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About a month ago, I journeyed to the Big Easy to run a half-marathon with a group of friends from my LRS run club and, spoiler alert, it was awesome!! This was my first time in New Orleans, and my first time traveling with this group of people (they've done some other destination races together in years past, but I'm kind of new to the group), so I was a little nervous. I was also a little anxious about the race, because switching from the full down to the half meant that this was now a Goal Race, and would be the first big test of how my training was going with the new coach and leading up to December's Big Goal. We left DC on Friday 3/2, which was that absurdly windy day on the East Coast, with gusts in the 40-50mph range and sustained winds well over 20mph. Just the kind of day you want to be flying! We were incredibly lucky though - the majority of flights out of National were cancelled, but somehow Southwest was still getting its planes off the ground. On the plane, enjoying Southwest's open seating policy: After the most nerve-wracking, stomach-rolling takeoff of my life, we had a short, uneventful flight to NOLA. We landed around 7pm, checked into the hotel, and immediately headed out to the French Quarter for dinner. We ended up at an Irish bar called Erin Rose, which has a tiny po' boy shop in the back called Killer Po' Boys. The seared shrimp was delicious! We didn't go too wild and crazy the first night, and my roommates and I were up early on Saturday morning so we headed to the Warehouse District to find some coffee. We ended up at a cute little coffee shop and got fancy cups of pour-over, which were made with LOTS of flair by the barista. He even had different temperature water for different types of beans. That is a level of coffee snobbery that I will never reach. It might have been the tastiest cup of coffee I've ever had though! After our coffee outing, we met up with a few other people from the group for a 3ish mile shakeout run, which I ended up leading because I was the only person who had looked at a map to figure out a route. My route ended at Cafe du Monde, because I'm not stupid. (Also, after the cold, windy, gross weather we'd been having in DC for months, it was SO NICE to run in short sleeves and soak up the sunshine!) Some people spent the morning at a cooking class, others went to a yoga class to stretch out before the race the next day. I spent a couple hours wandering around the French Quarter, which is a very different place in the daylight! Later that afternoon, we walked to the convention center for packet pickup. I saw these beads adorning a mailbox on someone's house. This was a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which was really poignant and interesting to see. We all reconvened at the expo, and managed to get one picture with the entire group! After the expo, I had an early dinner at a delicious Italian place with about half the group (the other half had made reservations elsewhere), and then called it an early night. But not before getting Flat Caitlin ready of course! I was up at o'dark thirty to eat my bagel and peanut butter in dark so as not to disturb my roommates, both of whom were cheering instead of racing and so didn't need to be up anytime soon. Thank goodness for back-lit Kindles! I left with most of the other half/full runners (the 10K started earlier than the half/full, so those runners had already left) to walk to the starting area, which was only a few blocks from our hotel. I dropped off my checked bag, did 5-10 minutes of light jogging and some strides to loosen up, and mostly just paced around nervously. It was already warm enough that I wasn't very chilly in my tank and shorts, and the sun was strong. My goal pace, according to Coach, as 7:41. Which just seemed absolutely crazypants! My prior half-marathon PR was 1:52:26, an 8:35ish pace. To be going out with a goal of a PR in the 10-minute neighborhood felt way too bold. But I figured what the heck? It's "only" a half! If I blew up, I blew up, and it would only be bad for a handful of miles. But I wouldn't know unless I tried. The course was totally flat; the biggest challenge would be the weather, since at 70+ degrees and sunny, it was solidly 30-40 degrees warmer than what I'd been training in. After a pep talk from Kathrine Switzer, the gun sounded and we were off! I definitely went out too fast, and that may have come back to bite me later. But I felt good for the moment! I got my pace back under control for the next 5 or so miles, but then the heat really started to get to me. I've learned that I am just not a warm-weather runner, despite 10 years of living in DC. I started to really feel off around the 10K mark, and struggled to keep my pace under 8:00/mile. I knew that I would be seeing our cheer crew at Mile 9, and told myself that I could stay strong and focused until then. I made it that far, and then no matter how many times I told myself that it's only 4 more miles, then only 3 more miles, I just lost it. My legs felt like stone and I was so very hot. The last 5K felt interminable. But I finally made it to the last stretch leading into the park where we finished, and I was able to push my pace back down for the final 0.1 to finish strong in 1:45:27! A PR by almost exactly 7 minutes! I was so very happy to be done! It is a pretty cool medal. I found a few of the faster half runners, and the 10K runners and we wandered back down the course to cheer on the rest of the people running the half. I stayed and cheered for a bit, but then needed to get back to the hotel to change for lunch. It turned out that an old friend and her husband happened to be in NOLA that weekend too, so I was able to meet up with them after the race! She's a runner too, and is currently training for her first marathon back after a 4-year hiatus to have her kids, so we had lots to talk about! She's crazy fast even after such a long break, and is going to be running Providence with a goal of BQing (again) so that she can run Boston 2019 for her 40th birthday. Later that evening, I met up with my run club crew again and we headed out to the French Quarter for some shenanigans now that the work was done! We were told by locals that Frenchman Street is way better than Bourbon Street, so we headed that way for some live music. Monday morning, I got up and went to Cafe Beignet to do a scientific comparison with Cafe du Monde. My verdict: Cafe du Monde's beignets are denser and chewier, and therefore better. But these were still delicious! Later in the morning, several of us did a cemetery tour in one of New Orleans' historic cemeteries. It was super interesting! On Monday afternoon, I went for a nice easy run with one other girl from the group. I hadn't met her before this trip (she used to live in DC and run with Pacers, but had moved to Tuscon for a job, so our paths hadn't crossed), so it was really nice to chat with her on the run. We ran through the Garden District, which was much more enjoyable this time around than it had been the day before while I was suffering in the race. The houses were beautiful, and the flowers definitely lived up to the neighborhood's name! One of my favorite things was that almost all the trees had Mardi Gras beads strewn all over them. We went four miles out, and then hopped on a streetcar and took it back a ways to meet up with some other folks for lunch at a Caribbean/Tiki place (what do those themes have in common? Rum!) While we were there, a sax player came by, and totally enthralled a baby a few tables over. Monday evening we explored some more bars in the French Quarter. At one point we successfully took over a cocktail bar and became the only people in it, which was a pretty solid accomplishment. Our flight out wasn't until 1pm on Tuesday, so I had time for one last beignet outing! I think these were beignets #10-12 of my weekend... Tuesday dawned pretty gross and rainy, so it was just as well that we were leaving. At the airport, my roommates and I enjoyed one last Abita Purple Haze before boarding. It was a blissfully short, uneventful flight back to DC! And this guy was definitely happy to have me back home. I'm so glad that I went on this trip! New Orleans was such a fun city to visit, and even though the race didn't go as well as I'd hoped, I'm really happy with it. I think if it had been 20 degrees cooler, it would have been a whole different ballgame. And who can be sad about a 7-min PR?? Next up: the George Washington Parkway Classic 10-Miler, one of my favorite local races! It'll be my 7th year running it, and apparently my goal pace is 7:30-7:40! My speed workouts have been going super well in the last month, and it's a fast course (net downhill, only 2 turns) where I've PRed all but one year (I was injured). So we'll see! But first, I'm heading down to North Carolina this weekend to hang out with some of my most favorite people in the world! Quadracool, Jenster, Zamgirl, and I will be volunteering at the Umstead 100 in Raleigh on Saturday for the second year in a row. And this time we aren't running a marathon the next day, so it should be even more fun!