Sometimes failure can be fun: The New Orleans Marathon (Part 2 of 3)

A post in three parts:

Part 1: Dead man shuffle: A recap of my race

Part 2: I’ll admit when I’m wrong: Broader thoughts on the New Orleans Marathon

Part 3: The long weekend that wouldn’t end: Six days in the Crescent City

Part 2:

I chose to run the New Orleans marathon based solely on location and timing. I love the city of New Orleans and look for any excuse to visit; I was in the market for a winter marathon and the timing was right. Simple.

Then I looked at the reviews from marathon guide and got cold feet. Boring course, poorly paved roads, strong headwinds – not exactly the ideal conditions that make for a PR. While I’m not looking for a 10/10 I don’t want to train for months to run a crap marathon.

The only photo of me running, AWK is not awesome at EVERYTHING.

The only photo of me running: AWK is not awesome at EVERYTHING.

When I realized that this was a Competitor Group Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon I almost bowed out. I have never run an RnR race before and I convinced myself I never wanted to. Get that Private Equity out of my marathon! Not only is it an affront to the spirit of the marathon – typically local races, run by non-profits to raise money for charities – but I’ve read enough newspaper articles to know that Private Equity firms are comprised of Evil, Greedy Goons that will nickel and dime me every step of the way in order to pad their profits, build huge mansions in Connecticut, pollute the environment and exploit the poor children in Cambodia (probably the Philippines too). Apologies to the many lovely people I know who work in Private Equity. When I signed up for the marathon and they offered a VIP option by which I could pony up more cash to get on the post-race shuttle more quickly, I formed opinions. Strong opinions.



And to be totally honest, as I arrived in New Orleans, I’d already begun to craft a snarky post with a scathing assessment of the race and its organizers…

…But I was wrong. This was a great race in just about every regard.

They got the small things right:

  • Expo: I hate expos. They are inconvenient and unnecessary, designed to sell overpriced gear to a captive audience. In short, they are an outdated relic of a land before the internet and overnight mail. Worse, they only survive as a way for the race organizer to monetize me picking up my bib. The best I can say is that the expo was conveniently located and well organized. I was in and out in 10 minutes

    Nice jackets!

    Running Partner Lindsey and me enjoying our post-marathon high in our fancy new jackets

  • Kit: Another thing I’m not particularly into – I’d rather have stickers. Having said that, the marathon shirts and medals were completely adequate. In a nice touch, they had free lightweight jackets for all finishers. While I plan to donate mine to Goodwill ASAP, I still appreciated the thought!

They got the big things right:

  • Course: Okay, so the course wasn’t the most beautiful I’ve run. But it avoided just about all of the negatives I’d read about on-line. The roads were adequately paved. There wasn’t significant congestion. We didn’t even run into any nasty headwinds. It’s a New Orleans marathon and we got to run through the French Quarter, past lovely old mansions and we got views of the water – hard to ask for too much more
  • Organization: This was about the smoothest race organization I’ve ever encountered. It was easy to maneuver around the starting area, the race kicked off on time and the finish area was sizable and filled with plenty of fluid, carbs and protein. The after-party looked pretty sweet. My family and supporters complimented the app that allows you to track runners – though for obvious reasons I haven’t seen it. And the busses back to the starting line, usually an absolute nightmare, were run so well that my friends and I got into a long, incredibly boring discussion about the logistics of loading and unloading school busses. And that’s immediately following running 26 miles. If the “professionalization” of marathons means great organization, then maybe I’ve been unfair to these PE fat cats.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They got the intangibles right:

  • Fans: Now don’t get me wrong, there weren’t a lot of fans. The course takes you through some pretty lonely stretches that aren’t really accessible for casual fans so you definitely benefit from bringing an iPod along for a good portion. But the fans that did show made their presence felt. I guess this is a stereotype of the Big Easy, but the cheering was great, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe signs were great (“Worst Parade Ever” won the day in my mind) and the spirit (on a fan by fan basis) was about the best I’ve seen. This is basically the opposite of the Paris marathon where I was pretty sure that the majority of the spectators were either 1) undead zombies who could barely muster the energy to lift their heads upright or 2) there to mock and stare in bemused ambivalence towards the mostly foreign marathoners who dared to run down their streets. At most marathons there’s a group of drunk people handing out beers – it’s a nice touch and something that always brings a smile to my face and sometimes a beer to my lips. In NO there must have been a dozen groups of rowdy, drunk folk handing out alcohol. And I’m not even talking Bud Light. Though my memories of these things are a bit hazy, there was definitely a jello shot stand as well as a martini stand. Well done, Drunks of New Orleans!
  • Weather: An absolutely beautiful day with lows in the 40s and highs in the mid-60s. I mean you really could not have asked for better running conditions. I guess RnR isn’t to be complimented so much on this one, but still it’s worth mentioning

    Running Partner Lindsey looking happy at mile 26

    Running Partner Lindsey looking happy at mile 26

They got one thing wrong:

  • Water stations: It’s an easy fix, but a pretty bad burn for the runners. They had (just barely) enough water stations, but it was very difficult to get enough fluids. There weren’t enough volunteers to easily grab drinks amidst a crowded pack of runners and, at least at the first several stations, the drinks weren’t filled enough. I struggled the entire race with insufficient hydration and I spoke to some others who had the same complaint. Please get this right next year

So let me take one last opportunity to congratulate Competitor group and the good people of New Orleans on a wonderful race. I’d strongly recommend it for anybody who loves New Orleans or is looking for a warm weather winter run.

Runners and supporters

Runners and supporters


Drink more coffee

It’s good for you. Don’t believe me? Read this:

Or this:

It’s especially good for endurance athletes:

So there you go.

The best (and most common) advice is also totally useless

Ask a runner for advice and you constantly hear the same refrain: “It’s really personal. Everybody is different. What works for me might not work for you. You have to use trial and error and figure out what works best for you.”

This is undoubtedly true. I’m constantly shocked at how different human beings are and how vastly physiology, mentality, preferences, etc. change from one meat filled bag of flesh to the next. Whenever I see an elite runner almost literally flying through mile 25 I just can’t believe they are made up of the same parts I am. Whenever I talk to some over-the-top genius who can wax poetic for hours on concepts that barely make sense to me (often times in spite of years of study) I find myself wondering how these things can come so easily to him or her while I’m stuttering like Elmer Fudd. DSCN0467

And yet – D’uh. People are different, that’s true. And you cannot simply follow my running routine and diet to optimize your performance – for example, extra spicy jambalaya and tequila are not an ideal pre-race meal for everybody. But I can’t imagine you thought you could. I’m pretty sure I need to drink and eat less during runs than you do. I also bet that I can run on less sleep and more hung over than you can. On the other hand, my left ankle is made of tissue paper and requires stupid levels of pampering to get through a fast walk, let alone a marathon. So yeah, odds are you and I are different.

But that’s not helpful advice. It’s like the sommelier who tells you “Good wine is the wine you like to drink.” Whenever I hear this (and I hear it frighteningly often) I want to ask for my money back and also, maybe punch somebody. There’s a reason you spent thirty years in wine school and there’s a reason I bothered to ask you, an expert, the question. You have knowledge that I don’t, I respect your opinion and want to hear your thoughts. If, at the end of the day, I don’t like that wine, I’m not going to buy any of it. Also, it smacks of false modesty, but this doesn’t seem the right place for a rant on the wine industry.

The reason we seek advice from friends, mentors, coaches, elite athletes, jerks with loud mouths and louder opinions is that it’s a place to start, a way to find a baseline from which we can then experiment with all that great trial and error. So, this blog will be unabashedly full of advice. Advice about things that work for me, most of which will not be optimal for you, but will likely be a pretty good starting point. At the very least it should be an entertaining read, a lesson in what not to do and an example of how to drive your wife crazy.

Hope it’s helpful.