Disclaimer: The following review is based upon a mid-pack, slower, 40-something runner who loves the food, culture, and people of South Louisiana. So, not very objective IMO; your experience may vary.
As always, THANK YOU to my husband George for being my support and cheerleader and to Coach Jennifer Lynn of Desert Endurance Multisport Coaching for being patient, kind, and getting me ready!
Last Saturday I ran the Houma Heart and Soles Half Marathon. First question I know you’re thinking: Where is Houma? To which, I always say, go to New Orleans, and drive southwest. If you reach the swamp or the Gulf, you’ve gone to far. And, yes, this is LSU Country, which is considered a religion (Geaux Tigers!). Second question: How do you pronounce Houma? One thing to know about South Louisiana is that Hooked on Phonics does not work here. Nothing is pronounced the way it is spelled. For example, Natchitoches (a town on the Louisiana/Texas border) is pronounced KNACK-uh-dish, while Tchoupitoulas (the lake north of New Orleans) is pronounced CHOP-uh-two-lass. Following this logic, Houma is pronounced HOME-uh (notice the common denominator of the sound “uh.”). My husband grew up here and we return to visit family, especially during holidays. I saw this Half Marathon listed on RunninginUSA.com and thought that I’ve never run a race here, so why not?
Here is the map of the Half Marathon Route. If it looks like it was drawn by someone who had one too many Hurricanes (as in the ultra-yummy cocktail, not Katrina), it probably was. Ha! Cajuns love their booze and parties! In reality, all city planning is dictated by waterways. In fact, I think there are actually five directions in Louisiana–North, South, East, West, and the River. Therefore, there is no rhyme nor reason to the way cities are laid out, with the exception of THE RIVER (Mississippi) and random Bayous (smaller rivers). Hence the crazy course route.
George and I drove the course the night before, which was a good thing because the course was marked only by sprayed painted arrows on the pavement and that was it! I was also concerned because race management stressed looking at the map and “knowing” the course prior to the race. Yeah, right. I would have never found my way home, no way no how.
Houma Heart And Soles is a Half Marathon and 5K walk/run. All proceeds go toward “Free Preventative Cardiovascular Screenings and Education” which is a good thing because all food is fried here. Exhibit A: Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy–UHHHHH-MAZING!!
Expo/Packet pick-up: As I found out, this is the only distance running event in this area, so it is a very community and small event. Because of this, there is no expo. In fact, two months prior to the race, I messaged race management on Facebook to ask about packet pick-up. My question was answered almost immediately (great pre-race communication!): Packet pick-up is the day of the event at the Civic Center (start and finish line) as “we find this works the best” and I must agree as packet pick-up went super smoothly– no lines and friendly volunteers.
Parking/Access: The race began and finished at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center–super convenient to where we were staying. Also, had the weather been bad, this would have been a nice place to start and finish as it was all inside. We didn’t have to worry though as the weather was beautiful, except for some strong wind that showed up around mile 4. Anyway, parking was a breeze– we had almost the whole parking lot to ourselves AND we showed up only 30 min before the starting time! The best part though was the bathrooms. I. HATE. PORTA. POTTIES with the intensity of a thousand red hot suns (which would probably be needed to sanitize those suckers). But no worries here! The Civic Center bathrooms were open to participants and what clean bathrooms they were!!! This was the best part of pre-race, hands-down.
The finish line and pre-race “festivities,” by which I mean people standing inside looking at one another wondering if they are going to get lost on the crazy course.
My cheerleaders– awesome husband and amazing mother-in-law. As it turns out, they were the ONLY cheerleaders. For the whole race.
Cost: I paid $50 way back in the Spring of 2016 and I got a medal, T-Shirt, post-race food, post-race photos, a red carpet finish, and AWESOME bathrooms. I noticed via the results that I was one of 4 people (out of only 70 entries for the half marathon) who was not from the area, much less from out of state. I don’t think this is necessarily a race to travel to; I really can’t guide as far as travel costs, as I stayed with family and flew on points. I will say that Houma is a very cheap place for food and gas, so I would think hotels are reasonable as well. To fly here, the only option is to fly into New Orleans, which is approximately 1 hour away.
Weather: The weather in South Louisiana is hit or miss, at best. We lucked out though as the day was beautiful, with the exception of some reportedly 20 mph winds that came up approximately 40 min into my race. Other than that, the 55 degrees and sunny was awesome for running!
Pre-race: We were shuffled into a waiting area then directed to go to the starting line behind the Civic Center, where we waited for our escorts (as in HPD, Sheriff, and Bayou Cyclists). Chatted with some other friendly participants who were also afraid of getting lost and then we were off!
Starting line convos. Other friendly participants.
Houma’s finest. They made sure we were safe and blocked traffic at intersections. If there is one place in the USA that knows how to manage and block traffic, it’s South Louisiana (think Mardi Gras).
Me starting at the back of the pack with a ridiculous expression making me look like a muppet.
Bayou Cyclists, who were uh-mazing at directing and supporting participants. I asked several times which direction to go and they were very friendly and helpful!
Beginning of the race (mile 1). I included this picture because as you will notice, we ran on the road with traffic next to us. What??? This was the majority of the race, because you will also notice that there is no shoulder to the road and most other roads have ditches next to them. With alligators.
Course: FLAT. FLAT. FLAT. Did I mention it’s flat? Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything else being at sea level. Definitely PR material. The course was marked only with arrows spray painted on the road. I had to ask an HPD officer for directions once and the cycling support twice. That was somewhat annoying (this would be my only suggestion for race management–have course marked better with signs or volunteers or something). Scenery for the majority of the course is nonexistent, as it goes through the town of Houma. The last 5 miles gets better as the course runs along Bayou Black and is really pretty. Water stations were every mile. I wore my hydration vest purely out of habit, but really didn’t need it. I noticed only one porta-potty, but I wasn’t looking and would have to be practically delirious to use one, so there might have been more than one. Crowds were nonexistent; in fact, hubs and mom-in-law were the only ones out cheering for runners (me)! Yay!
Summary of course in pictures:
Mile 2, Mile 3, Mile 4.
Mile 4, Mile 5
Mile 6 cute neighborhood.
Slow your roll. No problem here.
Mile 7 industrial Houma. And yes, I’m the only one on the road.
Mile 7 water tank
Mile 8, now we’re getting into the good scenery. Still the only runner on the road.
Mile 8, grass trees and water, a total novelty to someone from Arizona.
Mile 8 a random Lamborghini parked on the road that we had to run into oncoming traffic to avoid
Mile 9, cane fields and other runners (finally), Bayou Black
Mile 10, beautiful southern home
(No pics of Mile 11 as I was getting bored and tired. I also had to put my phone away as I might be tempted to call Uber to come pick me up. I was also too busy trying not to get hit by a car to take pictures.)
Mile 12, the home stretch
Me finishing and running the red carpet! Final time: 2:19:46. PR city!!!! My hydration vest was a real novelty in a place where they pump water out of, well, everywhere. That’s a corgi on my shirt, BTW.
Post-race: Running up a red carpet was different and cool. This is the race’s trademark, apparently. I usually do not eat or do anything in the post-race festivities, so I’m not sure what kind of goodies were available. I did see volunteers surrounded by Subway bags, so I’m assuming Subway sandwiches were available. I did stick around for the awards ceremony and I admired the awards that were given for a race of this size (acrylic plaques with the Heart and Soles insignia). The emcee of the race/awards ceremony was a former Miss Louisiana who is into health and nutrition, which I think is pretty cool. In fact, it seems race management really thought of everything! Kudos to them!
Me and my AAAAA-MAZING mom-in-law!
Swag/Bling/Shirts: I’m impressed with the medals for this race: High quality, heavy, metal with the Heart and Soles insignia. Shirts were equally as high quality: Black (no white see through!), tech material with Heart and Soles insignia. Not much swag, save some coupons and a plastic cup. Overall, I’m happy with my stuff and thought that it was great for the cost and size of this race!
For some reason I didn’t want to take the medal out of the plastic wrapper.
Would I run this race again? I would if I was in the area visiting family. I’m not sure if I would make a special trip to do this race. That being said, I think race management did an excellent job organizing and putting on a great race!
Due to the location of the race in relationship to where I was staying, general organization, high quality medal/shirt, red carpet finish, race size, overall friendly fun vibe and simply because I am partial to South Louisiana, I give this race four and 1/2 Heart and Soles: