A post in three parts:
Part 2: I’ll admit when I’m wrong: Broader thoughts on the New Orleans Marathon
Part 3: The long weekend that wouldn’t end: Six days in the Crescent City
I chose to run the New Orleans marathon based solely on location and timing. I love the city of New Orleans and look for any excuse to visit; I was in the market for a winter marathon and the timing was right. Simple.
Then I looked at the reviews from marathon guide and got cold feet. Boring course, poorly paved roads, strong headwinds – not exactly the ideal conditions that make for a PR. While I’m not looking for a 10/10 I don’t want to train for months to run a crap marathon.
When I realized that this was a Competitor Group Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon I almost bowed out. I have never run an RnR race before and I convinced myself I never wanted to. Get that Private Equity out of my marathon! Not only is it an affront to the spirit of the marathon – typically local races, run by non-profits to raise money for charities – but I’ve read enough newspaper articles to know that Private Equity firms are comprised of Evil, Greedy Goons that will nickel and dime me every step of the way in order to pad their profits, build huge mansions in Connecticut, pollute the environment and exploit the poor children in Cambodia (probably the Philippines too). Apologies to the many lovely people I know who work in Private Equity. When I signed up for the marathon and they offered a VIP option by which I could pony up more cash to get on the post-race shuttle more quickly, I formed opinions. Strong opinions.
And to be totally honest, as I arrived in New Orleans, I’d already begun to craft a snarky post with a scathing assessment of the race and its organizers…
…But I was wrong. This was a great race in just about every regard.
They got the small things right:
- Expo: I hate expos. They are inconvenient and unnecessary, designed to sell overpriced gear to a captive audience. In short, they are an outdated relic of a land before the internet and overnight mail. Worse, they only survive as a way for the race organizer to monetize me picking up my bib. The best I can say is that the expo was conveniently located and well organized. I was in and out in 10 minutes
- Kit: Another thing I’m not particularly into – I’d rather have stickers. Having said that, the marathon shirts and medals were completely adequate. In a nice touch, they had free lightweight jackets for all finishers. While I plan to donate mine to Goodwill ASAP, I still appreciated the thought!
They got the big things right:
- Course: Okay, so the course wasn’t the most beautiful I’ve run. But it avoided just about all of the negatives I’d read about on-line. The roads were adequately paved. There wasn’t significant congestion. We didn’t even run into any nasty headwinds. It’s a New Orleans marathon and we got to run through the French Quarter, past lovely old mansions and we got views of the water – hard to ask for too much more
- Organization: This was about the smoothest race organization I’ve ever encountered. It was easy to maneuver around the starting area, the race kicked off on time and the finish area was sizable and filled with plenty of fluid, carbs and protein. The after-party looked pretty sweet. My family and supporters complimented the app that allows you to track runners – though for obvious reasons I haven’t seen it. And the busses back to the starting line, usually an absolute nightmare, were run so well that my friends and I got into a long, incredibly boring discussion about the logistics of loading and unloading school busses. And that’s immediately following running 26 miles. If the “professionalization” of marathons means great organization, then maybe I’ve been unfair to these PE fat cats.
They got the intangibles right:
- Fans: Now don’t get me wrong, there weren’t a lot of fans. The course takes you through some pretty lonely stretches that aren’t really accessible for casual fans so you definitely benefit from bringing an iPod along for a good portion. But the fans that did show made their presence felt. I guess this is a stereotype of the Big Easy, but the cheering was great, the signs were great (“Worst Parade Ever” won the day in my mind) and the spirit (on a fan by fan basis) was about the best I’ve seen. This is basically the opposite of the Paris marathon where I was pretty sure that the majority of the spectators were either 1) undead zombies who could barely muster the energy to lift their heads upright or 2) there to mock and stare in bemused ambivalence towards the mostly foreign marathoners who dared to run down their streets. At most marathons there’s a group of drunk people handing out beers – it’s a nice touch and something that always brings a smile to my face and sometimes a beer to my lips. In NO there must have been a dozen groups of rowdy, drunk folk handing out alcohol. And I’m not even talking Bud Light. Though my memories of these things are a bit hazy, there was definitely a jello shot stand as well as a martini stand. Well done, Drunks of New Orleans!
- Weather: An absolutely beautiful day with lows in the 40s and highs in the mid-60s. I mean you really could not have asked for better running conditions. I guess RnR isn’t to be complimented so much on this one, but still it’s worth mentioning
They got one thing wrong:
- Water stations: It’s an easy fix, but a pretty bad burn for the runners. They had (just barely) enough water stations, but it was very difficult to get enough fluids. There weren’t enough volunteers to easily grab drinks amidst a crowded pack of runners and, at least at the first several stations, the drinks weren’t filled enough. I struggled the entire race with insufficient hydration and I spoke to some others who had the same complaint. Please get this right next year
So let me take one last opportunity to congratulate Competitor group and the good people of New Orleans on a wonderful race. I’d strongly recommend it for anybody who loves New Orleans or is looking for a warm weather winter run.