Fruits, trail mix, packaged nuts, sweaty clothes and running shoes. Lots of running shoes.
These are the things you find laying around in a French Quarter condo over a weekend trip with a bunch of runners preparing for the Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Marathon and Half Marathon. Not the empty Hand Grenade containers from Tropical Isle, wrappers from Lucky Dogs hot dog vendors on Bourbon Street, all manner of adult beverage containers, clothing, and, well, passed out people that many of us are used to from trips in past lives.
Such is the beauty of finding a new passion in fitness, and finding races like Rock ’n’ Roll New Orleans can offer opportunities for fresh perspectives on old experiences.
As is fairly common, the anticipation for this trip in the weeks leading up centered not on the potentially late nights on Bourbon Street, just one block from our beautiful condo at Royal Street and Ursuline Street, but on the food opportunities that a weekend centered on running would allow us. Despite late arrivals for all on Friday night, our merry band of eight was ready and out the door for a breakfast at The Old Coffee Pot by 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, those wanting one more run before the race having already done so and everybody looking forward to a day of strolling around the French Quarter in what was shaping up to be amazing weather. The race crew was now out in full force preparing for the next day, and the energy and excitement was palpable among those clearly in town for the same reason as us. In uniquely New Orleans fashion, our breakfast was interrupted by a performance by one of the service staff, Miss Shirley, who belted out an old gospel tune to the delight of all, made all the better by the beautiful open-air patio and the background sounds of the street performers just outside.
From here, after a couple quick stops for various shopping needs, we were off to the Health & Fitness Expo, held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Most anyone will remember this as the site of so much desperation during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August and September of 2005. Even 8.5 years later, it was surreal to walk through this building we had seen so much of on CNN and to think about all of the loss that transpired here. Once inside the Expo, though, the somber feelings were quickly replaced by the excitement of the Expo atmosphere. The folks at Rock ’n’ Roll leave nothing to chance, with signs telling you exactly where you need to be and what you will need in order to receive your BIB number and race packet.
Following the Expo and having nowhere to be, we opted for a slow return back to the condo via an old trolley car along the shores of the Mississippi, the cars packed with runners and family and many people just enjoying the beautiful city and the perfect weather. After a final pre-race meal of literally foot long seafood po boys from Mahony’s and a quick stroll through the night festivities, including the first of three trips to Cafe du Monde for powdered sugar with a side of beignets and syrup-thick hot chocolate, it was time to call it a night and get some sleep before our little 13.1 mile jaunt the next morning.
After a leisurely wake up and a nonchalant walk the half mile from our front door to the start line, it was time to run a little. The weather, chilly every other morning and night we were in town, was of course unusually warm and humid at the start. Despite this mild annoyance, the course was a gorgeous, well put together and well supported trip through Uptown, the Garden District, the French Quarter and then into the city’s largest park, City Park. The highlight for many, including myself, was a half mile or so stretch of course, along Decatur St, which was completely covered in fog with a visibility of maybe 50 feet. We could barely make out the silhouette of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square and the sounds of invisible backers cheering on an otherwise silent Sunday morning made for a very eerie and unique experience. Rain finally made its appearance with just a couple miles to go, though just enough to make it so that we would be really cold upon finishing.
The race behind us, we were now free to focus the rest of the day, Super Bowl Sunday no less, on eating as much as we possibly could before our early morning departure the following day. In just over 48 hours in New Orleans, aside from the places already mentioned, we managed other visits to The Gumbo Shop for all manner of Creole creation, Nile Ethiopian Cuisine (one can only handle so much heavy food!), Port of Call for what I am told is one of the best burgers you will ever eat (I am a vegetarian so had to miss out on this one), Angelo Brocato for some truly out of this world Italian pastries, Sucre for house made ice cream (cinnamon bun!), and, it needs to be reiterated, two more trips to Cafe du Monde.
Though it was a quick stop, we could all agree on our journey back to Austin that a well organized weekend by the folks in charge of the Rock ’n’ Roll series of races, together with the rich and varied foods, the gorgeous and historic old city as well as the rebuilding sections hit so hard by Hurricane Katrina, some good, old fashioned opportunities for relaxing, if not resting, and a weekend surrounded by good friends made for quite a positive experience and simply reinforced for all of us why we so love this sport and all of the people in and around it.
(A special thank you to Carly and Stacy, who traveled the course supporting all of us, sporting hand made signs, shouting words of encouragement, collecting extra layers that became too hot to wear during the run, and offering those layers back when we finished and immediately got chilled!)