Jazz Half Marathon Race Recap – A Perfect PR Day

This is a long and indulgent recap because I just had the best race I’ve ever had save for my first marathon, which only tops it because I was so thrilled just to finish a marathon.

I really never expected to get a PR in today’s race – I knew I had been having some strong runs lately and had been increasing my speed, but after a year and a half of lackluster racing, I never expected to top my January 2012 PR of 2:04:48. I barely had a goal going in – I basically decided at the last minute that my goal was to come in under 2:10, so under a 9:55 pace.

My husband and I both worked a little Friday morning and got on the road to New Orleans shortly before lunchtime. A lunch stop in Lafayette and 40 minutes of extra time added thanks to Baton Rouge traffic had us arriving to NOLA close to 5 p.m., which led straight to New Orleans rush hour traffic and more time in the car. We finally got to the expo on Convention Center Blvd. and I was in and out pretty quickly – it was a small expo but much larger than when I went to pick up my packet for this race in 2011, so I suppose that’s a good sign that the race is growing. The shirt is a pretty color but the cut is kind of weird – I really hate unisex tech shirts!

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After the packet pickup duty was done, we drove to our hotel on Poydras Street, which was less than a half-mile from the race start. This was my first time having a hotel room so close to a race, and I LOVED IT. Normally for New Orleans races we are traveling in from 25 minutes away and even when I lived in Baton Rouge and did several races, they were all 10 minutes or so away and the stress of finding parking, etc. was still present. To be able to just walk out of the hotel and to the start was amazing.

Anyway, back to Friday, Halloween night – we walked a little ways to the French Quarter to get dinner and saw lots and lots of fun costumes (and some disturbing ones). We ate dinner at Jimmy J’s Cafe on Chartres, which serves breakfast at all hours. I decided to go for the pancakes and I was glad I did! This may be my go-to race eve meal from now on.

IMG_7331We walked further in to the French Quarter so my husband, who had no idea it was going to be cold this weekend, could buy a jacket. On the way, we unexpectedly came upon a Halloween parade! This was so fun. Obviously New Orleans is known for its parades, but I had no idea there was one on Halloween – apparently it’s called the Krewe of Boo. We caught the last 5 minutes of it or so, then headed to Urban Outfitters where husband got a long-sleeved shirt. Then we headed back to the hotel and were locked in tight by 8 p.m.

IMG_7380I got all my race stuff together like normal and fell asleep rather easily, but I woke up about 4-5 times during the night. I had TWO bad race dreams – one was that the race wasn’t on Saturday and instead was on Sunday. In my dream this was a huge problem because I had only reserved the hotel room for Friday night and didn’t know if we could get the room again for Sunday. The second dream was that my alarm didn’t go off and I woke up at 6:59 – one minute before the race start. I had to run through the hotel, down the stairs instead of the elevator and I woke up just as I was running down the street toward the start line. Hilarious huh?

IMG_7383In reality my alarm did go off at 6 a.m. but I had already been awake by 5:30 checking and re-checking the weather forecast for the next several hours.

IMG_7384I had an old space blanket from a previous half marathon, so I brought that with me to use beforehand for keeping warm. I also decided at the last minute to wear running tights under my shorts because I’d rather be a little warm than too cold. These were both GREAT decisions.

IMG_7387I feel so weighed down with all of the junk I bring with me to races – phone in armband for contacting husband purposes, Garmin on one wrist, ID bracelet on the other wrist, iPod nano clipped to shorts with headphones wrapped around my neck. Thank goodness I didn’t have need for my Spibelt too! Oh well, it didn’t bother me too much while I was running.

As soon as I stepped outside I was so glad for my space blanket – it was not just cold but windy, something that persisted all morning. There were several other runners out walking to the start from their hotels or parking spots, so I just followed the crowd and soon found myself among the throngs of runners awaiting the start at Lafayette Square. It was still dark.

IMG_7401Finally it was time for the race to start, and I tried not to be too obvious about huddling next to the ladies beside me for their body warmth. The race horn blew and we were off – and I felt OK about it. The first mile was very congested and I didn’t feel like weaving around people, so I kind of hung back for a few minutes and waited until it was easier to pass others. One girl decided this was a good time to stop in the middle of the street to tie her shoe and another guy had to practically hurdle over her head to avoid colliding with her. Why do people do this?

I decided to have my pace/calorie screen showing on my Garmin rather than overall time/distance screen so that I could ensure I wasn’t going over a 10:00-minute pace. First mile was 10:17 thanks to all the congestion, but I was OK with starting out slower.

The first 5K of the race took us from Camp Street in the Central Business District to Convention Center Blvd., then back to Poydras past the Superdome with a U-turn to go back the way we came. At that point the 5Kers headed for the finish line and we half-marathoners made our way to St. Charles Avenue, which would encompass the majority of the rest of our race. My second and third miles were in the low to mid 9s, and I thought that was pretty good. I didn’t really give my pace or possibilities more thought until I hit the 4 mile mark and felt really strong, like I could continue running less than 9:30 for a while. But I knew the race wasn’t even close to finished, so I resolved to just run like I was as long as it felt good.

IMG_7422RnR Nola does the same thing as the Jazz Half in that it takes us down St. Charles for several miles, then has us go back the opposite way on St. Charles for another several miles. The difference is that the Jazz Half also takes runners off St. Charles and into Audubon Park for two miles, which is a nice change. St. Charles was kind of boring since I’ve run it several times, but I just kind of zoned out and wondered how long I could keep my pace.

IMG_7423When we got to Audubon Park, we were on the 8th mile and I still felt really strong. Audubon Park is a beautiful area with a very smooth running path, and I found myself invigorated and running faster. At 9 miles I determined that if I ran the remaining 4.1 miles at least at a 9-minute pace or so, I’d kill my PR. I knew it would be tough but I was all of a sudden very motivated to get a PR. We left Audubon Park and headed back the way we came on St. Charles. The sun was in our faces at points and the wind, which had been annoying here or there, was coming in at random, strong gusts. I focused on keeping my pace at 8:50-9:00 and my mantra was “Hang on.” I had been getting Gatorade at every other water stop, and I have to say I was thoroughly impressed with my water break expertise – every time I stopped it felt so quick and seamless, it was just a perfect day! Normally I am stumbling and spilling water all over myself and running in to people at water stops.

After passing the Mile 11 marker, mentally that part was the toughest because it felt like the Mile 12 marker was never going to arrive. I felt like once I had only a mile left, I could just truck it and ignore my watch and stop thinking so much, but getting to that point felt like it took forever. In reality it took about 8:52.

Also, while I had sweated and felt comfortably warm for the most part, my hands never warmed up and were red and tight by this time. I knew I would have a hard time operating my fingers when the race finally ended.

IMG_7424The last mile was tough physically in that I was trying to push myself as hard as I could but the head wind was brutal and unrelenting at this point. It did go by pretty fast though, and I was surprised when we turned a corner and could see the finish line, so I guess mentally it was good. When I saw the clock at 2:02:– I was so thrilled. Race photos are not up yet, but I know I had a big smile on my face.

IMG_7425I had told my husband that as long as he got to the finish line at 9 a.m. he would be safe, since I definitely wasn’t breaking 2 hours. Well, he only had to wait a few minutes because he had arrived shortly before I unexpectedly pulled in with a 2-and-a-half-minute PR.

I was very happy!

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And sweaty!

IMG_7412Final deets:

Jazz HalfMedal:

IMG_7419I don’t know how to explain the unexpected PR except that I’ve had some strong, fast (for me) runs recently, combined with a perfect weather day, flat course and stomach that didn’t betray me.

In 2014, I’ve had my worst ever half marathon and now my best. That’s how it goes!

After the race, I recovered and got clean in the hotel (free continental breakfast was still ongoing so I grabbed a croissant and OJ!), then we checked out and made it to the famous Port of Call on Esplanade right before the lunch rush began. We got one of the last empty tables; after that, groups of 5+ were coming in right after the other and being put on a waiting list.

IMG_7431IMG_7436All in all, a great day! Now when I run the Log Jammer Half Marathon in two weeks, what will be part of a 17-mile day, I can just run at it nice and easy and know that I already have a fresh PR that will probably last for a little while.

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