Calling itself “a running festival with lagniappe” (lagniappe means a little something extra – I had to look it up, too), the Louisiana Marathon offers runners and walkers warm Southern hospitality with a French Creole accent. The event’s is only three years old so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but previous comments on Marathon Guide and from fellow racers led me to believe that it would be a good experience. The fact that the Marathon Maniacs were holding a reunion meeting at the expo was an added bonus. While I had previously attended a number of 50 state club reunions, Maniac reunions so far had eluded me. This would be a chance to try out a relatively new race in the company of fellow Maniacs.
My husband and I could have driven to Louisiana from Florida but I was able to find a reasonably-priced Delta flight from Jacksonville so we opted to fly. Many of the people who lived in surrounding states did indeed drive, since Baton Rouge is easily accessible from many states via Interstate 10. Our flight left early Saturday morning and arrived around 11:30 am. We were staying at the host hotel, the Hilton Baton Rouge Capital Center, and an added plus (part of the promised lagniappe) was the hotel’s free airport shuttle that met us within 10 minutes of our phone call. The hotel was in a prime location, close to the expo at Baton Rouge River Center and an easy walk to both the start and finish lines. At first I had booked the room with my AAA card but the marathon rate offered a better discount, so I canceled the first and reserved a room with the latter. There were at least two other hotels on the same street as the Hilton (Hotel Indigo and a Hampton Inn) but I am not sure if they offered better rates. Many people who drove opted to stay several miles outside of downtown, to take advantage of cheaper rooms. Although our room was on the second floor, it overlooked the Mississippi River and was scenic and quiet.
After checking in, we walked to the expo at River Center to pick up my packet. The gray short sleeve tee shirt was gender specific and actually fit. There were a number of vendors selling shoes and running-related items and several tables advertising races in other Louisiana cities. My bib had my name on it and a wristband that detached from the bib. The wristband would allow finishers to select 10 food and beverage items from the Food Village at the end of the race. In theory, this should have worked well; however, in practice it was not useful for slower runners and walkers (me) who found most of the food booths closed by the time we made it across the finish line. An exception was the VIP tent which was open to Maniacs. This tent was hard for me to find (there was no signage so I just had to keep asking people for directions) but it had a large amount of delicious food still available.
I stopped by the Maniac table to say ‘hi’ and purchase a pink MM diva shirt. I have found it best to try Maniac clothes on before buying them since some items run small; whenever there are Maniac products at an expo I try to take advantage of the opportunity. The Maniac reunion was set for 4 pm in River Center and since it was still fairly early, after picking up my packet and shirt we headed out for something to eat. My husband – as usual – had done his research on dining options. We decided on nearby Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar where we had burgers and fries (sweet potato ones for me) and beer. We finished just in time to make it back for the meeting.
The meeting was called to order by the three ‘main’ Maniacs who had founded the group. They treated us to a humorous PowerPoint show about the early years of the Maniacs, some specific Maniacs were recognized, and then each of us had a chance to introduce ourselves. As another bonus, members were given a watch cap in Maniac yellow and black plus a yellow wristband that we could show to receive a reunion medal at the finish line. As it turned out, there were more Maniacs than medals, but that situation should soon be rectified by reunion coordinator Angie; she somehow managed to answer everyone’s questions and resolve problems with a great degree of finesse. The race also had a half marathon component and there was a good representation of Half Fanatics and double agents (myself included). The best part of the reunion for me was meeting so many Maniacs and Fanatics all at once; it was fun to see friends Mellody, Pam, Cheryl, George, Ray, Doug, and Dave, and meet so many other members. The meeting adjourned around 5:30 so people could attend the pasta dinner (with Bill Rodgers and Matt Long), but Darcy and I headed back to our hotel to turn in. We were both tired and I was anxious to get my stuff ready for the race.
On Sunday, I woke around 3 am, ate my breakfast, and then began to obsess about the weather and what to wear. There was no rain expected, thank goodness, but the temperature was supposed to be chilly at the start, in the mid-40’s, and then warm up to around 60. I changed pants 3x but finally decided on my usual crops and dressed in layers with mittens and handwarmers. The race began at 7 and our Maniac photo shoot was set for 6:30, so I had plenty of time to ‘relax’ (as much as I can ever relax before a race) before walking to the start. Corrals were on the honor system so I lined up behind the 5:30 pacer and waited for the gun to go off. It took only a few minutes to cross the starting mat and then I kept to the edge of the street walking at about a 14 minute pace. Since I had just completed 48.6 miles at the Dopey last weekend, I was not planning to run in this race at all. I was ready for a nice easy pace. I kept that goal throughout, running only on the few downhill sections.
I found this race enjoyable for a number of reasons:
- The course is fairly flat but never boring. The first 3-4 miles as well as the last 2-3 miles were on city streets that had lots of swales and potholes. At the race start, several announcements were made to warn people to be mindful of these tripping hazards. Many – but not all – were marked with orange paint but I found that as long as I kept my eyes on the ground in these tricky areas I could remain upright
- The out-and-back between miles 15 and 22 gave me a chance to see other participants and cheer them on
- There was a lot to look at, especially in the first half; the course took us on the Louisiana State University campus, around several attractive lakes, and through neighborhoods of lovely homes lined with stately oak trees that provided shade as well as beauty
- While there were not massive numbers of spectators, I was impressed by the many people who came outside to watch us pass by. I was asked several times where I was from and, after replying that I was from Florida, they thanked me for coming and choosing to do this race
- Mile markers were huge and decorative and they were always followed by an aid station. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen so many aid stations in a race. It was wonderful! There was Powerade and water at each and plenty of volunteers to hand whichever we needed. Several stations had gels, blocs, chocolate candy and other goodies
- Turns were marked by orange tape on the street. It was important to watch for them, but there were enough racers in front of me and behind me that I wasn’t really worried about getting lost
- The medal is large, attractive, and double-sided, with a colorful lanyard
- After receiving my medal from a volunteer, I was immediately handed a bottle of water (nice)
- The results table was set up close to the finish line so I was able to get a printout of my splits and finishing time right away. Online and email tracking was also available and that made it easy for my husband to know exactly where I was and how I was doing on the course
- There is a generous 7 hour time limit
I crossed the finish line in 5:54, under my goal of 6 hours. My husband met me at the finish line and we sought out the VIP tent but, as mentioned earlier, it was difficult to find. I was glad we persisted because most of the food booths in the runner’s village had already run out of the promised Louisiana culinary specialties. Only the beer tent and an excellent offering of jambalaya were available for back-of-the-packers were still available. However, Maniacs were provided with a selection of delicious chicken and side dishes and an open bar. After eating our fill, we returned to our hotel to relax (and for me, a shower and nap). Later that evening, we had huge salads in the Kingfish Grill of the Hilton (there are not many restaurants open on Sunday afternoons in the city center). Our flights home were not until later that evening, so we once again visited the hotel’s restaurant for their buffet breakfast Monday morning. The Louisiana Marathon turned out to be a great race in neat city.
Definitely recommended for walkers.