Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Road Trip: Friends and Races in Mardi Gras Cities

Entering 2014, with an unplanned, major fourth quarter change last year, I already knew that I was going to change up some things -- as it related to my extracurricular activities.

After two failed marathon attempts - due to lower back issues - at the B-CS Marathon and the New Year's Eve Marathon in College Station and Allen, respectively, I had decided that after the Chevron Houston Marathon it was likely that I'd try to run more half marathons this year.

And not focus on any specific goal, such as chasing states in marathons and half marathons or Texas cities and towns.

While those pursuits are fun and certain conversation-starters, it can inhibit one's ability to manuever their schedule at will.

Earlier today, I added a 2015 tab to my spreadsheet schedule with the announcement - by race director Jana Landry - of the date of next year's Galveston Marathon and Half Marathon.

It is a fun exercise to see what all can be done -- and fun be had.

I do know that I want to spend more one-on-one time with people.

Groups are fine, but I'm an "under the radar" guy -- and the more individualized my friendships are the more comfortable I am.

After my sister passed away a month ago yesterday, I fulfilled one commitment -- announcing the Texas10 College Station, but knew that I needed to get out of the area a little bit.

The weekend before this past one, when my good friend in Alabama, Rebecca Bell, indicated that she was pregnant and would not be coming over to run Rocky Raccoon 50, I decided that a road trip to see her and her husband, Keith, was in order.

To get to the greater Mobile area by car, requires one to pass through Louisiana -- so I reached out to another good friend, Cassie (Cowan) Mondragon, to see if she was going to be running a race that Saturday morning in the New Orleans area where she and her husband, Manny, and son, Gabe, live.

She was -- and, therefore, a road trip it was.

I got my 40-plus hours in early Friday morning, left the Medical Center around 12:30 p.m. and almost six hours later, I was checked in my hotel in Metairie.

Talking with Cassie, she had a 10-miler to complete on either Friday or Saturday and since she was going to a Krewe meeting (for Mardi Gras), Friday was soon out.

Therefore, I offered to run it with her and we included the 5K as part of it.

So after visiting with the three of them Friday night, I met Cassie at their place and we ran a mile to the race site.

Once there -- the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans -- I saw, once again, former New Orleans Track Club president and Mardi Gras Marathon race director Chuck George.  And with that "Hello again", I got the royal treatment via the microphone - as being "the" visitor from Houston.

All about who you know, right?  :-)

Since we were going to run 10 in total, it was decided that we weren't going to "race" the 5K.

The course was a long "L" -- and the streets were classic New Orleans:  every form of pothole, grading and camber known to mankind.

Mile 1 came in 10:09.29.  Felt pretty nice and easy.

The second mile, I was feeling pretty good and the temperature was right.  I got a little excitable and ahead of Cassie and came to the mile 2 marker with a 9:50.96 second mile.

I waited for Cassie to get there a few seconds later and we ran together to close to the third mile marker, right before the right-hand turn to the finish.  I clocked a 10:24.74 third mile and then sprinted - as much as I can sprint -- to a 49.55 tenth of a mile (low 8-minute pace).

My total time was 31:14.54.  Not too bad.  (If I were racing, I'd have been really upset.)

We ran a mile back to Cassie and Manny's house, dropped our race t-shirts and headed off to Audubon Park for a loop to cap off a 10-mile run that had an average overall pace of 10:27.

This was faster than Cassie's target pace (10:45) for her workout, which is part of a long buildup for November's Ironman Florida, but it was all good - for the physical being and the soul.

Then it was off to Robersdale, Alabama to catch up with Rebecca and Keith.

I had a really good visit that afternoon and evening with them -- and many of their friends at dinner (Ivey's Fine Food in Robertsdale).

Some of them I had met in previous visits to the area, the Pfeiffers and the Gardners.

The next morning, I was out the door a little bit earlier, I think, than Rebecca - who was running with her normal group of friends at 6 a.m. -- on my way back into Mobile to run in the Biggest Loser Half Marathon, which basically replicated the majority of the First Light Half Marathon course.

I had run 2:14:09 on that course five years earlier (in 2009).

However, I didn't have a specific time goal as my intent was just to run how I felt -- and figure out where my fitness was at.

Mile 1 - 9:34.96
Mile 2 - 9:29.71

In these first two miles, I tried to keep it easy.  I learned from the 10:30 per mile pacer that the event had recruited them late in the game.  As we passed the mile 2 marker, both the 10-minute per mile (a guy) and the 10:30 per pacer (a female) were both just ahead of me and close enough that I could have touch them both rather easily.

Mile 3 - 10:13.38
Mile 4 - 10:07.57
Mile 5 - 10:11.12
Mile 6 - 10:08.47
Mile 7 - 10:06.51
Mile 8 - 9:57.49
Mile 9 - 10:07.46
Mile 10 - 9:54.42

The effort on these eight (8) miles was just simply to run strong and steady -- and I did.  I knew that I might then have a chance to come very, very close to my PR, which is 2:08:45.

And, then, my hips started to hurt a little bit.

Mile 11 - 10:22.46
Mile 12 - 10:29.08

These next two miles were still OK, even though I could tell that I was slipping off a 2:11 time, but it was the next mile and a tenth into the finish that wrecked me.

Even though I hit every single water stop and had Gatorade at each one, I cramped badly in my right calf.  I think I stopped four times in total -- twice to literally try and rub it out.

Mile 13 - 13:02.31

Still, I ended the day with a net time of 2:13:45.

It was my fastest half in a little over three years and age-graded - at 47 - it was a new PR of 2:01:19.

And it was half marathon no. 94 -- on the way to 100.

Here's the skinny on the Biggest Loser Half Marathon Series.  A lot of it is hype from the show.

I was in my car until 10 to 15 minutes before the start because I was trying to stay warm, but the pre-race announcements, et. al., was a lot of rah-rah -- stuff that I wouldn't do and some of it, I held my fingers to my ears literally.

They're coming into a town and using an already established course (with some tweaks -- and not certifying it either), getting - of course - local volunteers, engaging pacers with local clubs and basically producing another "local"-like event.

To their credit, they're probably getting some folks out to at least walk the 5K course that maybe wouldn't any other place -- and that's a really good thing.

Next up?  The Stonebridge Ranch Half Marathon in McKinney this past Saturday.

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