The 3rd weekend of January always plays host to the Chevron Houston Marathon – my hometown race that starts but a mere two miles from my front door. I had run this race every year since 2013. It is a course that has served me well, as I have never failed to run a BQ, and in 2014 and 2015 I set new PRs each time I raced it. It would take something truly special and truly awesome to pry me away from my hometown race. Turns out the Marathon Maniac Pace Team is just that awesome.
I have very much enjoyed my prior pacing gigs with the team and when the opportunity came up to serve as the 3:05 pacer in a pretty large race I jumped at it. So instead of running the familiar streets of Houston, I opted for the more quaint roads of Baton Rouge at the 2016 Louisiana Marathon. I had heard many good things about this race from word of mouth. The folks in Louisiana know how to throw a party, and this race was no exception. The whole weekend was made even more exceptional by the fact that I got to spend it with some of my favorite people – those crazies that just keep coming back for more pacing. Let’s start with a general review of the race. You should read the whole blog too, because I will give you the recipe of how to make an epic race finish!
The Louisiana Marathon is a 5th year race that in general does a pretty good job. I’d classify it as a medium sized marathon, as it had around 1,100 finishers in the marathon this year. The weekend consists of four races. A 5k and quarter marathon take place on Saturday morning, followed by the full marathon and a half marathon on Sunday. All races start and finish near the Louisiana Capitol Building in downtown Baton Rouge (this building is a rather large structure and is the tallest state capitol building in the USA).
The race weekend kicks off with a decent sized expo that is hosted at the River Center in downtown Baton Rouge on both Friday and Saturday. The expo had a number of shoe and apparel vendors as wells as good representation from other local races. I spent a lot of time at the expo working the pace team booth this year, so I got to see most everything multiple times. I’d say in general, packet pick-up was well organized. The race did seem to have some overly strict rules around being able to pick up packets for friends (i.e. needed a printed copy of their photo ID, a picture on the phone wasn’t enough), but they did offer race day packet pick-up on both Saturday and Sunday so it didn’t cause huge issues.
I ran the 5k on Saturday and the full on Sunday, so I’ll primarily speak to those. On both days the start area was very well organized. Having stayed right in downtown Baton Rouge, I was able to easily walk to the start. There are a number of hotels that are nicely located. The 5k course was basically an out and back with one small hill (overpass) that you ran twice. You got a small medal for the 5k that was basically a scaled down version of the full marathon medal. I took the 5k fairly easy given I had to run a 3:05 the next day, averaging around an 8 minute pace. They had a ton of food and music after the 5k, but I didn’t stick around as I needed to spend some time at the expo.
For the full, the race started promptly at 7AM. The full and half marathon had a dual start. The 1st half of the full course was absolutely wonderful. After coming out of downtown Baton Rouge, you quickly end up running through the LSU campus. After that you spend 5 or so miles running along/in the University Lake neighborhood which features huge houses along a nice lake. At mile 11 the half spilts off from the full, and the full runs through mostly suburban residential areas. There are a number of out and back sections on the 2nd half of the full course. The course then returns to downtown Baton Rouge and ends pretty much where it started. The course is generally pretty flat. It is not a pancake like Houston as it does have a few small rolling hills. The hill at mile 25 (overpass) is probably the hardest, especially since you hit it late in the race. Nothing is taller than 20 or 30 feet though, so I’d classify the course as fast and PR friendly.
As for support – there were an appropriate number of aid stations on the course. Multiple aid stations offered gels as well (two or three that I can remember). However, there were some inconsistencies that the race should address. First off, cup fills were very inconsistent. Second, the order of water and Powerade varied so you never knew who had what. Third, the mixing of the Powerade was pretty inconsistent – strong, weak, strong. Seems the aid stations could use some improvement. Crowds were a bit thin too, but Baton Rouge is a small city. I’m not a big crowd person, so it didn’t bother me.
As for party – this race wins the prize. The post race has some amazing music and more importantly great food and beer. As for schwag – the medal is small but decent and the shirts are really nice. Like the material and the fit – a small is a small! One other amazing feature of this race was free pictures from Gameface Media. Hence all the pictures I have in this post!
As you know, I like to go blow by blow through race weekend. So here we go. I arrived in Baton Rouge on Friday and manned the pace team booth at the expo. The pace team is always on hand to answer questions for the runners and discuss what times we will have, strategy, etc. I actually enjoy doing this quite a bit, because you get to meet a bunch of people and talk to other runners about running…nothing wrong with that.
Saturday kicked off with the 5k as I already described and then headed into a long (but fun) day of working the expo and doing the various pacer chores that come with the gig (which included building new pacer cat signs). The expo was a great opportunity to meet the other pacers, as well as hang out with friends from past gigs. It also provided ample opportunity for awesome pacer photos.
After a busy day, we then went to a local Italian joint in Baton Rouge for a pace team dinner. Pacers have got to fuel up!
Race day dawned with some perfect running weather. It was a bit chilly (upper 30’s) but that’s just darn good running weather. It would end up being an awesome day with sunny skies and temps in the upper 40’s by race finish. The pace team arrived early to get their customary group photo at the start line. This was a huge team!
After some generous photography time, I made my way up to the front of the starting corral to begin the 3:05 BQ journey. The race went off promptly at 7:00AM after an awesome national anthem (probably the best I’ve heard at a marathon). I quickly settled into a 7:00 minute pace and began to lead my troops to BQ paradise.
For me race strategy was simple – run about a minute ahead of 3:05 pace until the half, and then give some time back. I communicated this to my group telling them I would get them across the line in 3:04 or so. I always leave an extra cushion in case the course is a bit long (which I have seen) or mile markers are off. As this pace was only 12 minutes (or about 30 seconds/mile) off of my PR pace, this was not my normal pacing gig where I could talk a lot and keep people entertained…nope…I actually had to work for this one. I could play a little, but not much…had enough extra energy to get some neat pics out of it!
I don’t have too much to say about the race in general. My job was to run even splits and get the group in around 3:05…I did both of those things. Like most pace groups I have ever led, this one stayed together pretty well for the 1st half of the race and then thinned a lot. By mile 20 I only had the shirtless dude left. I decided that since he looked good, we’d keep the pace up and would get him in below 3:04. At mile 25 he let loose and I backed off a little to come in to my 3:04 finish.
Fortunately I had plenty of energy to spin off one of my most epic finish performances ever. I am a believer that part of being a pacer is to entertain the crowd and your group. There is definitely some entertainment factor and showmanship involved. It doesn’t hurt that I’m an utter attention whore at times. This led to me getting some of the best finish photos I have ever seen at this race. You will get to see them all because I like them a lot. You too can have an epic finish! Here is the recipe…
If you’d like to see it live, with the pony ride, here is the video! Yeah, I did that. I know, I look silly. The pictures are far better. The people on the bikes are confused and maybe scared – they don’t appear to be entertained.
So, that’s the story. I ran on the Bayou – I paced a guy to a BQ and I managed an epic finish that got caught on camera and video. More importantly I had an utter blast with my fellow pacers in a weekend that was full of good times, and awesome memories. After the race we headed to New Orleans to have some fun on Bourbon Street. Since this blog is PG rated, I can’t really tell you about anything that happened there…what happens in NOLA…
As always – let’s end with the stats:
Career Marathon/Ultra #42 (37th marathon)
2nd marathon of 2016
2nd marathon in Louisiana
Fastest time as a pacer (prior was 3:15)
First time anyone ever ran wire to wire with me as a pacer!
Most epic finish of any race ever!