Louisiana is the 10th state in which I have completed a marathon for 50 States for Sole, and the Rock and Roll Marathon in NOLA was the 24th marathon I have done in my lifetime.
I knew going down to New Orleans at the onset of Mardi Gras would be quite a “trip” but had no idea the actual drive down there would be crazy as well!
We left in the late afternoon on the Thursday before the race in my Girls With Sole mobile. Tattoo Liz and I happily welcomed another running friend of ours, named Mike, who joined us for the running adventures!
Another incredible addition to this race, and one that made it exceptionally special…. was the fact that a fabulous woman named Lauren Kropf, who lives in Mississippi, ran the Rock and Roll Half Marathon for Girls With Sole! This was the first race that someone I don’t know ran for the 50 States for Sole campaign! It’s amazingly heartwarming to think that 50 States for Sole is at the beginning stages of a fantastic ripple effect that will continue to spread, and will be felt by many people and change many lives! This amazing woman was a trailblazer for this ripple that will be felt for miles, and I hope that running for Girls With Sole brought with it a great sense of accomplishment and joy, for she has made an impact!
Here she is at the finish!
The drive there was relatively smooth and uneventful, with nothing to deal with aside from the usual Fanny Fatigue. We decided we felt good enough to tackle the trip in one shot – straight through to NOLA – until we hit Alabama. I had been driving from Cleveland to Alabama, so Tattoo took over behind the wheel at a rest stop. It was about 10:30 pm and I was enjoying sitting in the passenger seat when I looked up to see headlights speeding straight towards us – in the fast lane- going the wrong way on a two lane highway! It was lucky for us that we were in the slow lane, but we couldn’t believe our eyes! Each of us saw it happening and still couldn’t believe we were witnessing what could surely only be seen in an action movie scene. I still can’t believe we saw it and that we didn’t get hit. The car was coming straight at us on the wrong side of the road driving at least 80 mph! It was unreal!
About two miles further down the road, we came to a dead stop in solid grid locked traffic. Cars and trucks lined up for what looked like miles and police cars and helicopters were everywhere. At this point one would have thought that we really did stumble upon the filming of a movie. It was so crazy that we knew we had to pull off the highway or run the risk of being stuck on it in our car the whole night. We cut across the lanes, weaving our way through some semi-trucks like a small fish swimming around the whales – exiting the highway and pulling into a Loves gas station and rest stop. There were Sheriff’s cars, choppers and people everywhere. I was tired and started to think we would be stuck at the rest stop all night long…the last thing in the world I wanted at that moment. To kill time and lighten the mood I put on a Billy Goat hat and found a walking stick with a gold handle and an engraving that read, “Bubba Stick.” In my punchy over-tired way I started singing songs about my Bubba Stick and doing little dances until we could figure out what we would do next. While I was entertaining myself, Mike and Tattoo Liz….a Sheriff came over to where we were standing to get some coffee. We asked what was going on and found out that there was a shooting on the highway just ahead of where we pulled off. Two adult males were drag racing and ended up colliding with each other. Neither of them was hurt in the collision, but one of them got out of his car and shot and killed the other man. They were going to close the highway until at least 1:30 a.m. The friendly Sheriff gave us directions for a detour so that we could bypass the accident and get back on the highway.
We departed McCalla, Alabama by way of some dark and scary back roads. I began to wonder if we were in a bad horror movie after all, and the Sheriff was in on a plot to send us to a remote area where Leatherface – or someone similar – would be able to snatch us and drag us away to our doom. We decided to get off the highway and stop at a hotel for the night. It took quite a while, but we saw a sign for a Comfort Inn and pulled off the highway thinking it would be a safe stop. When we got there the large Marquee sign above the lobby door that should have read “Comfort Inn” was replaced by a large, lit up sign sporting blinking purple lights that read “Charity Bingo” instead. There was a shady looking guy standing outside the front door and a few too many pickup trucks in the parking lot. We weren’t entirely sure what was going on in there, but back on the highway we went until we found an ACTUAL Comfort Inn in Livingston, Al.
When we reached New Orleans the next day we felt like little kids! It was a blast going to the Rock and Roll Expo and walking around the city. We told everyone we talked to about 50 States for Sole and why we were there. Almost everyone we spoke to instantly dubbed the three of us collectively as “Cleveland.”
On Sunday, February 2, 2014 the 7:00 a.m. race start brought with it an ominously heavy and thick fog, with misty rain that lasted throughout most of the race. The ghostly gray haze provided a moody backdrop befitting the Jazz bands and Spanish moss that hung from the trees along the course- as well as the distinct “flavor” that makes up the smell of New Orleans. It’s a combination of incense, alcohol, pee and spices that I normally wouldn’t favor, but in that setting…it works! While we were running in the race, I mentioned to Tattoo what I thought the exact combo of smells were, and a guy running past us slowed down long enough to smile and say, “I love that smell!” I laughed and said that I did too, and that maybe Glade would create a new line of scents that included it!
The air was so humid that the 26.2 mile run felt a bit more like a swim. I ran without an IPod so that I could take everything in. The spectators, music, sights, smells, and fun conversations (including a few homeless people yelling at themselves) made it all an amazing experience. Although the “Rock and Roll” race series did a great job with everything, I believe the race was made special primarily by the uniqueness that is New Orleans.
I also believe that my legs paid a great price during the race due to this uniqueness! I wanted to see it all while I was there and logged way too many miles the day before while walking around the French Quarter- but it was worth it!
We talked to locals and even took a spin class the day before the race! The Spin Instructor was so intrigued by the fact that I had taught spin for so many years that she had me run part of the class as an impromptu guest instructor! I told her (and the class) about Girls With Sole, 50 States for Sole, “Finish Line Feeling,” and the documentary, “Finish Line!”
At the end of class I gave her my business card with a great sense of pride and purpose. She was happy to receive it and said she would spread the word to her fitness friends. Running for the girls as a role model while trying to raise awareness for GWS is a challenge, but it’s a rewarding challenge that drives my soul and builds my hope that we will someday be able to reach every girl who needs our programs. The steps to get there are going to be much like running a marathon itself, and may seem small- one step at a time- but with tenacity we will keep moving forward and eventually reach our goal.
When I reached the beloved Finish Line I was thrilled to have completed another state for Girls With Sole.
The Finisher’s medal was quintessentially NOLA- sporting purple beads instead of a ribbon and the medallion had a crown, fleur de lis, and jazz instruments on it. It will be the perfect reminder of our short stay for GWS in New Orleans!
We ran, sweat, and gave our best for a greater purpose – for the girls!
Dare I say- I don’t want to wash off the flavor and smells of the magical city that is New Orleans. A city saturated and dripping with history – much like my shirt and hair dripped with sweat during the marathon. New Orleans shares synergy with GWS, as it’s a city of resilience!
I can’t think of a more appropriate place to run a marathon for Girls With Sole.
Overcoming adversity and perseverance is what running 26.2 miles, Girls With Sole, and a city rebuilt after devastation are all about!
Keep moving forward!!!