This was not the way it was supposed to happen. This was not the way I wanted to do it. Not at all. It all started a couple months ago when a friend Sherry was visiting and she was talking about living in Phoenix and how she enjoyed it. Now, Arizona is the place I have most wanted to visit since I finally made my way to California years ago. And with my conquest of the 50 states, I don’t have to tell you Arizona was at the top of my list for states to complete. Now I had free room and board and P.F. Chang’s hosts (yes I love the restaurant too) the annual marathon in January every year? Done. I almost signed up right there. Until…

My mother stepped in and said,”Where are you planning on going to January? Arizona? I have been no fun – where else is there a marathon? Somewhere interesting?” I found The Louisiana Marathon and after a slight flirtation with Hawaii, we booked and settled on Louisiana. After a while my aunt and her cousin agreed to join us and it became a trip to Baton Rouge with a small trip over to New Orleans. Actually that was pretty fantastic. I have always wanted to visit Who Dat nation and see where Treme is based on. And to see Bourbon Street – but only see not spend too much time there. If you ever go all the locals treat the place like a necessary evil.

Oddly enough the Louisiana Marathon was an inaugural event! So I get visit Louisiana and kick off a new marathon – pretty damn sweet. The trip there was fine and we were able to see a state where I would say, as a rule, when going out to eat? It is almost impossible to get a seat just walking in. I think we waited everywhere we went. People do take their time there and Southern hospitality really does exist – friendly and always more than willing to help and other drivers always let you in. I thought it would have been frustrating but it was rather comforting. The eating out was frustrating though – by the end we just chose places we thought would be quick.

The first complete day there was the expo. It was nice. We registered and picked up shirts first thing. The t-shirt is thin, tech, and comfy with a great design with a fleur de lis. And the expo is set up at a riverboat casino – which was really nice to be on the Mississippi riverfront and the casino is pretty fantastic as well with open windows and what appeared to be good eats. It was a nice event and everyone there was so nice and helpful. We met runner extraordinaire Jeff Galloway personally and got to see an official Louisiana Marathon poster that was really, really nice but at $60 a pop? We had to pass. The only real qualm with the event would be there was only a small number of vendors – about 20 or so. That may seem like a lot but it was a quick walk through. I was able to chat it up with some members of the 50 states marathon club as well- wonderful and gracious as ever. I did notice the smallness of the expo was a benefit – lots of great conversations. Heck I even met a marathon pacer who seemed really interested in my running progress.

It was a great day of touring the town and a plantation and then we went back to the hotel and got ready for the big run the next day. Nervous – I thought everyone got that way before these big runs. Seriously I can’t even sleep the night before usually only getting 3 hours a night. My buddy John told me he sleeps like a log so I guess it does vary from runner to runner. However this night was atypical for me – three hours and tossing and turning.

And who is John? Upon arriving at the run, I had met a new friend in Delaware named John – who had happened to finish just in front of me. We exchanged names and found each other on Facebook. We kept in contact and he really wanted to pace this race so we could both finish at 3:10. It seemed pretty doable. The weather was fantastic if not a little on the cold side, the course was advertised as fast and flat, and both of us had just finished under 3:15 so why not?

As he paced us the first couple miles, we stayed quiet and watched as runners dropped and ran up in front of us. We tried to stay at a steady pace and were a little too fast most of the time  averaging 7 minutes per mile rather than 7:15 we needed. I thought we would be fine. John was much more concerned about it and there was good reason – you do not want to burn yourself out! Another female runner joined us with the same quest and the three of us ran pretty constant in a pack through the first half of the race.

Now, there was one downside to the Baton Rouge marathon and the other two were much more dissatisfied than I. But I will admit it was a pain in the butt. What happened is they took the marathon runners around mile 5 and had us do a loop around Jordan-O’Hare stadium. So around Mile 7 again we hooked back up with the half marathoners. But the real issue? Now we were with people who were about 50 minutes off our pace – yes we were passing runners like crazy which is nice for your ego but swerving around them can be troublesome. And then after maybe half a mile of that? We veered off again only to catch back up a mile later, merge with the half marathoners and seriously pass some of the runners we just passed at the other point about 2 miles after joining back up again! I know this for a fact – I passed my aunt twice. And actually it was really fantastic to see her.

We did pass a lot of runners and when we got back to the halfway point we were only half a mile from the breakoff point where marathoners go for their final loop and after that – we were pretty much alone. Louisiana was not a crowded marathon and it was a little relaxing not to be getting passed every mile! Actually due to John’s pacing we were sitting at passing a runner and no one passing us for about 2 miles now! But that female was pulling away… and around Mile 17 John told me he was slowing down and I would be best to run alone and pull ahead. His exact words were “Catch her!”

I thought I was dead too but his words meant a lot to me and I pulled slightly ahead and put my earphones in hoping music could push me through. I kept going and going until I did pass another runner and actually three or four more until I got all the way to Mile 25. I did get passed by 2 other runners in the last mile and never did catch the girl John thought would get the 3:10. He was right on all accounts. She came in under 3:10 and I came in at 3:11:26 – a drop of three minutes from my best marathon! I was pretty happy regardless if I qualified for Boston or not – little steps people.

I got to the end and celebrated a little bit with a couple of the finishers around me. John came in and his social ways introduced me to a couple other 50 state goal people and truly interesting people. The real surprise came when I went to get my printout of how I did – 2nd place in my age group???? 25th overall? I have never done that well in a marathon before and yes, when I went to check out marathons of comparable size, 3 minutes that high up will mean 12 more runners passed. Needless to say, not only did I do well but thanks to John I found a new and smarter way to run.

On top of that, I did not get a medal for placing but did get a Louisiana Marathon jacket and one of those posters I almost bought at the expo! You can’t do any better than that. And the food afterwards? Six local restaurants with completely different cuisines more than ready to dish out more. There was even plenty of beer and lots of local companies too. I have to go to Arizona next year – have to, but how can I skip this event? Decisions!


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