It was difficult not to be completely charmed by the architecture of New Orleans, where I went to 1) attend some work-related meetings, and 2) run a half marathon (13.1 miles), which regular readers of this blog will know I've been training for over the past several months. I hadn't run a race in almost two decades and was determined to "recapture the glory" of my youth, when I had been moderately fast in a local or at best regional sense, the sort of kid who makes it to the state championship but gets crushed in the finals. If only I could live in a mansion on a boulevard lined with live elms, I thought, my troubles would be over. But in the next second I remembered that I don't want to live in a city that requires driving a car on a regular basis, which probably puts New Orleans (and every other city in the United States except for New York) out of "the running." (Lol?) One fact about NOLA I didn't see mentioned in the travel brochures: it has wonderful moss growing over the gnarled roots of the live elms. Saturday, the day before the race, my host took me on a tour of the French Quarter, where I admired the wrought-iron balconies. And the manhole covers. And more wrought-iron balconies. Maybe I could live here, I thought, as I checked the weather in New York City and saw that it was negative-ten-thousand degrees and raining ice. I tried to figure out which direction the Mississippi was flowing. "Just don't try to swim it," my host cautioned me. As usual, I was willing to remain in a state of confusion. We ate lunch at the equivalent of a "bodega," except that it served amazingly delicious po-boys. I tried to restrain myself, knowing that it would be difficult to make my projected time of 1:30 if I gained ten pounds the day before my race. On the other hand, it seemed like a shame to eat only half a sandwich instead of gorging myself on three or four. I promised myself that, after the race, I would indulge without regret. Many of the houses in New Orleans still need "some work" owing to hurricane damage and/or the constant maintenance required as a result of being so close to the Gulf of Mexico. As we toured around the city, my host warned me that the course I was running was surprisingly hilly, especially toward the end. I was surprised and concerned; I had already endured a major disappointment in my training when I learned that 0.0 on the treadmill was not flat but the equivalent of running downhill, which had injected quite a bit of doubt and paranoia into my time projections. That night, however, I looked at a graphic depiction of the course's altitude and learned that it went from four feet above sea level to at most eight feet, which for someone who lives and runs around the biggest hills in Manhattan is effectively flat. Something else about New Orleans: it has great street signage. The morning of the race, I rode my bike downtown. Actually, we drove, which admittedly was very convenient. The race started at 7:30 am and for the first eight miles went out St. Charles Avenue and back. During the first leg, I was a bit worried because I had the sense of going downhill, which led me to conserve my energy, knowing that I would pay with an incline later on. But when I turned around, I still felt like I was going downhill. "These streets were designed by M.C. Escher" my host would later explain. As far as I was concerned, it was a miracle! As I ran, I imagined the fried shrimp po-boy I would eat later that day. And the scads of crawfish, after I learned how to peel them. And the only moderately touristy art fair I would attend on Frenchman Street. And the gigantic cat mural I would see. (New Orleans is filled with strays.) And the gender-fluid hot dog with whom I would share a martini and a dance. With so much on my mind, I barely noticed the miles ticking by. Actually, I noticed them very closely, as one will do when you're running as fast as you can over the course of 13.1 miles. But I made it to the end in 1:26:00, or an average of 6:34 per mile, which beat my projected time and placed me at number 51 (out of ~9500 runners) and second in my 45-49 yo age group.
Damn. I was filled with relief and maybe even some pride :)