I ran 6 weeks ago but feeling much worse? My butt hurt and I was so thirsty and I just sat and grumped on the curb for a few minutes while I waited for Joy to come through the chute. 

As it turned out, Joy and I had had virtually identical experiences on the course! We were both pretty disappointed - I think knowing that the course was so flat, we had both had kind of high hopes about how we would run, but clearly that wasn't in the cards. We begrudgingly headed out to cooldown in order to get 17 miles on the day, and got to cheer on some marathoners as we went which definitely picked me up. After the cooldown we decided to grab some beers and head to another spot on the course to cheer for the marathoners coming it - yay for New Orleans lack of open container laws, meaning we could bring our beers wherever our hearts desired! Watching runners come through just before the 26 mile mark, most everyone looked rough. The heat was clearly taking its toll, and I was thankful that at least my poop race hadn't lasted an additional 13.1 miles. After watching for awhile, we headed back to the festival area to say hi and congrats to Grace again, and got some great recommendations of things to do in New Orleans - SO helpful since we really had no game plan for the rest of the day, and we got to see some gems of places that we definitely wouldn't have found otherwise!
Spirits lifted after cheering on some marathoners

Our rough races over and at least partially forgotten, we moved on to the more important part of the day: EATING AND DRINKING! This part of the trip is probably best shown through photos...
The wait for po-boys was totally worth it. Followed up my catfish poboy with a beer at Bayou Beer Garden, which was also delightful. We took the streetcar back downtown and after a brief siesta (aka an absolutely amazing 40 minute nap) we went back out on the town!
Alas, our original oyster happy hour destination was really crowded, so we ended up going somewhere else. I know pretty much nothing about oysters (this was really my first experience with them) but I enjoyed them! Also, there was a college track meet on TV at the bar, which was both weird and awesome. 

Possibly my new favorite bar, and this shandy was DELICIOUS. Hilariously, we also ended up in a small back room with room for ~8 people, and all of the people were runners - 4 of them were even from New England! Small world, and it was a fun coincidence having a little runner party, trading insights on New England races, and chatting about our races that day with our new friends.
When on Bourbon Street...you spend way too much money on a silly frosty drink that you can carry around outdoors.

My legs felt HORRENDOUS the day after the race - probably a combination of race pain, walking around in flip flops, and dehydration - and the thought of going for a shakeout run was almost too much to handle. But, with assistance from some ibuprofen (I know, I know) I managed a verrrry easy 6 miles that wasn't too atrocious. We ran out on the St. Charles streetcar tracks, so basically the course we had been on the day before, and then did a loop around Audubon Park which was lovely. Then we took the St. Charles streetcar back downtown for yet more food and drinks. We ended up taking an Uber to Bacchanal, which came recommended and did NOT disappoint. It looks rather sketchy from the outside, but inside it is a delightful land of wonders.

We also made a stop at Cafe du Monde as well as looping around to a few more bars/restaurants before calling it a night. I did finally have an actual hurricane (not the awkward frosty variety) and...wow...it tasted like the mysterious concoctions that we used to make in a cooler or a gatorade tub back in college, which is to say it was delicious, and very strong. A good ending to the New Orleans experience.

As for post race thoughts, well, I'm not really sure what to think. It's definitely discouraging to run a time that ranks in the bottom 4 out of 10 half marathons when you've been training harder than ever and feel like you're in really good shape. I keep reminding myself that there were MANY factors at play including warm temps, poor hydration before the race, long day of air travel pre race, a pre-race dinner that was not what I'd normally eat, the fact that I ran this race in the midst of full training and didn't taper, the fact that a flat course actually may have been more challenging because it's not what I'm used to, my ongoing butt saga, etc. None of these are excuses, though, for the fact that my legs simply didn't show up on Sunday. That happens, sometimes, I guess, it's just been quite awhile since it's happened to me. I think the half marathon is a tougher distance for me than the marathon, because I still don't have a good strategy for it - the question of how hard is too hard to go out isn't one I've figured out. Maybe at some point I'll take a season away from racing the full to work some more on racing halfs, since I do think I have room to improve in the distance! I placed reasonably well in the grand scheme of the race (237th OA/11K+, 42nd woman/7800, 10th AG/991), so that was nice. I just really want to get to that next level, and so this isn't the kind of progress (or lack thereof) that I want to be seeing. Still, my favorite theory of training has always been from Once A Runner - the idea that it's a spiral, not a straight line, and sometimes you have to feel like you're going backwards to really move forwards. I'd happily sacrifice this race if I knew it meant running a great Boston in 7 weeks, so I can only hope that this is just a small downward spiral that is building towards catapulting me even higher. And, I had an awesome weekend in New Orleans, so that can't be discounted! 

1 comment:

Gracie said...

Looks like you had a GREAT weekend and hit some of the highlights! Sorry about the race. But really. It was unusually warm, even for me (I had one long run in the 80's, but recently we have had nice, cold weather) so I am sure you were not acclimated. That, and you should not underestimate the impact travel has on your ability to run. Traveling is exhausting and dehydrating and wreaks havoc on your metabolism, sleep, and hormone levels. Plus, I know this sounds odd, but totally flat courses can actually be hard for hill runners. You use the exact same muscles over and over. They're great for a fast 5k PR, but for half marathon and longer, it can take a toll.
Anywho - you still have a great race ahead of you. I am sure of it. You ran an untapered race and felt flat? Of course you did. It was still a good workout and part of a good marathon build up.
Great meeting you and hope you visit again soon! I am so glad you went to Bacchanal and Parkway - it was lovely weather for both. I was actually jealous of Bacchanal. We haven't been in months, and I do love a lazy afternoon of day drinking and too much cheese there! And yes, I DO want to eventually do Boston again - I love the city and am overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the race. So maybe next year I will!