If you haven't read the pre-race report, you can do so here, and the post-race report here.
Warning: This post is extremely long. Please put on a fresh pot of coffee and make sure it's not decaf.
There wasn't much pre-race pomp and circumstance at the starting line--no speeches by the race coordinator or anything like that, which was nice. They played the national anthem, waited a minute and then we were off. For a solid five minutes before the gun, I told myself not to go out too fast and to slow down. For some reason, it worked.
I was having problems with my Garmin acquiring the satellites, so I hung back a bit at stayed at the back of the starting pack to give myself more time. There were only 1,500 marathoners and more half-marathoners that started the race at the Superdome, so we were able to get through the starting line in a couple of minutes. I wasn't bunched up with a pack the entire race. There were always people around, but I never felt like I couldn't get around them if I wanted to. That is definitely an advantage of a smaller race. It had thinned out by mile 3 or 4, which was nice.
Looking down at my watch, I was at about a 12-minute mile, which was 3 minutes slower than I normally run, and probably a minute and a half slower than I did my long distance run. Again, for some reason, I didn't care. I didn't try to pick up my pace and just allowed myself to keep a slow, but running pace.
The race coordinators decided to change the layout for the first time in quite a while. They added a loop through Bourbon Street and Royal Street, two famous parts of the French Quarter. That was essentially the beginning of the race and had a couple strange moments that repeated throughout the race.
It was about 7:15 AM when we started down Bourbon Street. If you aren't familiar with Bourbon Street, it's a 6-8 block row of loud bars, open containers and enough alcohol to kill a herd of water buffalo. About a hundred Saturday night drinkers were still out when we ran by in the morning, still pounding cocktails. That made for quite an interesting start to the race, since we were all pumping down the street and they were trying to stay upright on the sidewalk.
We turned onto Royal Street, which is a street full of funky shops. It's only a block off of Bourbon Street, but it's a world away. One of the funnier moments from the race was when a mother stopped to look at a dress in one of the windows, and the daughter reminded her that she was NOT going to shop during the marathon. Apparently, old habits die hard.
We then started down St. Charles Avenue which goes into the Garden District. The Garden District has some great old homes, lots of old money and beautiful trees, etc. It was at this point (miles 3-6) when I got my first demoralizing moment of the race. Around mile 5, runners came sprinting the other way down St. Charles--the leaders of the race. That's pretty brutal to see when you're so far behind. The worse part: they had also run through the park at the end of St. Charles and were still that far ahead. Don't get me wrong. I never expected to win the race, stay up with them or anything, but seeing them that far ahead and with so much to go just to get to where they were was a tough time.
We rounded the Audubon Park through miles 7 and 8. I wasn't wearing my iPod (more on that in the post-race report), so I decided to call my sister. I just needed a distraction. It helped and I think I picked up my pace because I wasn't thinking about the running so much. Finally, we headed back down St. Charles (miles 8-11) and towards the half-way point.
The second of three demoralizing moments from the race was about to come. We circled past the Superdome where the half-marathoners were finishing. Now, at this point I'm definitely feeling tired and would have been happy just to be done. It was extremely tough to pass by the finish line and know that I was only halfway done and it'd be another 2.5 hours before I would see it again. I wish they would have moved the half-marathon finish line to the other side of the Superdome or something--something so that we didn't have to see them finish. Oh, well.
I hit the halfway point at 2:26:39, a full half-hour longer than my fastest half-marathon time. I was a bit dismayed at that, but shook it off quickly. I knew that I had a very long road ahead of me and I couldn't be concerned with time. Finishing was my only goal.
We went through some less desirable parts of New Orleans on our way to City Park. As we were getting to mile 15, demoralizing moment 3 of 3 occurred. I was almost exactly 3 hours into the race at this point. Coming the other way were runners that were getting into mile 24. To know that they had already gone through the park and were almost done was really tough to take. Oh well, onward and upward, I guess. This is the part known as the "Turn for the Worse". It's emblazoned on a banner as you make the turn into the park.
I was still feeling pretty good at miles 16/17, but had started to get a bit tired. Between mile 16 and 17, there was the one and only hill in the race--a 200 foot incline that went over highway 610. That was a bit of a pain, but I was determined not to walk it and power through it. I did, and passed a ton of people who just (smartly) decided to walk it.
We started to round City Park at mile 19 and I was starting to feel a bit better. I called my sister again and talked with her as I hit mile 20. At the water stop there were a bunch of women and men wearing red dresses passing out cookies, Gatorade, vasoline, etc. It was a bit of an odd site.
At mile 20, I said to myself (and anyone who would listen) that all I had left was a 10K. I've done 10Ks in my sleep and I was determined to pick up the pace a bit. I did, and it lasted me until mile 24 where I started to crash. I was determined not to walk at all and to push through the wall.
I slowed down to an extremely slow jog and called my mother. I could tell that she was concerned for me. All I wanted was to hear a reassuring voice and hear about anything other than what I was doing. She talked about the Oscars, who she wanted to win, anything. I could tell that she was holding back her fear for my health.
I talked to her until mile 25.4. I was wheezing and had to get off the phone. I called my dad who was waiting at the finish line. He couldn't hear the phone so I left a message that got me a bit choked up. "Dad," I wheezed, "I'm at 25.48 miles and I'm coming in!" I knew that I was going to do this and I wanted to finish strong.
From that point forward, I had a huge smile on my face and started running as fast as I could possibly go. I was pumping my fists and yelling. I saw the finish line in the distance. Just keep going, Greg. You're almost there. You've almost finished the marathon.
I rounded the corner and sprinted the last .2 miles. The crowd was so loud and cheering for me. I was screaming and pumping my fists. I was about to finish a marathon. I crossed the finish line and put my arms in the air for victory. I ran to my dad and gave him a huge hug. For the first time in my life, I could say....
I AM A MARATHON RUNNER.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Calories burned: 3,821
Still to come... post-race celebration, pictures and how to replace 3,821 calories with the greasiest food known to man.