2018 has already been a bit of a rough year for me – I came down with a cold, had to drop down from the full to the half marathon in Louisiana (and thus missed out on crossing off another state, yet again…), and I’ve had some website and home renovation issues as well – but for one glorious weekend I ran outside in the cold and ate until I couldn’t eat any more, and I was happy.
To get to the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge, I took an early morning flight from Newark through Atlanta, which got me into Baton Rouge in the early afternoon. I took an Uber to downtown (only about $15 from the airport), checked into my hotel (The Hampton Inn & Suites Baton Rouge), and headed straight to the expo (an easy but cold 5 block walk). The expo was housed in a huge convention center, and while it wasn’t actually a big expo (it had a few places selling t-shirts and things, but I couldn’t find long socks, for example), it had some pretty good free stuff being handed out. Over the weekend, I got more nice free stuff at this race than at any other race I can remember, including 2 free t-shirts (not including the race shirts!), multiple hand sanitizers, a phone charger, earbuds, lip balm, sunglasses, a can koozie, and mini Body Glide. And we haven’t even gotten to the race food yet!
After wandering the small expo, I bought some groceries from the small grocery store across from the hotel, then headed back to my room to rest before popping out for a quick takeout meal from Raising Cain’s Chicken Fingers (OMG so good). Basically, all I had done so far in Louisiana was eat, and that trend would continue for the weekend.
I kicked off the actual running portion of the Louisiana Marathon weekend with the 5K race on Saturday. It had the same start/finish line as the full, so it was a good practice run for the next day. The Hampton Inn was only about 3 blocks away and it took me no time to get to the start, which was much appreciated since it was unusually cold that weekend (low-30s on Saturday, mid-20s on Sunday! – that’s -4 for my Celsius fans!).
Even though it was cold, it felt so good to run outside. The three miles flew by and soon I was being handed a medal (just as nice as I had hoped!) and was free to start consuming my 6 servings of food and/or drink. The selection and quantity of food, especially for a 5K/10K, was astounding. The best part was that even though it was literally freezing outside, the food was served so piping hot, it would burn your mouth if you weren’t careful. I scarfed down 5 servings of food, plus extra (several items were being handed out “for free” without counting against your 6 servings – there was no way to go hungry after this race!). I was so happy stuffing my face that I kept texting photos and exclamations of my joy to my cute PT, who was concerned I’d eat myself sick. Little did he know that all the time I’d saved by not running had been spent training to eat! Eventually I had to pull the plug and head back to my hotel because I was simply too cold, and I knew I had a longer race and more food ahead of me the next day. I left one serving of food/drink unclaimed! 😮
After cleaning up and warming up at the hotel, I headed out again to visit the Louisiana Art & Science Museum just across from the expo. I’ll admit I got distracted by the huge marathon food truck festival they had set up in the street between the expo and the museum. I wandered up and down the row of tacos and BBQ and burgers before settling on a blueberry cake donut covered in a thick sugar glaze ($1). It was amazing.
The next delight of the day was at the museum – it was only $9 for admission which included an unlimited number of planetarium movies! The museum itself was quite small, but still had enough to kill 30 minutes to an hour, and then I watched two 45-minute planetarium movies (Dream Big: Engineering Our World and Journey to the Stars) and might have stayed for a third (Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West) but I fell asleep during the stars movie and knew I wouldn’t stay awake for the western explorers. On the way back to the hotel I decided to grab a quick light salad dinner at Lava Cantina since I felt like I hadn’t eaten a vegetable in two days – it was the most “meh” food I had all weekend and was served in a deep-fried tortilla bowl which was not mentioned on the menu.
The next morning I got up extra early to put on my costume and make sure I’d be warm enough for the 25 degree day. I ended up wearing 4 thin layers under my thick costume cape and I was glad I did. After a
nutritious breakfast of Little Debby Nutty Bars and yogurt, I headed out to the starting line. There were more people lined up than for the 5K/Quarter the day before (1,300 for the 5K, 500 for the quarter), but it was still only about 3,000 total runners (920 for the full, 2,100 for the half). After a few freezing minutes in the corrals, the cannon boomed and we were off!
It was a surprisingly scenic course, going through some nice neighborhoods and then winding through the LSU campus (including past the tiger cage!) and along a small lake for 7 of the 13 miles. I even ran into my old Marathon Maniac friend around mile 3 – the marathon running community is amazing! Around mile 9 I started struggling as my legs started seizing up from the cold and fatigue, and I was really glad I didn’t have to run a full 26. I had to push myself to finish the 13 miles, but I was once again rewarded with a really nice (even bigger!) spinner/bottle-opener medal and 6 servings of hot food and/or cold beer.
After standing in a long line to claim my crawfish tray (the “Deja Vu” Award for running both Saturday and Sunday – disappointingly it was made of plastic and not metal!) I decided to head back to the hotel to shower and change into my warmest gear before claiming all my food. I’m glad I did, as I was warm and dry and could really focus on what was important that weekend – the food!
As I was enjoying the sunshine and the many, many food offerings, they announced the winners of the costume contest. 3rd prize to the Hulk, 2nd prize to the snail, and 1st prize to… the Mad Hatter?! 😐 Look, I saw the Hulk and the Mad Hatter, and I saw the zebra, the kid with ET, a bird/turtle thing, two unicorns, a Spiderman, and some other costumed runners, and I can tell you that the costume contest was a total rook. At mile 2 they’d call you over to do a mini-interview, and they’d ask you your name and where you were from, and I swear all the winners ended up being local Louisiana state people. I didn’t see the snail (I couldn’t even find pictures of the snail!), but I can tell you the Hulk was definitely not better than anything else I saw out there, and I’m pretty sure not better than this:
I’ll admit I was pretty upset not to win, especially after I had spent so much money and effort putting together the costume and had so many people calling out to me on the course. But then I ate a huge sausage roll and a banana and got a free t-shirt, and started feeling a little bit better. (Although I just spent a silly amount of time looking through the race photos to find other costumed runners, and now I’m mad for the taco – she was robbed.)
Overall, despite not winning the costume contest, and despite not actually crossing Louisiana off my 50 States Marathon quest, the Louisiana Marathon weekend was a really fun weekend, and I’m not too disappointed I’ll have to come back and do it again someday.
Thinking of running the Louisiana Marathon?
This was only the 7th year of the Louisiana Marathon, and yet they have so many sponsors and such a huge festival feeling to the weekend, it seems like a long-running institution! There were only 920 full marathoners and 2,135 halfers, but the course was fairly crowded until the half/full split around mile 11. There were no starting corrals, just one long chute, so you had to rely on people self-seeding themselves by pace, which we know never really works.
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best. Note this review is based on only running the HALF, and at a slow speed (11:30/mile pace, give or take). Your experience may vary.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 7/10 – Getting there from out-of-state isn’t that easy, since Baton Rouge is not a major airport and you’ll probably have to fly through somewhere else, or you’ll have to drive up from New Orleans (1.5 hour drive). Once you’re there, however, the expo, hotels, and start/finish are all within easy walking distance so you don’t need a car (and maybe don’t even need to use a porta potty, since the hotels are so close!).
- Staying There – 9/10 – I stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Baton Rouge Downtown, which was a bit pricey for a mid-level hotel ($570 for 3 nights, taxes included) but the location could not be beat – 5 blocks to expo, 3 blocks to start/finish – so close I could go back to shower/change before the finish festivities! And while my room was not a suite, it did have a mini-fridge and a microwave, and the hotel offered a free early breakfast which I never ended up partaking (it was maybe the only food I didn’t eat in all of Baton Rouge).
- Cost & Registration – 9/10 – It cost $135 for the Deja Vu package (5K and Full Marathon) and then I paid another $11 to drop down to the Half. That got me two short-sleeve race shirts (unisex, but thin, soft, and long, without many logos, and I love them), two nice spinner medals, free race photos(!!!), and 6 servings of food and/or drink after each race (if purchased separately, the 6 servings were $18 each day). And of course a closed-course route with on-course support (water and Powerade about every 1-2 miles). There were also a lot of freebies at the expo and finish festival (e.g. more t-shirts and random swag). Overall a good value.
- Organization – 9/10 – It was a well-organized weekend that really felt a lot bigger than the 3,000 some half and full marathon runners would normally warrant. I really appreciated the rotating schedule of food so the earlier finishers wouldn’t be able to eat all the food before the later finishers got there. I also didn’t use bag check since my hotel was so close, but it seemed to run smoothly and I could have easily dropped something off right before the start.
- Course – 8/10 – I don’t know what the full marathon route was like, but the first half was surprisingly scenic. There were some long stretches on concrete, so it was a little tough on the joints, but there were quite a few trees and nice areas to look at, and it was mostly flat!
- Crowd – 6/10 – There weren’t many spectators but there were a few sections where they were out there with king cake and donuts and mimosas! The food offerings plus the fact that it was so cold earns the sparse crowd a few extra points.
- Other Factors – 5/10 – Despite Baton Rouge having gone through a bit of a revival, the downtown felt pretty dead. However, the race itself puts on enough events over the weekend that it’s worth going just for that.
- Overall Rating – 9/10 – The scenic half, the fact that the race does so much for the weekend (2 days of running and eating!), the sheer amount of food and the really nice post-race atmosphere earns this one of my highest ratings yet! I might have been swayed since I only had to run 13 and not 26 miles, but I do think this is one of the better races I’ve run in the USA.
Have you ever visited Baton Rouge? Do your legs cramp up in the cold? What’s your favorite Southern food? Share in the comments!