The Great Huey P. Long Bridge Run

IMG_20160506_152111This weekend I ran my first bridge run, a 5K stretching from the East Bank to the West Bank of the Mississippi River, across the Huey P. Long Bridge in Harahan, Louisiana. My running buddy Ben’s mom, who lives just minutes from the bridge, offered to host me for the weekend. Thanks to her, I was able to get plenty of good food and rest the night before the race.

Saturday morning, me and Ben arrived at the start line 15 minutes early, despite a last-minute run to Starbucks so I could get breakfast. We spotted our fellow grad student, Nick, checking out a sweet Lamborghini parked at the race start. We took some pictures and then lost each other in the crowd of about 1,000 runners. A few minutes later, the Lamborghini started rolling and we were off!

So, confession: I didn’t actually train for this run… My last 5K, two weeks before, was the last time I’d been running. Now considering I was about to run across the Mississippi River on an incline, I didn’t expect to be very fast.

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Ben, me, Nick…and a sweet Lamborghini.

So I went slow and steady. Taking off at a leisurely pace, I set my goal to finish in under 30 minutes. We ran for about a half mile before reaching the actual bridge. Then there it was: the first incline. I kept telling myself to go slow, not knowing what to expect.

The bridge leveled out for several yards, and then we faced another incline. I felt thankful when I saw a water station staffed with several wonderful volunteers on that second incline.

As we increased in elevation, I became distracted by the awesome view of the river and city below me, everything looking so small. Then I saw a sign that said “You made it to the top. It’s all downhill from here!”

I slowed down for a moment to sneak a glance at all the runners behind me–hundreds of determined people, all running uphill. It was an inspiring view.

Just as the sign promised, it was all downhill from there. I picked up my pace and let gravity work its magic. I could see what was ahead of me, and I knew the finish line (and free food!) was near. I laughed when I heard one man say “I’m just running to the beer.”20160507_090000

The race finished in Gumbo Festival Park, where a live band was playing and several vendors were set up. They were serving delicious gumbo and jambalaya, as well as beer and donuts. Ben finished exactly two minutes ahead of me, with a time of 23:44, placing third in his age group. I finished 6th in my age group, and was quite pleased with my time.

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Representing the health & kinesiology department!

The band, Imaginary Frenz, was awesome. They played a great mix of oldies and contemporary stuff, like Better Than Ezra and Blues Traveler. I absolutely loved them and their song choices.

Ben and I caught up with Nick and got some food. I held off on the beer because the line stretched all the way across the field.

Later, we were heading over to the finish line to take a picture when we noticed the last runner coming in. It was a man who had walked the entire 5K with a cane. Everyone flocked to the finish line to cheer him on. He is awesome!

Ben and I hung out for a while after the crowd thinned out, enjoying the band while we waited for the awards ceremony. I eventually got my beer–not because I actually like beer, but because supposedly it restores electrolytes (and it’s part of the whole experience, especially at a New Orleans race).

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Chicken gumbo? Yes please!

I took a shuttle bus back across the bridge, marveling at how I had just run over it. Me and Ben headed back to his mom’s place, where his family and friends were having their annual Kentucky Derby pool party. We had boiled crawfish, gumbo, cake, and tons of snacks. It was amazing. My chihuahua, the social butterfly that he is, had a great time as well.

The Huey P. Bridge Run is definitely worth doing again next year. I recommend it to any runners reading this!

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A 5K and crawfish in one day. I was one happy girl!

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Running a half

Post-race pic!

 My new year’s resolution for 2013 was simple: run a half-marathon. I’m happy to share that this past weekend, my goal became a reality: I ran the entire 13.1 miles, finished in 2:20 (which is 10.7 minutes per mile), and placed 942 out of 2000 runners. Back in February I chose to register for the Jazz Half Marathon because the proceeds went to the children’s hospital, the route went through historic New Orleans and the French Quarter, and the race was in mid-October (which meant, theoretically, the weather would be pleasant). In addition, a couple of my best friends live in the New Orleans area, so the race gave me an excuse to visit them (as if I needed one).

Running 13.1 miles is no easy feat. It hurts! Thankfully, there are people who understand this and gave up their Saturday morning to come out and cheer for the runners. I felt like a celebrity with all the “paparazzi” along the race route snapping pictures, cheering, and giving us high-fives as we ran by. People with posters that read “Why do the cute ones always run away?” and “Look behind you. You’re beating all those people!” Guys in “I don’t do marathons, only marathon runners” t-shirts. Small jazz bands playing on the sidewalk. Cops giving us encouraging words while looking out for our safety. Volunteers handing out water and Gatorade at the nine stations along the route. An old lady waving a flag. Little kids. And perhaps most touching, a woman saying “Thank you for helping the children; thank you for my child” (because all proceeds went to the children’s hospital). And I can’t forget the guys at mile 13 shouting “Half a shot for half a marathon!”, handing runners a shot of whiskey on the final stretch–gotta love New Orleans!

A little about my personal race experience: I woke up at 4am to give myself time to get coffee, eat my pre-race fuel (a bagel, banana, vitamins, trail mix), find good parking, hydrate, and stretch. While hanging out in Lafayette Square before the race, I made a new friend who had come in from Mississippi. She was awesome, and it was nice to have someone to talk to; it kept me from getting too nervous. At 7am, all 2000 runners lined up behind the start line. There was an eerie silence as everyone stood together in anticipation. Next thing I knew, we were off.

Post-race party!

Post-race party!

Running is as much about mental strength as it is about physical endurance. For the first 10K, I had to keep telling myself Go slow. One of the biggest pieces of advice for first-time distance runners is to not go out too fast. Running on the hard asphalt made my knees ache, so I had to tell myself to push through the pain. By the second 10K, my knees felt better (or were just numb), I had plenty of energy, and I sped up to my normal pace. People who had passed me earlier were now walking, and I passed them. Every time I began to get tired, I’d pass a paparazzi who would  give me the encouragement I needed. When everything started to hurt, the Chevelle song “Send the Pain Below” came on my iPod. It’s the little things that keep you going.

Later that night, someone asked me “At what mile did you think Okay, why am I doing this?! ?” I thought about it and replied, “Ten!”. At mile 10, I started thinking about everyone who would be disappointed if I didn’t finish. I knew my faith group, who had their retreat this weekend, were keeping me in their thoughts and prayers. I knew my good friend would be waiting for me at the finish line. I knew my family would be proud. A supporter is anyone who sends helpful articles, gives words of encouragement, trains with you, or simply brings positivity to your life. My entire run, I never once thought of the “haters” (for lack of a better term); those who say Why would you want to do that?, those who are jealous or downplay your accomplishment, or anyone who directs negative thoughts and words your way. These types of people will only slow you down. I’m thankful for my supporters, and hopefully they read this and know their kindness is priceless.P1040020

The Jazz Half Marathon was so much fun, I’ve already decided that my new year resolution for 2014 will be to run a full marathon. 🙂 Any tips/advice is more than welcome. Stay tuned…