What better way to celebrate New Orleans’ 300th anniversary than to run a Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series half marathon! Humana #RnRNOLA has got to be one of the most, if not the most, colorful race weekends out there. And the most energetic. And the most beaded. Earlier this month, those colors, that energy, and of course those beads were in their full, enchanting display on race weekend.
It might seem odd for a city known for amazing food and drink to attract a bunch of runners to town – I had more than one cab and ride-share driver remark, “y’all aren’t the usual crowd” – but really, there’s no better place to celebrate a race finish with a sazerac than in the city that invented the drink.
New Orleans is a city I was aiming to get back to for a race since I first ran #RnRNOLA in 2011. Back then, it was only my seventh half marathon, and my third Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series event. This year’s edition marked my 64th half marathon (54th RnR half), and it was amazing to be able to run there again. It’s such a unique place to run – from the history, to the food, to the people. Folks from New Orleans have an immense pride for their city. They’re so gracious and welcome runners to town to enjoy a beautiful course that shows off some of the best parts of the city and celebrate in a city that truly knows how.
Run to NOLA: For course perks
Here’s the great news: this course is actually flat, fast, and below sea level, so you can expect a happy finish time. But not only that, the music along the course is unique to the city and some of the most dynamic you will hear at any race. ‘Kingfolk’ standing on the bed of a pick-up truck playing vibrant New Orleans jazz while shouting and whooping it up with runners as they pass by? Yes please! (The speakers in the new mile markers signs? You have to hear them! Especially when you hear a song again along the way, like it’s your own soundtrack following you.)
In addition to music, how about looking up and seeing the historical and beautiful architecture of the surrounding churches, buildings, and homes? If you keep looking up, you’ll also see beads just about everywhere.
This year featured new signs for water, gatorade and SiS gel support. I’d heard about these coming up but until you experience them you can’t begin to know how helpful they are. First, they’re super obvious from down the way, so you can navigate your way through the crowd more effectively, making the flow of runner traffic was much smoother.
In addition, seeing the signs up ahead allowed me to finish a gel or make a thoughtful decision about water – yes or no? And if yes, which side? And also if yes, how much? This meant that I managed my fueling far better, which I know helped keep my pace and energy consistent. These signs were a game changer.
As always, there was also stellar volunteer support at water and gel stations. The volunteers worked so hard to make sure we had access to the support we needed. Their determined commitment made all of us shout out THANK YOU to as many of them as we could as we ran by.
Run to NOLA: For a PR
Here’s the thing, the personal record I set here seven years ago is still my PR. I had aspirations of aiming for that time again, and ended my 2017 race season on an upswing, so why not dream big? Unfortunately, the flu and pneumonia got in the way in January and February, so I had to shift my goal a bit. This you can do in NOLA; it’s a low risk, high reward kind of race. Also, with this being the first of 12 half marathons for me this year, I decided to use it as a way to kick the tires and test what my body was capable of at the moment. Within the first few miles, I thought, “hmmm, if I fight for every second I can on this course, I might just beat ALL of last year’s race finish times.”
And so you take in the amazing runners in sequined skirts, green, purple, and gold shirts, and sunglasses beaming throughout the course. Along the way you might see the woman running backwards, the two guided blind runners inspiring everyone around them, women’s running pioneer Kathrine Switzer, or Darth Vader wearing a Saints hat cheering people along. And the spectators! New Orleans might just have some of the best out there. So loud, so fun, and so delighted to see us running towards them.
Run to NOLA: For the Finish Line Festival
How could the Finish Line Festival in City Park not be amazing, it’s New Orleans, c’mon! There were even food trucks nearby and I’ve never seen so many runners lined up for delicious offerings with Soul Offerings and Cowboy Mouth raging on stage. That afternoon and evening, after everyone had crossed their finish lines, the bars and restaurants were buzzing with runners eating and drinking their way through the city; it was easy to spot them, as they had a slight wobble in their giddyup and big smile on their faces.
As for me? Just running along St. Charles Avenue and Magazine Street, down by the Mississippi river and St Louis Cathedral, past Café du Monde, up onto Esplanade Avenue, and entering into City Park past the huge fountains was worth the travel and the training. And yes, I pushed myself because I could and because the course allowed it. Happily, I crushed ALL 10 of last year’s finish times by nearly three minutes. I couldn’t have done it without the New Orleans course and the Rock ’n’ Roll support.
Happy 300th Birthday New Orleans. Laissez les bon temps rouler indeed!