Standing Outside the Fire: Tobacco Road Half and Full Marathon Spectator Report

“Standing outside the fire, life is not tried it is merely survived if you’re standing outside the fire.” – Garth Brooks

I used this quote because I went to see Garth Brooks last night after race spectating. It was  a great show and he ended it with this song which has always been one of my favorites. I think we have to take chances in this life and risk failing in order to live.I saw a lot of people in the first yesterday, really trying at life.  I was also, literally, standing outside the fire yesterday because I wasn’t racing. And it was hot and steamy, y’all. Really steamy.

The NC Oiselle Volee arranged a Cowbell Corner for the race because we had ten teammates running the race. I also wanted to go because several of my Fleet Feet friends were running including half of the group I am coaching this season. For several of them, it was their first half marathon. We set up on a corner where we could see the half runners at mile 2.5 and 10.5 and the full runners at mile 2.5, 14.5 and 23.5. It was the perfect spot.

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The crime scene tape really makes this extra special. 

The day was overcast but really humid and warm. In North Carolina, our weather in the early Spring can be 45 degrees one day and 80 the next day. We had a warm week last week so we were expecting it to be hot. I don’t run well in the humidity so I was really glad I wasn’t running the race but worried a bit about my trainees for their first time racing at this distance.

I have made myself the official NC Volee team photographer at events when I am not running because I enjoy trying to improve my photography skills and my family are not willing subjects but I also like being the one BEHIND the camera because I don’t have to be IN the picture. One of the leftover side effects of my disordered eating days is that I can’t look at pictures of myself without immediately launching into horrible negative self talk and deleting it. One of my homework assignments in my eating disorder group back in the day was to take a picture of myself each week and bring it to group where I was required to say something nice about the photo. Sorry to tell the therapist that exercise never stuck! I hope he isn’t still using it after all these years! I prefer to be behind the camera so I had a lot of fun with my camera and we connect through the team quite a bit on social media so pictures help. I also think it is cool for people to take pictures of you during a race so you don’t have to buy those really expensive and usually awful race pictures. If someone is going to take bad pictures of you, they might as well be free! I would really love to take a photography class because my skills are lacking so I guess I’ll have to fit that in during all my free time.

I realized pretty quickly that my vantage spot on the corner wasn’t lending me the appropriate angle to capture folks, especially the fast ones, so I left the group and headed down the trail a bit. I largely missed Allison and Michelle because they were so fast. I ended up standing next to a really nice man with a full Ironman tattoo on his leg who was a relentless cheerer. His enthusiasm was infectious and pretty soon there were about 4 of us cheering all the runners. We were probably really obnoxious but we got lots of laughs so I think we may have been doing our job well. He eventually jumped into the race with a young woman who turned out to be his daughter and told everyone all along the course how proud he was of her to be finishing her first marathon so he pretty much wins the Father of the Year award in my book.


Michelle looking amazing in her 3/4 top and going too fast for me to get a good shot! 

Sarah was our first runner after the two super fasties. I saw her coming up the trail  because you can spot the singlet from afar, especially with the bright Roga shorts so it made it easy. I called her name, she saw me and smiled, and headed around the corner to the rest of the crew. Up next was Randy from my Fleet Feet group and he looked great. He was concentrating so hard but high-fived me once he saw me. Kelly Partner from Fleet Feet, too, came by next right with her pace group and she made the whole thing look effortless, she was barely sweating! Turns out she had bronchitis and still got a PR so she is a beast!


I love the determined look on Sarah’s face. She told us later she was trying not to pass out because she wasn’t feeling well but you would never know! 


Randy, one of the nicest people I know! 

I was really hoping to see Brooklyn, Rose and Caitlin on the back from the out and back leg of the course. They all came by at the 2.5 mile mark at a faster pace than we expected and with the heat we were worried about them. Julie joined me down on the trail and we waited together. Julie is approximately 8 months pregnant and had loaned Caitlin (her regular running partner) out to Rose to train this season so we were especially excited to wait for them. The Ironman was still giving it his all with the cheering so Julie and I helped him keep it up. We saw Rose and Caitlin coming up the trial and they looked great. I mean really, really good like they were just out for a casual long run. I had a feeling it was going to be a good day for Rose, which she totally deserves because she has worked so hard to come back from injury. We high-fived them and they ran on to the rest of the group.


My favorite picture of the day – look how happy they look! #squadgoals

I saw Brooklyn coming up the trail and I thought she looked great. She looked hot but she smiled and raised her arms in the air when she saw us. When she got to us, though, it was clear she was struggling. We embraced her, asked her if she was OK, told her it was going to be OK and walked her to everyone else. I asked her if she wanted me to run with her for a bit and she said no. After she continued on, I just worried about it so Allie told me to follow her. I threw my camera at Allie and chased her down. I heard someone coming up on my left and Andie was right there beside me chasing her down, too. I ran up next to her and told her we were going to keep her company for a bit.  I ran for about a quarter mile with her but wasn’t wearing a sports bra so had to drop out. Andie, one of our elite team members, agreed to stay to the end and got her to the finish. You know it is love when you are as endowed as I am and run without a sports bra!


Beautiful Brooklyn, smiling through the suffering! 

I want to take a minute to talk about how much having a friend jump in with you can really help. Jumping in had never occurred to me until I was running the Marine Corps Marathon. Heather had left me by the time I puked right before I started across the Bridge from Hell. I felt the worst I had ever felt in a race. I think if there had been a medical station on the bridge I would have quit. But there was no aid station, only misery. As I was coming down off the bridge, a sad song that reminds me of my mom came on my iPod and I just started to cry. I rounded the corner and there was the DC/VA/MD Volee. I spotted Emily and made a bee line to her for a big hug. Julie took one look at me and jumped in to run with me until I got to the thicker crowds around Crystal City so I wouldn’t be alone. I fully credit the team for getting me to mile 23 of that race. At mile 23 there was no quitting so it was just the boost I needed. Those are some Squad Goals, people, and one of the reasons I will always remain a member of this team for as long as they will have me.

I headed back down the trial to wait for my Fleet Feet trainees. I think I’ve mentioned before that, while I love being a part of the Volee and have never been made to feel like anything less, I am much, much slower than all of the runners on our team. My runner people are all at Fleet Feet. The people who stay with me long run after long run. I don’t feel like I am holding them back. I just feel like they are there with me, step by step, for the long haul. Not to take anything away from my teammates who are nothing but gracious and supportive but there is something to be said for people who run at your pace. I wanted to bring my folks home.

I saw Debbie and Donna first. They were both running their first half and they looked amazing! They were out in front of everyone so they must have been having a great day. Clearly, they are better at pacing than their coach because I never look that strong at mile 10.5 of a half. I am so proud of them! Next up was Carolyn, one of our mentors. I think I might have embarrassed her because I was so excited to see her, I started shouting her name way down the trail. Next up were Marion and Lynda, Lynda is the greatest mentor and stayed with Marion for the whole race since it was Marion’s first half. They looked great, too. I’m so proud of all our runners. They stayed positive and stayed on pace for a great race. There is not much else a coach can ask for.


Debbie and Donna right in the middle of the frame! 


Marion and Lynda streaking by so fast it was blurry!


I went back to man the corner with Julie who was waiting on a friend who was finishing her first marathon. My Fleet Feet friend Jeanne had passed me at mile 14.5 on the out for the full and said she thought she might DNF. I waited with Julie to see if Jeanne was OK. The rest of our team went for coffee per the plan but I wanted to stay and cheer in all the runners. Becky on the Volee team was doing the full and she looked to be on about a 5:30 to 6:00 pace (my pace, btw) so I wanted to see her head down the trail. I saw her headed out and cheered for her loudly. I think I startled her with my cowbell.

Carly headed farther down the trail with her cowbell and was cheering her heart out for the middle to back of the pack marathoners. I manned the corner and cheered them all on, as well. They were coming by in one and twos so there was a lot of opportunity to interact. I got a lot of people to smile so I think I was doing my job. I have been at the back of a marathon. Most spectators have left by that point. There are cups littering the course and you feel pretty damn defeated. Mile 23 is a hard place. You’ve come so far but you still feel like you have so far to go. Seeing a smiling, enthusiastic spectator can help so Julie, Carly and I kept it up because all runners in a race are family. I don’t have a lot of crowd support at races so I have often relied on the kindness of strangers who stay to the end to cheer us on. Those of us in the back of the pack are truly grateful for your support.

Carly spotted Jeanne down the trail and called me on my cell phone to tell me she was on her way up to me. I ran down the trail to meet her. She didn’t look good at all – very sweaty, red faced and she told me she wanted to quit. I offered to give her a ride back to the finish if she really wanted to quit. She thought about it for a minute but said she was going to tough it out. I ran-walked with her to the next aid station and sent her on her way. She chased down the 5 hour pacer and finished the race because she is an amazing athlete. In true mother runner fashion, she said to me that she couldn’t let the 5 hour pacer get too far ahead of her because she had to get home to relieve her babysitter and needed to stay on pace!

I’m really glad I spent so much time watching this race. I love seeing people achieving their goals by reaching a PR and I love seeing people dig deep on a hard day and finish under tough conditions. I think there is a quote about restoring your faith in the human spirit by watching a marathon and I completely agree. The love I feel for the two running groups of which I am so very lucky to be a part of is immense. I saw my friends giving it their all and I feel immensely proud to know all of them. I learned one very valuable lesson during my marathon spectating session – always wear a sports bra in case you have to jump in and support a friend!


I Wish I Was In New Orleans: Rock N Roll New Orleans Half Marathon

“Hoist up a few tall cool ones, play some pool and listen
To that tenor saxophone calling me home
And I can hear the band begin ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’,
And by the whiskers on my chin, New Orleans, I’ll be there” – Tom Waits, I Wish I Was In New Orleans

Last Friday, my husband, Mike and I left our children sleeping in their beds (no worries, my dad was there to watch them) at 4:30 AM and headed to the airport to board a plane to New Orleans. The original intent of the trip was for me, Heather, and a few more of our running friends to run the New Orleans Rock N Roll Half Marathon but, after the last month or so we’ve had, it was really just to get away from it all. Running was secondary on this trip.

I love New Orleans. I know people say that about cities all the time but I can’t really adequately express my feelings for that city any other way. I wouldn’t want to live there full time because I think it would lose some of its charm but I visit any chance I get. This was my sixth trip. My first trip was right after I finished graduate school and I went with my very best friend, Karen. We had a fascination with the city since high school and it lived up to all of our expectations. I’ll never forget that first trip or any of the ones in between. I had my bachelorette party in New Orleans.

I used to be a bit wild (you’re shocked, I know). Since I have a grown-up job, two children and I have been adulting for some time now, I gave all that up. I’m the first one to suggest we go for a beer after run group and I have a glass of wine with dinner but we’re the people who are home on a Saturday night eating a $5 pizza from Aldi and watching the backlog of shows on our DVR, asleep by 10:30. Mike and I needed to have some fun. Heather and I needed to have some fun. We’ve known each other for years but we’ve worked for the same company for the past three years and we just solved a huge, all-consuming problem here and we wanted to cut lose.

It was less than an hour after our plane landed that Mike and I were at our favorite place on Decauter eating boiled crawfish, fried alligator tail and drinking tall draft Abita Amber beer. We then headed over to the Expo (Mike kept eating and drinking Abita because he doesn’t run) to get our race numbers.


The Expo was pretty small, as far as Expos go, but that was probably a good thing since I tend to overspend at these things. We had to hurry because our group was headed out on the Cocktail Walking Tour. We had a blast on the tour and I highly recommend it if you go to New Orleans. We walked a total of 12 miles on Friday. Rest wasn’t really part of the agenda!


At Antoine’s, waiting on our Sazaracs

Saturday we were supposed to “take it easy” but Mike and I ended up eating a fabulous breakfast at The Old Coffee Pot (poached eggs on crab cakes with creole sauce and callas cakes). We walked around the French Quarter for a bit and then ended up at Deanie’s Seafood to eat crawfish and drink some more Abita. (This will become a theme). We met two drunk guys at the bar who had been drinking there since 11 AM (it was 3 PM) who were in town for the one guy’s bachelor party. We talked to them for an hour and it was a hoot, giving all kinds of marriage advice. I think he might have ended up deciding to call the whole thing off (I’m kidding).


Don’t they look yummy with all their legs and eyeballs? 

Somehow, we found ourselves on Bourbon Street (haha) which is not my favorite side of the French Quarter. We ended up listening to the house band at Huge Ass Beers (yes, that is the name of the bar) and drinking these beauties – 48 ounces of delicious Coors Light.


Huge Ass Beer (we didn’t keep the cups but should have)

For the record, it took me well over 2 hours to drink that much beer. The bar had an ice cooler built in the bar for one to put their Huge Ass Beer on because, apparently, Huge Ass Beers become Really Gross and Warm Beer over time (especially when you are drinking Coors Light which is Kind of Gross to Begin With Beer). We left to meet for dinner at the pizza place where we were carb loading and were in bed by 10. I wasn’t asleep by 10 because New Orleans is a noisy place and we were staying right beside Jackson Square, which is only slightly less busy than Bourbon Street.

A mere 4 hours after I actually fell asleep, I was up and out the door to walk to the corrals. There were 22,000 people running this race and  you could tell. Crowds were everywhere. We made it to our corral and waited 45 minutes from the first gun to cross the start. Heather and I decided before we even landed in New Orleans that this race was just going to be for fun. We didn’t really know what that meant other than that we were just going to see how it went. This was my 14th half marathon. I know I can run this distance so I just wanted to have fun. Each runner was going to do her own thing but Heather and I pledged to stick together since we didn’t care about time.


Me, Heather, Jen and Sissy


Corral Selfie

The course started in the Central Business District and turned down St. Charles Street and into the Garden District. The run down St. Charles lasted FOREVER and was, mostly, in full sun (we all ended up sunburned). We could see runners making their way back up St. Charles but we had no idea when the turnaround would come. It was boring and there were practically NO spectators. The few who were out were making an effort with costumes but it was sadly disappointing. I really thought New Orleans would bring it but I guess no rich white people want to get up early on a Sunday to watch strangers run by. Finally, we turned around and headed back up St. Charles. There were also no port-a-potties. I rarely stop during races to use them but when I saw one at mile 7, I waited in line because there were not many other chances. The bands were also pretty scarce. At this point, we were really bored. The course was just trees and the street car lines.


Preservation Hall Jazz Band – best band on the course

CAVEAT: The rest of the race report is NOT how one should run a half marathon. If you are trying the distance for the first few times, do not do this. Also, if you are a lightweight (no shame in that) do not try this. If, however, you give zero fucks, you have a relatively high tolerance to alcohol, you’ve run several races and are in a place where drinking on the street is legal, I say “Go for it” because this is the most fun I have ever had during a race. 

Once we left the Garden District, the course headed into a less prestigious neighborhood but the crowds got a little better. Folks were out on their balconies drinking mimosas and a couple of folks had kegs of beer and were filling Dixie cups for the racers. Of course, Heather and I took free beer. A little before mile 9, on Magazine Street when the course was winding back to the French Quarter, we came up upon a crowd of women runners (they looked like moms) who were drinking mimosas and Bloody Mary’s while speed walking. We were like “hey, who was handing out those drinks and how did we miss that?” They said they stopped at a bar and bought them because they were trying to PR in Most Number of Drinks during a half marathon. Heather and I know each other so well, we didn’t even have to ask the other if we wanted to take this challenge. The next bar was just steps away so we stopped, ran into the bar and ordered our first mimosa!


Mimosa #1 – Bar on Magazine Street – We timed the bartenders and this one was the fastest!


OK, so rookie mistake, we forgot to get STRAWS! What?! Who knew running and drinking out of an open container was so challenging? This was our second-to-slowest mile because we pretty much had to speed walk and chug the drinks. We call it The Mimosa Mile on our splits. The spectators on the course were cheering and laughing at us. I would have, too, if I had seen someone like me.

Our slowest mile was the Casino Mile where we stopped to play the slot machines, because, hey, why not? In a city where gambling is legal right in the middle of downtown, you should visit all the sins while running.


PR in Fun but no luck in the casino!

Mimosa #2 came around mile 10 at a bar at the start of Decauter and the French Quarter.  The bartender was slow but we got straws this time so our mile split was faster. The mimosas were on special so they were much smaller than our first and we finished them, quickly.


Cheap mimosas

We switched to Bloody Mary’s at The Gazebo Cafe at mile 10.5 near the French Market (the mimosas WERE small, I said). This bartender was pretty fast but I don’t recommend the spicy version if  you are running so that was rookie mistake #2. It was also hard to eat those olives off of toothpicks while running.


We should have bought some of those tie dyed t-shirts in the background.

The Bloody Mary’s lasted for a while. Tomato juice just doesn’t go down as well as OJ. Heather let a couple of fellow runners try her drink. They were appreciative. At this point, the spectators started to pick up or Heather and I made our own fun. It is hard to say but the race really improved at this point and we were having so much fun. We talked to fellow runners. We talked to the cops on the course. We talked to the crowd.


These girls refreshed us with champagne.


This dude had the best sign of the day. Maybe, the best race sign EVER.


Not THE raunchy end of Bourbon Street but still fun.

By mile 12ish, we were out of alcohol so we stopped at bar and ordered a pitcher of beer when we saw a sign that said “$5 pitchers with race bib”. I’m pretty sure they meant AFTER the race but we weren’t sure we would come back that way so we took advantage of the sale. They let us take the pitcher.


$5 pitchers of Abita

Out on the course, we were now so off pace that we were with some people who were really struggling. We offered them beer because we had extra cups and a lot of beer. We filled this woman’s hydration bottles with beer. I sure hope she made it to the finish. She was running the full. We met a nice man named Donny who we also gave beer, too. He rushed past us after we gave him the beer so, clearly, we are responsible for his PR.


Hope this lady made it!

We crossed the finish line with an empty pitcher of beer and a head full of memories. This was my worst finishing time but the most fun I have ever had. There is very little chance that I will EVER do anything like this, again, so, although I didn’t take the running part very seriously, I am glad I had this experience. This isn’t my goal race this Spring. I’m not even sure I have a goal race. I’m just running for fun this Spring since training for the Marine Corps Marathon in the heat sucked all of the joy of running out of me. I need to find some joy in this, again, and New Orleans certainly helped. It also reminded me how much I love fellow runners and meeting new people.


This will probably be my favorite finisher picture of all time. 


YOLO! We kept that pitcher as our trophy.


We met up with our friends who took this seriously and did not drink on the course. Sissy, Jen and Heather’s mom, Sandy, thought we were insane (we probably are) but I think Lesley thought it was funny. Everyone had a good time and enjoyed the overall experience even if the course was a little more boring than one would expect from a city like New Orleans.


The whole crew – all the other runners were serious. 

After the race, we all went to rest and then Mike and I went out for more crawfish and beer! We headed home on Monday morning. I have the Not So Normal Half Marathon and the Tarheel 10 Miler in April so I got back to real running last night with speedwork on the treadmill. No drinks involved. It wasn’t nearly as much fun.