Rock’n Roll New Orleans Half Marathon Recap!

March 23, 2018   /   byrunningwhilevegan  / Categories :  Food, Running, Travel

We just got back from New Orleans last night, after spending about 5 days down there! It was a wild time, a first visit to New Orleans for us both, and a race we would definitely participate in again next year!

The festivities began on Bourbon Street a few days before the race!

I’ve spent a little bit of time in the South, as I was born in Pensacola, Florida and my family lived in Jacksonville until I was almost 6 – I went to kindergarten there and have memories of us living there, unlike my sister who was 4 when we moved. My great grandma lived in West Fort Lauderdale, and we would visit her every summer until I was about 12 and she passed. Both of my parents grew up outside of San Francisco, and when we left Florida we went back to the Bay Area. My sister was born in Oakland, and I think of myself as from the Bay Area – Florida was where we lived while my dad was in the Navy. A few years after we moved back, my dad’s parents moved to San Antonio, Texas and again, we would visit them every summer, before or after visiting Florida. I’ve been to Austin twice for SXSW in my late 20s, and even once took a road trip from Chicago to SXSW, in which I got to see much of the south, including Tennessee and Arkansas!

What I have noticed about the Southern United States, is that you can’t necessarily to lump it all together, unless you are speaking in geographical terms. Every state, and every city in it has it’s own distinct personality, history, culture, accent, and in the case of Louisiana, language! New Orleans reminded me of both Austin and Vegas, as if the two merged into a wilder, gothic, European-centric city. There was music on every street corner of the French Quarter, with the drunken aggression of a frat house on Bourbon Street. At any time of day you could find cocktails, daiquiris or food, hidden gems of restaurants, art, souvenirs, ghost tours, which are all lit up with beautiful, old fashioned street lamps. It’s a place where time stops, and except for the modern-day clothing of the tourists, you could be anywhere from 1800 to the present day. I thought it was magical. Of course, it is the deep south and there are still remnants of a time when humans were enslaved based on skin color. That part, in all my waxing poetic, was juxtaposed with the scenery. Five days was long enough to feel the culture shock of being in a completely different part of the country, and though California has many, many injustices, pamphlets for plantation tours in every hotel and outside most shops in the French Quarter were quick and painful reminders of a not-so-distant past, one that has shaped our present, standing on the very land it took place. (I read this blog post while sitting in a Starbucks during our trip, rattled by descriptions of plantations being great places for weddings and tours, as they exuded a golden-era of elegance.) I am an American citizen, and share this history with my fellow citizens whatever state we reside – sometimes it can feel far, when you live on the West Coast, with an oral and written history filled with it’s own triumphs and horrors. This trip was a reminder that the south is not that far, slavery wasn’t that long ago, and modern-day society is still very much shaped by this history.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar, a 300 year old bar frequented by all kinds of characters over the years.

Now, time for an awkward non-segue! Overall we loved New Orleans, and even though we didn’t go with much to spend outside of lodging, food and drinks, we had a really fantastic time. Let me start from the beginning.

We were packing Thursday, planning to leave the LA suburbs at noon to catch a 4:45pm flight out of LAX. We were leaving early because we had to drop the car off at long-term parking and traffic patterns in LA can extend the shortest trips by at least an hour. Around 11 am I got a text that our flight would be delayed until 5:20pm, which I had a feeling would lead to more delays, but we still left when we had planned. Long story short, we left LAX for New Orleans a little after 11:30pm, and instead of landing at 10:30pm Thursday night, we landed at 4:50am Friday morning. We did get a free meal voucher in LAX, plus free headphones and a cocktail on the flight. It was an incredibly long, uncomfortable day, but on the plus side, my internal clock was a mess upon landing so the two hour time change didn’t even phase me! We checked into our Extended Stay, in Metairie, in between New Orleans and the airport, and crashed for about 5 hours, not wanting to lose the whole day. Upon waking, I ran one mile to keep up with my run streak, got us coffee and headed back to shower for the race expo. Mike was stoked about the coffee, but not so stoked about the lack of hot water in our room. He wanted to check-out immediately and find something new, but I wanted to stay one more night. The night before had been rough, we just got there, I wanted to get to the race expo, and I was okay with a lukewarm shower for one more night. We did have Saturday to get to the expo, but I just needed something to go to plan.

We took an uber to the Convention Center, got our bibs and walked around the Expo. I do like hitting up the Expos on Fridays, because they tend to be a little less crowded and I am claustrophobic. I can handle crowds, but if can avoid the panicky, cranky feelings that come up, why not? There was booth for NormaTec Pulse Leg Recovery boots, with 15 minute free sessions. I told Mike we had to get in on that – I visited a sports medicine doctor a couple times after Long Beach marathon, and those boots are life-changing. 15 minutes after being in them, Mike and I were making long-term plans to buy a pair for our own recovery needs. Add it to the “living the dream” wish list!

After the Expo, we walked to a vegan restaurant called Seed, had a delicious vegan dinner, and headed to the French Quarter, specifically for Bourbon Street.

I got the Fried Eggplant Po’boy, we split an order of Southern Fried Nuggets, and Mike got the Bbq Seitan sandwich. We also got an order of Beignets for dessert! Plus two local beers – they serve beer, wine and cocktails at Seed.

I partied hard – it’s just so easy to do there! The daiquiris are flowing, everyone is out, you can have open-containers, and I got caught up in it all. It was so much fun, but I definitely paid the price the next day, Saturday, in which I did nothing but nap in a beautiful, four-star hotel bed. We did check out of the Extended Stay at 11am, and Mike found an exquisite hotel on Priceline, in the French Quarter, at a low, name-your-own price. We already had plans to check-out of the Extended Stay Sunday morning and check into a different 4 star hotel after the race Sunday afternoon to Tuesday.  (We used Priceline’s name-your-own price a few days before our trip. Saving the booking until the last minute is hard for my neurotic mind, but it’s really been working out in our favor!). Getting a third hotel added a little bit more shuffling around to our trip, however I was super excited our new hotel was not only in the French Quarter, but a mere few blocks from the start line! We still had to check out Sunday morning before the race and store our bags with the hotel, but we didn’t have to come from the next town over on race morning.

About to start!

Race morning came, and was a pretty stress-free endeavor. We always get to the start line at about start time with these races, which was 7:30am. I was so excited Mike would be joining me for this half marathon! It was his first of the year, my third. This race was also exactly two weeks from LA Marathon, and I figured it would be a pretty good indicator of how I’d do at the marathon. I didn’t expect to PR for a few reasons: I haven’t done any speed training, I partied too hard Friday night, I didn’t want to get injured for LA Marathon, and I had just finished with peak week for marathon training, so my body was still recovering and tired on top of traveling. I wanted to beat my Pasadena Half marathon time of 2:15 about 6 weeks prior, and with a flat course, I thought it was in the bag. I was really torn from the get-go about how I wanted to perform for this race, and lack of a game-plan doesn’t do me any favors race day. I wanted to run with Mike, I wanted to enjoy the course and the scenery, but I also wanted a PR for the year. I finished with a 2:21. I stayed injury free, I enjoyed the scenery and the music, I felt great after the race and if I’m honest with both you and myself, I was tired and very dehydrated. Travel races can be tough – with lack of planning around my pre-race rituals, they go out the window very easily, I’m eating new foods, walking around exploring a new city leading up to the race – I’m in vacation-mode. That being said, I did PR in Vegas and came close in San Diego, but all my other travel races have been much more relaxed since. I’m still trying to figure out which races I want to be A-races this year (definitely LA Marathon, which means a strict regime now that I’m home until race day) and after that – maybe San Diego again in June because I’d like a course PR and it’s a hilly run.

Back to the New Orleans course – it was so much fun! I really enjoyed every part of this course. We ran through downtown and the Garden District for the first half, with local bands playing along the way. We then came back downtown and ran through the French Quarter to the finish in a beautiful park. It did get hot on that course, and by mile 10 I was ready to finish, but never got exceedingly uncomfortable. New Orleans in early March reminds me of LA most of the year: chilly mornings that heat up throughout the day, only to cool off again at night. Having experienced this Friday and Saturday, I dressed for the weather to heat up in a tank top and shorts. I did wear calf length compression socks which were almost overkill – I’d probably save those for recovery after the race in the hotel room next time. Sunscreen was a must and I should have carried some with me for the finish fest. I also chafed during this race! My nips and my inner thighs! That never happens! I think I was bloated from the travel, salty foods and alcohol. Fortunately my nips stopped chaffing about halfway through the race and the scenery was beautiful enough to keep me distracted, but I almost stopped for Vaseline at the medi tent! My thighs didn’t start chafing until the end (again, fortunately.) Even though I didn’t chafe during my 18 and 20 mile marathon training runs, I’m not messing around for LA Marathon and liberally applying Body Glide before the race!

Mike finished the race about a half hour after I did. He is always cheer squad for me, so I stuck around the finish line after I got my medal to watch him cross. He thought I would head straight to the beer tent, and the look of appreciation on his face when I called out his name was priceless. It means so much to have people you care about waiting for you after such a big race, which I know because he’s always there! He got his medal, we headed to the beer tent for our free beers and chilled in the shade for awhile. The finish fest was HUGE, the biggest one I’ve ever seen. The beer tent was pretty informal for these races – instead of beer cans, they have cups on the table for you to grab. We didn’t have comp tickets on our bibs, or needed to get wristbands, and in that sense it reminded me of Vegas where they pass out beer cans to you after you finish. (Later I learned the beer is unlimited in Nola! We were tired and I knew we’d be going out later, so it’s probably for the best I didn’t know.)

Gluten-free waffle with Southern Fried Nuggets, a victory beer, and my medal! The best waffle I’ve ever had, gf or otherwise! Like a fluffy buttermilk pancake in waffle form!

After the race, which finishes in a different part of the city than it starts, we hopped in an Uber and headed back to Seed for brunch. Again, we were so happy with our meals. After brunch we headed back to our hotel, took naps and headed out for another night on the town! Our hotel (the third and final one of the trip) was right off Bourbon Street! Mostly we left the hotel because we were hungry again. We bought a tall can of PBR and shared it on the way to a bar I wanted to check out at the other end of Bourbon Street. Because Bourbon Street is so nuts, we walked the streets parallel. They are just as much fun, full of art, architecture, live music bars and ghost tours, without the overwhelming quality of Bourbon. We bought a round of local IPAs at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, a 300 year old bar recommended to me by a friend! It’s one of the oldest standing bars in the US! Next we walked over to Dat Dog a couple blocks over because we had heard they had vegan dogs. Our first Uber driver, from the airport, had recommended Dat Dog to us (we didn’t tell her we were vegan, and she wasn’t talking about the vegan dogs, just telling us it was a great place to eat) and a music venue called The Spotted Cat, both which happened to be in the same vicinity! We stood outside The Spotted Cat listening to a couple songs the local band was playing before making our way to Dat Dog.

It is a party on streets outside of Dat Dog, as well as a party inside!

Dat Dog is a lively and colorful build-your-own-dog restaurant and bar! They had three different vegan sausages to choose from, and a note on the menu assuring their buns are vegan. Many of the topping are meat-centric, but you can definitely build a delicious, flavor dog with the vegan-friendly toppings! I made mine with a chipotle sausage, creole mustard, ketchup and sauerkraut. Mike’s was very similar, with the addition of jalapeños.

Dat Dog was definitely a winner!

Tired from the race and hoping to get an early start for a full day in the morning, we went back to our room. Of course we proceeded to sleep til noon – I blame the blackout curtains! And the 13.1 miles the day before, I suppose. We got Hurricanes on Bourbon Street, coffee at Cafe Du Monde and made our way to the French Market. We were famished! Thankfully the French Market had a few vegan food stands, and we settled in at the Meals From the Heart Cafe counter. Mike got a Black Bean Po’Boy and I got the Vegan Gumbo. The prices were a little heftier than I was hoping to spend, but the food was excellent, hearty, and kept us full for the rest of the afternoon and much of the evening.

Vegetable Gumbo! Gluten-free, except for the bread (they did have a gf bread option)! A few years ago I was told New Orleans was fun but vegan eating was near impossible! Fortunately we had no issues eating and I was surprised that gluten-free options were so bountiful as well!

We headed back to our hotel, to freshen up for the evening ahead and drop of the souvenirs we had purchased. I was also continuing my run streak, and needed to get a least a mile in before we met up with my friend and fellow LA Marathon Ambassador, Jessica (also out with her boyfriend for the half marathon!) I got my run in, freshened up and we were off for our last night in New Orleans! We got Hand Grenades, which are delicious and very, very strong. There were more drinks on the walk back over to the Spotted Cat to watch live music with Jessica and Adam. We all hit up a different venue, watched a band, and then Mike and I obviously went back to Dat Dog for the same exact dogs we’d gotten the night before! And then, after purchasing one more hurricane I couldn’t even drink, our last night in NOLA came to a close.

Jessica is an LA Marathon Ambassador, ultrarunner and Ironman! She is a huge inspiration to me and has helped me along my own marathon journey.

The next morning was a blur of fitting in one mile on the treadmill, packing, showering and checking out by 11am. Our flight wasn’t til 7, so we had time for coffee, lunch, and one last stroll through the French Quarter. We watched the Mississippi River for a little while, and Mike made fun of my debaucherous nights. We were exhausted, and ready to get to the airport to just chill. We took a city bus to the airport because $2.00 > a $30+ Uber. It took an hour, but we had time, and I think public transit can be the perfect way to get a taste of the city the way locals live it. The bus seriously took us straight to the terminals and we are going to remember that for our next visit! We already know there will be a next time, with a ghost tour, a swamp tour and an afternoon at a museum. We just didn’t have the funds this trip, but that didn’t stop us from having a fantastic time! Thankfully the flight home was on time, we gained the hours we lost due to the time zones, and we got to sleep with our dog that night.

We’ll miss you, NOLA! You reminded me of a hybrid of Austin and Vegas, with your very own distinct personality!

 

 

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