The 2016 Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon was my second race with the Rock N Roll series of racing events, the first being the 2013 Rock N Roll USA Half Marathon in Washington, DC. I hit up that race back in 2013 and walked away mostly satisfied, but with significant issues in regard to the race. Were those issues still present three years later and in another locale? Were there other factors that affected my enjoyment and appreciation of the event? What negative bullet points are going to be brought up today as Hokeyblog tackles RnR New Orleans? Are we on the verge of a ruthless dissection and evisceration, the likes of which would give Ivan The Terrible a scintilla of pause?
Nope. Not really. In fact, the 2016 Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon emerged as one of my favorite races of all time. Certainly of the eleven marathons I’ve run at the time of this writing, it ranks up there as one of the best. Maybe THE best? Who knows? It’s got some serious competition. But this race is one I simply can’t wait to do again. So let’s skip past the effusive woo-hoo’ism and dive right into exactly how this event left such a positive impact on your humble narrator.
But allow me a moment of indulgence while I brief touch upon the subject of
I had been to New Orleans twice before: a quick weekend in 2001 and a day way back in 1995. I had loved it then, but I barely had time to really soak it in and explore to my heart’s content. This time around, Boots and I had flown in Thursday night and left Monday morning, so while we really didn’t have all the time I wanted to take in the city — three full days, and half of the third day would be taken up with the marathon — we definitely got to see so much of this fantastic treasure. And by “take it in”, I mean “eat all the delicious foods”. Oh sure, we took in the French Quarter, the Garden District, the commercial sector, cruised up and down the Mississippi River on an evening jazz cruise, traversed Bourbon Street on a wicked awesome Friday night, witnessed an impromptu Bernie Sanders Supporters street parade, shopped, explored, everything.
I even did a 5 mile shakeout run that took me up the banks of Mississippi, through the French Quarter having ZERO IDEA where I was heading, and back again past playful puppies, homeless Millennials, and public art displays on one of the most thrillingly entertaining morning runs I’ve done in a while.
But let’s talk fresh, genuine, delicious Gator Bites and Bourbon Pecan Pie from the Oceana Grill:
Pork Belly Sliders, Waffle Fries with homemade cheese sauce and pickled jalapenos, and the Maple Bacon Doughnut at District: Donuts Sliders Brew:
The Crawfish Omelette, Breakfast Ham, and Chicory Coffee at Mother’s:
Beignets, Hot Chocolate, and Coffee at Cafe Du Monde:
And why not wash it all down with Abita Louisiana Spiced Ale?
Oh there was so much more, but I’ve already shorted out my Bluetooth keyboard from all le drooling… let’s swap that out and get on to the race proper. And there’s no better place to start than with:
The Expo was held at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center which, rather blissfully, was a five-minute walk from our hotel, the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. This is a completely unsolicited endorsement gang, but ZOMG go stay there if you’re visiting. Great, great place to stay. Anyway, we walked over Friday morning, getting there at 11 AM only to realize the Expo didn’t open until noon. So we spent some time clowning around…
Eventually we noticed a rather sizable line gathering by the entrance, so we moseyed on over and took our place. Finally the doors swung opened at noon and, rather quickly and in an orderly fashion, we were inside and shuttled directly over to packet pickup.
A few minutes later, I had my bib in hand, and was ready to luxuriate about the expo. I first started with the race merch, where I ended up purchasing a race jacket and commemorative tech shirt. You don’t want to know how much I paid for that race jacket, but I really dug it: blue with gray around the shoulders and white trim. Pretty sharp!
After paying for our stuff, we randomly bumped into my friend Beth from Discombulated Running.
Check out the new jacket! Anyway you might remember Beth from my review of the Best Damn Race Safety Harbor Half Marathon. She drafted me into handing out 5K medals at the Finish Line. The girl’s got a mean headlock.
Anyway we cavorted about, sampled the free stuff, picked up some Gu and KT Tape, and generally putzed around until we were done. I will say that the Expo was pretty sizable and had anything you needed or accidentally left at home or both.
Afterward, Boots, Cass, Jaret, and I took a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour of the city and had a super fun time killing the afternoon off with sightseeing, doughnuts, sliders, beers, and other assorted goodies. We grabbed dinner that night on Bourbon Street where we met the rest of our crew (Awesome Running Buddy Kristi, Ines, Mark, Richard, Mare, Sarah, Puneet) and made it our mission not to drink TOO much, two nights before a marathon.
For the sake of brevity let’s skip over the following day (Saturday) entirely, except to say it consisted of a lot more sightseeing, eating, and hydrating like crazy. Especially after that Friday night. Boots and I skipped the team dinner in favor of Room Service and an early bedtime, thanks to my favorite palindromic sleep aid. With a 5:30 alarm set, this finally brings us to:
The alarm went off promptly, and bounding out of bed I went. This was definitely a low-stress morning; the race was starting at 7:30, and the hotel was a five-minute walk away from the Start Area on Poydras. Our local run club Friends In Training was meeting at the lobby for team pics at about 6:30, so this gave us plenty of time to get ready. I had taped up my ankles the previous night and already pinned my bib on, assembled all my race gear and supplements, and generally had everything prepared for that morning.
So all I had to do was freshen up, shave, get dressed, eat my pre-race breakfast, and mosey on downstairs for the team photo… which I’ll share with you now:
Kristi and I were continuing our theme for the year, so this time we both were dressed up by The Fastest Man Alive:
And say! Here’s my buddy Helen the Raging Egomaniac, brandishing Puneet’s Big Stick:
The walk to the Start Line was a straight shot down Poydras. It was a cool (but not cold) morning, clear and breezy and free from humidity. In other words, a perfect day for running. Temperatures were in the low/mid 50s, but I was feeling perfectly comfortable in a tech shirt and shorts. Kristi, on the other hand, was bracing for the tundra.
Anyway here are some shots of interest, starting with the walk down Poydras:
Waiting with some of the gang:
And once I got to my corral, who did I found waiting behind me but members of the WDW Radio Running Team! I could tell not only by their striking blue shirts but by their inimitable recitation of the Hokey Pokey (with accompanying dance). I chatted up with a few of their members for a spell, then insisted that I grab a picture of them:
I was told that Lou was going to be cheering somewhere around Mile 9. I made a mental note of this. More to come later…
More Start corral shots here:
And then there was this girl:
Throw in the usual Dorky Start Line Selfie:
And finally we reached the front:
At long last, at 7:51 AM, we passed the Start Line, hit our Garmins, and to the rockin’ sounds of some band I’ve completely forgotten about as I type this because I am getting older and dopier by the second, Team Flash hit the road and began our 26.2 mile sojourn. The 2016 Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon had begun!
Say! Why not take a look at the race course, courtesy of Google Maps and my beloved Garmin 920XT:
After crossing the Start Line on Poydras, we turned on Loyola and then headed riverside on Howard. Hitting St. Charles Avenue, the course took us upriver for 3 miles, into the Garden District, reaching the turnaround at Loyola University just past Calhoun Street. We trekked downdriver on St. Charles, continuing onto Magazine Street and then Tchoupitoulas Street as we re-entered the Central Business Distrct. We continued downdriver on St. Peters, passing Canal St. into the legendary French Quarter. Just before Mile 10, the course turned lakeside down Esplanade Avenue for about 3 miles.
The Marathoners split off from the Half Marathoners at the corner of City Park, embarking on a two-mile trek up and back Carrollton Avenue. The next four miles were spent running around the perimeter of City Park, turning lakeside on St. Bernard Avenue for a five-mile out-and-back loop through the hoity-toity Lake Terrace-Oaks neighborhood, right along the shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain. Upon returning to St. Bernard, the remaining three miles took us upriver on Wisner Boulevard, turning back into City Park to the Finish Line on Roosevelt Mall Street inside the park.
I can’t stress enough how much I loved this course.
You can argue that the first half of the marathon is more scenic and interesting than the second half, and I won’t dispute that assertion. There were nearly 11,600 runners participating in the Half, with only 3,600 running the Full. So it would make logical sense to have the sweet spots of the Garden District and French Quarter occur during the first 13 miles. And quite honestly, what a way to start a race. It was such a cool, clear, beautiful morning that by the time we got to St. Charles Avenue, everything from the architecture, the crowd support, the oaks with their hanging moss, the beads in the trees, all of it combined with great running conditions created such a magnificent high.
Kristi and I agreed ahead of time to run the race for fun, not time — to stop for pics, to have fun, to not worry about pace or PRs or finish time or none of that mishegas. And that was a good thing, because Kristi wasn’t feeling it that day. Lack of sleep and a crappy dinner the night before caught up with her, so we were taking it easy. And that was fine too, because I wanted to savor in every moment I possibly could. And we did.
It warmed up quickly (but never felt all that hot), so Kristi changed out of her long-sleeved shirt into her tank. I graciously offered to tuck her shirt into my Flip Belt, which is why most of the race pics look like I’ve got some weird red bandanna hanging out of it. Anyway down St. Charles we went, past the mansions, the streetcar tracks, and everything… and then we hit the most magical moment of the first five miles. Some awesome locals were handing out King Cake to all the runners. KING CAKE. At Mile 5. I should have stopped for a picture, but I was too busy scarfing it down to notice. It was heavenly — moist, sweet, decadently delicious, and the sudden influx of sugars and carbs and happy goodness that comes from King Cake gave me a huge boost of energy that never abated for the entire duration of the Marathon.
We turned around at Loyola University, and began the trek back to the Central Business District. My only complaint about St. Charles Avenue was that the street wasn’t exactly the most evenly paved surface for running. There was nothing truly dangerous or detrimental about the pavement, but you definitely had to keep a more mindful notice of your foot strike than usual. Other than that, it was a fun run back to the Business District. The support of the crowd was simply amazing. While the hydration stations were well-staffed with water and Gatorade, along with porto-potties pretty much when you needed them, a local pastor was outside offering the use of his church’s indoor bathrooms, air conditioning, water fountains, everything. Wow. I was really getting into the spirit of this run.
Here are some photos from St. Charles/Garden District:
By Mile 8 we were on Magazine Street, heading towards the business district. We crossed under the Pontchartrain Expressway, to the cheering throngs of what I assume were local kids/students. High-fives aplenty!
This being a Rock N Roll race, there were bands playing at several of the mile markers. Not to be outdone, a group of bagpipers were stationed in front of the World War II Museum, providing even more entertainment. We stopped and listened for a spell:
I then bumped into Boots at the turn onto Julia Street. She was snapping pics of all our run club buddies, which of course gave me this opportunity to grandstand (and inadvertently block most pics of Kristi. Oops…)
I smooched Boots for luck and ran on. But just then something pretty magical happened! Ironically, it involved a handcrafted wooden boot. I’ll let Boots herself explain it in her own words:
I received the Boot from Papa Don after he saw me cheer for a bunch of FIT friends. Once you passed by, he approached me and asked me if you were my husband. I said “I certainly hope so”! He asked if we were local, since I seemed to be cheering for a lot of people. I then told him that we were a big group from Ft. Lauderdale. He then gave me the Boot and his card that reads, “You’ve been officially ‘booted’ by Papa Don and Gigi. Membership Fee to be booted is to be kind to someone today.” He said that he goes to a few races and hands out some boots. They’re very limited, each hand carved by him and then painted by Gigi. After Cassandra passed, he also gave one to Jaret. They have a Facebook page called “Have you been booted by Papa Don and Gigi“.
Just another amazing moment of the day.
Let’s move on! Just past Mile 9, I spotted our buddy Lou Mongello from the WDW Radio podcast. And because I don’t stalk him enough at Run Disney races, I had to run over, grab a handshake and a sweaty hug (the sweaty ickyness courtesy of yours truly), and of course pose for a selfie:
Now we were heading downriver on Peters, moving into the French Quarter. This was easily the most fun, festive portion of the race. And man was I just TOTALLY INTO this race. We were running slower than usual but steadily and happy, enjoying every moment of it. I even stopped to pose with the Cute Athletic Girls with the Black Signs:
This stretch on Peters and Decatur through the French Quarter was simply loaded with cheering spectators, music, energy, and excitement. Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral looked radiant that morning, and I totally could have jumped into Cafe Du Monde for another beignet or five. I resisted the urge to tear off running and kept it at our steady pace, and stopped often for pics. Here are some highlights from this section:
The only time the race ever started to feel a little crowded was when we turned lakeside onto Esplanade Avenue. The uneven pavement aside, it was a bit elbow-to-elbow on this stretch. Not uncomfortably or dangerously so, but by now you really needed to be paying attention more than ever. It didn’t make the race any less fun, though. Especially when the local Hasher dudes were manning their hydration station in drag, or when the Disco Amigos were blasting out those funky polyester hits of yesteryear:
And look! We even managed to bump into Cass right around Mile 11, which of course necessitated a group selfie:
Here are a few more Esplanade highlights, like this shot of our tree-lined course:
Some local color:
And a big inflatable arch featuring Jesus on the double-neck!
Mile 12 split off the Marathoners from the rest of the pack, and as usual in this case, the road suddenly became wide open, quieter, spacious, and a bit more comfortable. This feeling of serenity was compounded by the crowd support during the out-and-back on Carrollton Avenue. During this amazing portion of the race, the locals graciously offered all of the following (of which I partook of all of it):
- M & Ms
- Pixie Sticks
- JELLO SHOTS
- VODKA MARTINIS
Yes, you read all of that right. You might think a vodka martini at around the halfway portion of a marathon might seem a bit antithetical to solid, practical race experience. You’d be so wrong in this case. So very wrong!
The next four miles took us slightly through and mostly around City Park (the site of the Finish Line and After Party), so we could already see the Half Marathoners returning to the buses with their medals on, hands full of snacks, beers, etc. Was I envious? Nah. I was getting twice as much race at the same price. Hah! I almost bought that… Anyway this stretch was probably the least interesting portion of the race, but at least it was serene, quiet, often scenic, and entirely comfortable and enjoyable. It was definitely more on the pastoral side, which was nice. I was worried that we might have ended up running through warehouse districts or dumpy commercial areas on the outskirts of the city, but that wasn’t the case. This was almost entirely parkland.
For the record, I should have donated a dollar to a local charity every time someone called out “Go Flash! Go Lady Flash! Go Team Flash!” etc. Of course that didn’t stop one sweet-faced soccer mom who pointed at Kristi and told her daughter, “Look there goes Wonder Woman! and Wonder Man!!”
WONDER MAN?! WONDER FREAKIN’ MAN?!! Mein lieber gott…
Right around mile 18 we started the five-mile out-and-back stretch that took us away from the park and past the Lake Terrace-Oaks neighborhood, right on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. This portion of the race featured plenty of crowd support, hydration, DJs, and other such entertainment and diversions, but you could tell by the looks on the runners’ faces that this area could easily have been called “Hit The Wall Central”. It seemed like a pretty sizable out-and-back, the type of which that causes the runners heading outbound to beg the runners heading inbound about how much further, Papa Smurf. This was compounded by a few rolling hills in the form of small overpasses. Personally, I didn’t think it was bad at all. I thought the view by the Lake was refreshing, the homes were pretty freakin’ stunning, and I was so into the moment I started dancing to the DJ music.
And. I. Never. Dance.
And there I was, running and doing the fershluggin Cha-Cha Slide at the same time. Blasphemy.
Here are some highlights, starting with our first incline of the day:
One of the ramshackle hovels in the neighborhood:
Posing by the lake:
Meeting up for a selfie with our buddy Katarina:
And THIS GUY, who cut the course by about two miles by crossing the street (prematurely cutting over from outbound runners to inbound runners) around mile 19.5ish. There were witnesses. Several people booed loudly. Without turning around, he just raised his hand and waved them off. I won’t ever fink anybody out but, on the other hand, I am a snarky blogger. So here is the dude:
Heading back down the incline towards the final four miles:
Our patriotic cheer squad/hydration station:
A turn onto Wisner Boulevard brought us to Mile 23, meaning we had little more than a 5K to go. And I decided to celebrate this with Kristi as follows:
HOKEYBOY: “That’s it! Mile 23!”
HOKEYBOY: “This means we have little more than a 5K to go…”
THE CHEATING GUY FROM THAT PICTURE UP THERE: (eavesdropping and interrupting) “Yeah, but that’s a 5K after we already ran 23 miles, ha ha ha!”
HOKEYBOY: (pause) “Well, some of us did…”
This really, really happened. I swear. Again: there were witnesses. Cheating Guy didn’t get the hint/intimation at all. Kristi almost turned purple from laughing so hard. Smug and sanctimonious? Absolutely. Perfectly timed? Yup. Sometimes I still got it…
Anyway, Kristi stopped to use a porto near Mile Marker 24, next to one of the band stages. There was a country/bluegrass band playing at the time, but sure enough next to me was the next band to go onstage: a KISS tribute band! I’m a long, long, LONG time Kiss fan (since the 1978 solo albums) so I had to get a pic with these guys.
Sadly, I don’t QUITE think they’ll ever be physically mistaken for the real deal. But they were friendly enough. Wish I could have heard them play.
The remaining two miles were pretty straightforward. We re-entered City Park on Harrison Avenue and pushed towards the Finish Line. Here’s where the “Go Team Flash!!” cheers were really in abundance, and I was loving it. We even got effusively complimented on our costumes by a smokin’ hot woman I can only describe as Sexy Asian MILF in Skintight Running Attire What Was Making All The Boys Drool. Yes, I am that much of a total pig but I nonetheless appreciated the love for our theme.
Boots, Cassandra, Jaret, and Ines were waiting around the bend from the Finish Line. Boots captured the moment nicely:
And after that, it was a straight shot to the Finish Line. The DJ was blasting Queen and I started dancing again. I think I heard the crowd roar in response, either with utter delight or sheer disgust. Perhaps both? Maybe neither. But we finished and that was it!
With all the picture stops, snack stops, booze stops, stretching stops, dancing and what-not, we finished at under six hours. Since I recently PR’ed at 4:47 and Kristi at 4:48 just weeks before, we had nothing to prove on this race but to go out, finish 26.2 miles, and have fun doing it. And believe you me, that we did.
But there was more to be had. First off, we got knighted with our medals and posed for Finisher Pics:
Then we grabbed the requisite chocolate milk, bananas, water, snacks, cookies, bagels, etc., parked it in a quiet, shady area, and partook of our post-race feast while snatching selfies to post to social media. Because we’re lame like that.
Boots snapped that last one. Boy do we look like chowderheads.
There was still MORE, of course. Every Marathon Finisher received a complimentary Marathon Finisher Jacket, and man was this thing sharp. Black and red, with the race logo on the front and MARATHON FINISHER in big white letters on the back. Because runners don’t have enough ego as it is. This thing was pretty sweet, as you can see right here:
The complimentary post-race beer was the god-awful, you’d-be-better-off-with-baboon-sweat-in-a-bottle Michelob Ultra. We called an audible to skip that beer, go back to the hotel bar, and grab an Abita. Thankfully a spectator was handing out big cups of Dos Equis to runners, and we so gladly partook. This guy was a saint. Thanks buddy!
So how can we wrap up this race recap? Hopefully rather quickly, because I’ve blathered on enough and if 4% of you are still reading my words… God bless you for that. You’ve got some vim and vigor. You can’t have the vim without the vigor. They come as a set. See there I go again… OK. The 2016 Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon: awesome, awesome, awesome race. I loved every second of it. The music, the course, the scenery, the weather, the atmosphere, the swag, the spectators, the crowd support, THE KING CAKE, beer, sweets, martinis, hashers in drag, disco stations, DJs, the French Quarter, the Garden District, the friends, excitement, tubby tribute bands, heck even a verbal comeuppance for Cheating Guy! This turned out to be one of my favorite all-time races, and I’ve done over 40 full and half marathons as of this writing (and let’s not even talk 5 and 10Ks). Would I do this race again? IN A HEARTBEAT. Put this one on your calendar, gang. It’s worth it. Go to New Orleans, EAT ALL THE FOODS, DRINK ALL THE DRINKS, then RUN ALL THE MILES. You’ll have the time of your life. Here’s the video: