It’s not often, at least for me, that all the aspects of training come together so beautifully as to produce a better-than-expected result. This time around, the Rock & Roll New Orleans Half Marathon did exactly that. This bucket-list-worthy race proved that after two and a half years of patience and hard work, I can still PR in my mid-40s.

This was such an amazing weekend in a beautiful city full of character (and characters), meeting wonderful new friends, and performing in one of my best run races in almost a year.

Going into this race, I had the minimum satisfactory goal, which was to beat my Ogden Half Marathon time, set in May of 2019, of 2:17:42. I didn’t really think much beyond that, because I wasn’t sure how much better than that I could do. Normally, I have more specific goals than that. My A goal usually stretches my suspension of disbelief, and my B goal is the, “yeah, I’m happy with that.” This time around they were kind of reversed. My A goal was to beat Ogden — something that seemed almost guaranteed, B goal was to go sub-2:15. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could do that. My all-time half PR is 2:12:59, and my ultimate goal is sub-2:10…someday…maybe, I just knew that wasn’t happening in New Orleans.

My Garmin Forerunner 235 charged and programmed, I was in bed at a decent hour after an amazing dinner. I was up earlier than most folks would probably like, but I wanted to make sure I got enough coffee and a bagel with enough time to “get things moving.” That is the one thing that has been a challenge for long runs and races, and that is having to stop…sometimes more than once. I left the hotel to walk down to Lafayette Square. It was amazing to see so many runners and so much color!

I had a little nervous energy during my warm up and waiting in the corrals. I didn’t want to overdo it, but I also never know how much is too much when waiting for the race to start. I was a bit chilled, but had a ditchable layer that kept me warm while waiting.

When the race started, I had lots of room to move around for the first mile. I felt like it was a bit of a struggle to get moving, but by the middle of the second mile, I found a groove. It was a few seconds faster than I had programmed across the first five miles, but it felt comfortable, so I stuck to it. The out and back for the first 7-8 miles was beautiful — running through the neighborhoods under huge trees. I had found a zone with my music and my pace, and I just stuck with what felt good.

Sea level is my favorite. Living and training in the Mile High City of Denver makes such a huge difference when traveling to lower elevation, and I felt fantastic well into the second 5 miles. Weather was cool enough to make it just about perfect, and the cool Gulf breeze kept the air moving in the humid conditions.

The second 5 miles, I was already hitting my target paces, so I decided to just stay where I was — keep that groove, don’t mess with a good thing. When I hit the last 5k, I wanted to get consistently under 10 minute miles, but I was struggling to stay at 10:10. I was okay with it, though, because I wanted something left for the final kick.

Course support and cheering was so much fun while out in the neighborhoods. Whole families were out cheering, and high-fiving. As we got through the French Quarter, there was so much support and fun stuff happening on the course. The last 5k was another gorgeous stretch with beautiful and colorful homes.

Bands were fun, but it’s something I’ve always found more of a distraction with Rock and Roll events. You only hear about 30 seconds of music, it’s not always high-energy running music, and it’s loud…I find it throws me off a bit.

Coming over the bridge and into City Park, I was kind of confused. I was looking for the finish line, but couldn’t see it. It was when I started rounding the monument that I realized how close I really was to the finish line. I switch over to my favorite last song, and kicked into high gear. Emotions started running high, as I started to near the finish line, but I didn’t know what my time was in that moment. I was just so happy with how I had run. I embraced the discomfort, and ran through the finish line with the most amazing high. I vaguely remember stopping my watch, and somehow taking my medal, but I definitely remember seeing Coach Christine. It was then I realized what had just happened. I looked at my watch, gasping for air, and speechless anyway. I showed Christine my Garmin. She had enough excitement for both of us, because I was done.

I had no idea what I had just done.
  • Goal 1: Beat Ogden Half (5/17/18) 2:17:42  
  • Official Results: 2:14:31
  • Overall place: 2474/7483 top 33%
  • Division (F 45-49): 112/636 top 17%
  • Gender Ranking: 1226/4777 top 25%

Later that morning, I realized a couple of things. This is my second fastest Half of all time. This is my 40s PR. I beat Ogden. This was my fastest half since Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2015.

While I was pretty much focused inward on my music and my pace, whenever I paid attention to the other runners around me, I found myself continually passing people. On only a couple of occasions did I have runners overtake me. I feel like I was passing dozens of runners per mile, which is very much new to me. Normally, I feel like I’m just in the way…that so many runners will pass me at the start. This time, I didn’t even notice.

Also, crunching the numbers above, this is the best placement I’ve had in any field. Top 17% in my division?! Hello!! Top third overall?!?! WOW!

Another thing I noticed that I’m really proud of — probably the most proud of, actually — is that I didn’t hit a wall. I sustained a solid pace throughout, and instead of breaking down in the last few miles, I had gas in the tank to increase speed to the finish. I’m not sure I could have given more at the end, except for maybe realizing sooner how close I was to the finish. I had no aches or pains at all throughout the race. I was well hydrated, well nourished, well rested, and I felt like the planets aligned for me on race day.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day, a better course, or a better race. And to top it all off, my coach was right there at the finish line.

Heather Jergensen

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