I ran the Rock N Roll Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans on February 13, 2011 as my first marathon. It was one of those races where the course, the weather, and my training came together. The weather was perfect ... cool at the start (around 40) but it warmed up (to the high 50s), sunny, and a gentle breeze at times.
Miles 1-2: The wave start actually worked. It took 13 minutes for me to reach the start line, but I went over the line running and had plenty of room to move. One of the most boring stretches. Levee on one side. Nothing interesting on the other side. But it was at the beginning of the race so it didn't matter. Everyone was excited.
Miles 2-7: Garden District. Nice houses. Aerial pictures taken at the 5K mark. Hit 5K at 28:41 (9:14 pace). Split off from the half marathoners at mile 5. Hit 10K at 56:55 (9:10 pace).
Miles 7-8: Audubon Park. I think this was my favorite part of the whole race. I really really liked the mossy trees in the park.
Miles 9-12: St. Charles Ave. Quick pit stop at mile 9. One of the worst streets in terms of road surface, but one of the most scenic areas. The half marathoners were on the other side of the street.
Miles 12-13: Downtown New Orleans. Not terribly scenic but at least the road surface was better. Water stop with Elvises (Elvises? Elvi?). Hit the halfway point at 1:56:36 (8:54 pace).
Miles 13-14: Edge of the French Quarter. There was a giant blow-up rocker spanning the road. Rock n roll onward.
Miles 14-17: Esplanade Ave. Also one of the worst streets in terms of road surface. My quads really started to hurt. I have never had that happen. I am still not sure why, but it's either because 1) I didn't drink enough water in the beginning of the race or 2) I didn't warm up or stretch enough or 3) I was getting cramps or 4) my quads are not as strong as I thought and I need to do some strength training. This part was kinda cruel because the half marathoners were on the other side of the street. Hearing "You're almost done" is great for half marathoners, but not for marathoners who still have 10+ miles to go. Hit 16.8 miles at 2:27:01 supposedly with a blazing fast pace of 8:27. I think this timing mat was in the wrong place. There is no way I made up over 20 seconds per mile since the halfway point. I don't think I sped up or slowed down significantly. If the mat was actually at 16.7 miles, then I was at an 8:48 pace. That's reasonable. I didn't pay attention to this mat anyway because it was in an odd unexpected place.
Miles 17-21: Along the edge of City Park up to Lake Ponchartrain. Crowd support was dwindling. My quads still hurt. One of the water stops had mini martinis. Stopped briefly to stretch at around mile 19. Hit the 20 mile mark at 2:55:44 (8:47 pace). I knew I had to run a 9:09 pace to run a sub-4 hour marathon. I knew a 9 minute pace was 3 hours even. I was right around that pace. I also knew that I would break 4 hours even if I slowed down. I almost started to cry. I was going to meet my "perfect day" goal on my first time out.
Miles 22-25: The "tail." Up to the lake. Turned left, made a U-turn, ran, made another U-turn, then turned left again to head back down to City Park. I was surprised at the pale blue color of Lake Ponchartrain. Beautiful.
Miles 25-26: City Park. Almost done. More nice mossy trees. I passed the 25 mile marker at just under 3:57 on the clock. I started about 13 minutes after the gun went off, so my time was around 3:44. I was going to comfortably finish under 4 hours.
Mile 26.2: Finished under a beautiful canopy of mossy trees. I am a marathoner!!
What I Liked: flat course, perfect weather, nice tour of New Orleans, the water stop with the bunch of Elvises, clocks at every mile marker, overall well-organized, bands on the course about every mile (most of the bands were really good), people in costumes, walking to the start line with a jazz band (thanks to DetermiNation), good size so that I was never alone, wave start kept the course from being too crowded, post-race shuttles were plentiful, text message tracking actually worked in real time (it was a paid system, but it was worth it), plenty of port-a-potties on the course
What I Didn't Like: gear check was hard to find at the end of the race, potholes and uneven road surfaces*, not too much crowd support in the higher miles, Cytomax on the course (uh, where's the Gatorade?)
*The road surfaces weren't a deal breaker for me. I knew about this even before I signed up and decided to register anyway. A local told me about the camber (slant to the roads, especially at the edges, to improve drainage). That was an important piece of advice. I would not have noticed the slant, but because I knew about it I tried to stay away from the edges of the road. I knew I had to be careful of my footing and literally paid attention to every step on the really bad stretches of road. It wasn't that much different than running in Rhode Island in the winter. I am used to potholes and watching for ice patches.
My pace was very consistent until mile 20. I actually ran faster at every split up to mile 20 (not counting the 16.8 mile time which has to be off). At mile 20, I knew I was going to finish in under 4 hours. So I slowed down. I finished in 3:55:27 with an 8:59 pace. I was aiming for a 9:10 pace. Under 4 hours was my "perfect day" goal. Well, I got a perfect day. Who says you can't have a time goal and have fun in your first marathon? I work well with picking a pace and trying to stick to it. Loved the scenery, loved the bands on the course, loved New Orleans.
Overall I had a great experience with the Mardi Gras Marathon. I am glad I picked it as my first marathon. Course and crowd support were good and it was just the right size. The bands on the course were motivating and played good music. I would run it again, although I have many more races on my list until I repeat marathons.