Pilar Burson, a 36-year-old teacher and assistant volleyball and girls track coach at Teurlings Catholic High School in Lafayette, La., can't wait to run in the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans marathon and half marathon on March 4, which benefits the American Cancer Society.
Burson, the mother of five children who range in ages from 3 to 15, said she has always wanted to run in a half marathon and she can't think of a better event.
It's all about the atmosphere for her. She wants to run through downtown New Orleans with thousands of people and hundreds of volunteers there cheering her on. She's heard about rock and roll bands at various points in the race and constant sounds of music throughout the event, and she wants to feel the beats and rhythms for herself.
It's the constant buzz and hype of running in New Orleans that really has her excited.
"I've heard this race is so much fun," Burson said. "Anytime you are in New Orleans you have fun."
But even though Burson will be having the thrill of doing something that she always wanted to do there is a bigger reason why she is making the more than two hour drive from Lafayette to New Orleans to participate in the race.
This race is for Eleanor.
When Burson learned that her friend, former player and leukemia survivor Eleanor Serrett was going to be one of the pre-race speakers for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society nothing was going to stop her from running.
Burson has known Serrett, a senior at Teurlings Catholic, since she played on the Rebels' volleyball team her freshman year. Serrett played three seasons before sitting out this year because of health problems despite her cancer being in remission for the past nine years.
Burson said Teurlings Catholic has two other students whose leukemia is in remission, but Serrett's infectious spirit stands out the most.
"If there had been any other guest speaker before the race I don't think I would have signed up," Burson said. "Eleanor is a bright light. When I think I'm having a bad day she is a person who will pass me by in the hallway and ask me how it's going and say 'I miss you' and 'I love you,' and she's been to hell and back."
In honor of Serrett, Burson got three other Teurlings Catholic teachers, religion teacher Liz Snyder, Spanish teacher Meredith Hebert and English teacher Carrie Anne Ledet, to join her and create a running team, Running Rebels, for the race. With the help of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training the ladies have been training since October.
Despite having played volleyball and softball in college and run track in high school, the farthest Burson has ever run has been in a 5k race, which is about 3.2 miles. But she has been running 17 miles a week, including four miles on some days, to get ready for the race.
"Sometimes scheduling to run has been tough," Burson said.
But whenever Burson has a bad day or doubts about training all she does is think about what Serrett and other child leukemia survivors and patients have to go through on a daily basis.
"The smallest cold is like the flu to them, but they still have smiles on their faces," Burson said.
The teachers also have set up a team website and individual websites to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Lafayette, have held bake sales and even had a local store to help them with donations.
Burson said she just wants to support Serrett any way she can.
"My thought was that there was no way she was going to get up and speak in front of all of those people without us there to support her," Burson said.
It is the spirit of runners like Burson and her running team that drive the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, which took over the old Mardi Gras marathon in 2009.
The race has had its participation grow each year since it has been incorporated into the Rock 'n' Roll marathon series. Race spokesman Dan Cruz said there are expected to be 20,000 participants in this year's race.
The race will feature a new course that starts on Poydras Street along St. Charles Avenue and through the French Quarter to City Park. It also winds along Lakeshore Drive adjacent to Lake Pontchartrain.
"The Rock 'n' Roll marathon series is a destination driven running series, and our growth over the Mardi Gras Marathon can be attributed both to our brand and the city of New Orleans allure to visitors for the culture, cuisine and flat/fast course," said Malain McCormick, event director for Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans.
But it's the music and the atmosphere that set the race apart from others. There will be bands and live music interspersed throughout the course and at the end of the race will be "Finish Line Festival" complete with music—including recently announced headliner Rockin' Dopsie & The Zydeco Twisters— food and local vendors.
"The city of New Orleans has no shortage of talent for these (bands) on course locations, and the runners have the pleasure of running to a true New Orleans soundtrack," McCormick said.
And that's just what Burson is expecting.
The buzz, feel and flavor of New Orleans will give her the energy that she needs to make it through the race and take her mind off of the troubles that she knows cancer patients and survivors like Eleanor face on a daily basis.
"The community really comes to embrace these events," he said.
And there will be four special teachers running for one special teenager who plan to make the marathon the experience of a lifetime.
To register for the marathon, half-marathon or half-relay, visit Competitor.com.
Race weekend will kick off with a free health and fitness expo at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center on March 2 and 3. More than 60 exhibitors and retailers will feature the latest health and nutrition information with a variety of products for sale and sample as well as free fitness related clinics.
Also returning is the ING Kids Rock grades k-7 fun run in City Park on March 3. To register, visit INGKidsRock.com