Monday, July 24, 2017

Race Report: Louisiana Marathon

BTR. I have arrived!
MLK weekend is always a competitive weekend for distance races all across the country.  In 2015, I headed to Phoenix to run the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half, and continued a fun weekend of exploring Scottsdale, the Prescott Valley, Jerome, and Sedona.  For 2016, I decided to run the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge, highly touted as a well-organized race with an incredible post race food spread.  And lucky for me, I also was able to get the national anthem gig for this race!  Because of the three day weekend, I opted to fly out first thing Saturday morning rather than my usual after work on Friday travel.  To get to Baton Rouge, I flew through Atlanta, and had a lengthy layover there - so I got to use the Club at ATL in Terminal E, thanks to my Chase Sapphire Rewards benefit of Priority Pass Select for airport lounges all around the world, including this one.  After a delicious breakfast, I headed to my gate and was pleasantly surprised by an upgrade to first class!

Expo enjoyment
Upon arrival, I grabbed my car and headed directly to expo at the Baton Rouge River Center, where I picked up my bib and met with my contacts for the race to introduce myself, and then met up with Lynne, who had arrived a day earlier.  We took advantage of the beautiful afternoon and took some photos along the Mississippi River boardwalk, with the Horace Wilkinson Bridge and the USS Kidd in the background.

Sunset on the Mississippi
I then drove over to the Airbnb I had booked in the MidCity neighborhood of Baton Rouge to check in.  The accommodations were great - I stayed at a beautiful 100-year-old craftsman home with 14 foot ceilings and great architectural details. The owners remodeled the house recently to accentuate its classic charm but fit it in with their modern style.  It was a quick drop off of things before heading right back to the River Center, as not only was the expo for the Louisiana Marathon happening, but a huge cheer competition was also going on.  My cousin Chrissy and her daughter Lily were in town from nearby New Orleans to partake in the competition, as Lily competes with a pretty high-level cheer and stunt team.  After they had finished with the day, we headed to dinner at Baton Rouge's famous Parrain's Seafood restaurant.  We didn't wait too long for seating on this busy Saturday night, but it was enough for me to encounter Louisiana's legendary massive mosquitoes buzzing around while waiting.

Mmmm... Cajun food!
For dinner, I was well fed; I shared some charbroiled oysters with Chrissy, and then had an incredible andouille encrusted fresh fish all to myself.  An amazing mill that I can still remember today... Mmmm.  After filling up properly to carbo-load, we returned back downtown, and then I called it an early night, retreating back to the Airbnb since I had an early morning ahead of me.

The following morning, I woke up at 5:30, packed everything up, and left through thick fog to head to the VIP Parking Garage located steps away from the start area in front of the Louisiana State Capitol.  I mulled around for a bit before getting to the start area around 6:30 for the national anthem.  To an assembling crowd of over 3200 runners, I sang the Star Spangled Banner, before embarking on my own 26.2, alongside Lynne and her roommate for Friday night Sharon.

A foggy startline
Through thick fog (61º and 100% humidity!), we headed south on 4th Street, turning left onto the treelined North Boulevard, passing the Louisiana's Old Governor's Mansion, and then our first hill - a ramp up and over 13th through 18th Streets, which we would later see again at the mile 25 mark.  I had my headphones in for that first mile, and realized that I really didn't need them like I thought I would - so I stuffed them in my pocket and let myself listen to the sounds of fellow runners and of cheers from Baton Rougians.  From there, we turned right onto Park Blvd (stopping to have a mimosa along the way!) as we headed due south into LSU's campus, eventually putting ourselves on Dalrymple Drive, the main entryway into the campus.

Running uphill on the first mile.  D'oh.

Hi Lynne! (she hates this photo...)
Heading toward LSU campus
By then, the fog had begun to dissipate, while the temps still stayed high enough to cause us all to break a sweat.  One of the highlights of running through the college campus was running past LSU's famous Tigers Stadium and at the same time grabbing a whole donut, walking while devouring it, and then continuing on running through campus. We then followed some residential streets named after other prominent colleges (Cornell, Harvard, Oxford, Yale, for example) before heading northward on Stanford Avenue alongside Milford Wampold Memorial Park, a park that juts out into University Lake.  We then turned onto Lakeshore Drive, where we would follow right along the edge of the lake and near some awesomely gigantic lakefront mansions. This lake actually looked oddly familiar to me, and it wouldn't be until later that I realized that this was where scenes from the movie Pitch Perfect were filmed. Along the way, I saw some very interesting looking ducks lounging by the lake - seemingly perfect looking for being in Louisiana, like they were wearing Mardi Gras masks.  It was later that I found out these were called Muscovy ducks, considered an invasive species, but plentiful to the southern United States!

Entering the LSU Campus

Scenes from Pitch Perfect, perhaps?
Muscovy ducks!
Running along Lakeshore Drive
We followed the perimeter of the both University Lake and City Park Lake all along Lakeshore Drive, which was roughly three miles of road, from mile 7 to mile 10.  I ran some pretty even splits, roughly 10:30 for each mile.  We finally met right back up with Dalrymple Drive and past the City Park Golf Course, before eventually turning onto Kleinert Avenue, and splitting off from the half marathoners, as they kept going straight, returning back to the finish line with 3 miles left to go.  However, we lucky marathoners were treated to a magnificent canopy of oak trees along Kleinert Avenue, taking us further east, as we ran deeper into Baton Rouge's historic Garden District.

I swear, I was enjoying myself
(Official photo by The Louisana Marathon)
Beautiful Kleinert Avenue
After 3/4 of a mile, we turned up along Parker Street toward Catholic High School and Claycut Road, then doing a 3+ mile section through heavily residential areas in the expansive Mid City neighborhood just east of the Garden District.  I timed my first GU well, taking my first at the 14 mile mark.  We emerged back onto Claycut Road, and encountered runners heading back on the same stretch toward the finish line - for me, my 15.5 mile mark was the 22 mile mark for those much faster runners.

This whole stretch of the race consisted of lots of running thru residential neighborhoods, but nevertheless, it was still very well supported.  I even had an opportunity to play flip cup at an "unofficial" beer aid station around mile 17 on Sevenoaks Avenue with some LSU students. Around half a mile later, Sabrina, the 4:40 pacer (along with my friend Ken) caught up and passed me, and I realized I was actually making some decent time.  Mile 18 passed, and I took another GU.  At around the point where we had turned around to head back toward the river (around the 19 mile mark) it started to get really hot.
A canopy of trees in the Garden District

Grr. Jon Snow was nowhere to be found
We progressed westward, then took Chevelle Drive northward up to Goodwood Blvd/Goodwood Ave, which returned to Claycut Road.  I stopped for a quick bathroom break at mile 20, not long after seeing an awesome Game of Thrones themed race sign that kept me going.  As I approached mile 22, I found my friends Larry and Dee Dee heading out. At this point, I took my last GU, and girded my loins for the last four miles.

Mile 25.  It's hot.
Despite my tiredness, I stayed consistent with my 4 minute run, 1 minute walk interval unless there were big hills... and really, the only time that big hill came was at mile 25, back on the North Boulevard ramp we had run near the beginning of the race.  I enjoyed the downhill, but the course seemed to go on and on until we finally made the turn right toward the finish.  And then, of course, the actual finish line was still another eight or so blocks away.  I crossed the finish mat in 4:52:59, only about three minutes behind Lynne, and happy to have another sub-5 in my name.

Coming into the finish!
(Official photo by The Louisana Marathon)

Another marathon finish, baby!
(Official photo by The Louisana Marathon)

Victory headstand!
I headed to the VIP area post race, and scarfed down some incredibly delicious red beans and rice and jambalaya, while cooling down over an Abita.  But you think that that amazing food was only reserved for VIP?  Think again.  ALL finishers got a chance to have six servings from any of the amazing food trucks and beer trucks that scattered the Food Village located at the Finish Fest.  Runners have their wristband to accumulate these attached to their bibs, and the public can purchase these wristbands either at the expo or at the festival itself.  We were also treated to some musical stylings from local performers and local bands.  It's quite the amazing party atmosphere.  After a little while, I headed out back to the finish and waited for Larry and Dee Dee to come in - they were delighted to see me yet again.  I got back in touch with Lynne and showered at the Holiday Inn where I would stay on Saturday night with her.  Later that afternoon, we drove over to see my old high school friend Kinsey who had moved to Baton Rouge only a few years earlier.  She works as a live-in caregiver for an elderly couple, and it was nice to have some iced tea while catching up.

Lynne and I then headed to dinner on our own at a restaurant recommended by locals called The Chimes near LSU's campus. We noshed over some delicious Boudin balls (pork and rice sausage, removed from its casing, and formed into breaded and deep-fried balls), Crawfish Étouffée (a Louisiana favorite), and a local brew - a Gnarly Barley Korova Milk Porter.  After a fantastic day of running 26.2 miles and eating to our hearts content, we slept well that night.

But it was a holiday weekend, so we had all day Monday to take in more of Louisiana!  We slept in a little bit (til 7:30am) and took advantage of hotel breakfast with other runners, then got on the road around 9:30, driving about an hour southwest to Louisiana's fourth largest city, Lafayette, considered the crossroads of Cajun and Creole culture in the US.  On the way, I made us stop for picture in the little village of Grosse Tête, mainly because the name translates from French into "big head."

Tabasco Museum on Avery Island
In Lafayette, we hit up Borden's Ice Cream, the last remaining Borden's retail ice cream parlor of its kind in the country.  Built in 1940, the historic parlor is considered a Lafayette institution, and is famous for its Gold Brick Sundae - Borden's golden vanilla ice cream, with Elmer's gold brick topping (milk chocolate sauce with bits of pecan), whipped cream, and a cherry - the "old fashioned way." After savoring the delicious treat, we headed down I-90 toward Avery Island, the island where Tabasco peppers are harvested and the sauce is made by the McIlhenny Company.  On the island is the Tabasco Museum, where people can tour the factory, learn about how the sauce is made, how it's been marketed worldwide over the years, and even observe the bottling operation.  At the end of the self-guided tour, visitors are free to sample different types of tabasco flavors (mustards, jellies, salsas, and of course sauces), as well as tabasco soda (!!), raspberry chipotle and jalapeño flavored ice cream, in the Country Store.

Shenanigans at the Tabasco Museum

I got hot sauce in my bag... SWAG.
Nottoway Plantation on our way back

With a bit of time left, we decided to make a full loop of the South Central Louisiana and drove 40 minutes down to Franklin, to see its quaint Main Street which is on National Register of Historic Places. We continued down I-90 to Morgan City, which lies on the eastern shore of the Atchafalaya River, but also ended up getting caught in a massive rainstorm, with rain that came down so hard it obscured our line of sight on the highway.  Thankfully, it was not long lasting, and dissipated.  Upon reaching Morgan City, we had planned to do a rig tour, but another impeding raincloud and timing would delay it, so we opted for photos instead, and then stopped along the Atchafalaya River waterfront for photos, before heading back to Baton Rouge, making a quick stop on our way northward to the Nottoway Plantation, a Greek Revival and Italianate-styled mansion, considered the largest extant antebellum plantation in the house, with 53,000 square feet of floor space.

With time running out, we got ourselves back to Baton Rouge by 3:45pm with enough time to spare to make our flights - Lynne to San Francisco via Houston, and me back to NYC via Atlanta. Added bonus - another upgrade to first class, and right alongside fellow runner Lisa, who was headed back to south Florida.  I accomplished quite a bit in my three days in Louisiana, and had another marathon in the books, another new airport visited, and a lot of memories to look back to!

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