Picture this: Shrimp swimming in butter, red pepper and Bar-B-Que sauce. Corn with mixed veggies and dusted with some Cajun seasoning. Abita Amber beer to wash it all down. The best part is you earned it! That’s a great feeling that is only found in New Orleans for the Crescent City Classic 10K.
Arriving late afternoon on Friday, my wife and I were fortunate to find a parking spot right next to the host hotel. We hurried in to check into our room and then find race number pick-up. With bags in the room and race number in hand, I asked Andrew Lilly, the CCC Elite Athlete coordinator where we should go for dinner. We had recommendations but we were unsure of how close those options were to the hotel. We discussed the restaurant locations while looking over the map of the point to point race going from the Superdome to City Park. Discussing the race, dinner and his arrangements for getting runners and agents back and forth from the finish line in City Park and talking about if I should drive or walk to dinner, Andrew had an idea. He looked at my wife and asked if she could drive a van from the starting area to the finish line carrying the bags of the elite runners. Wanting an easy ride to the finish line, Angela quickly agreed.
The starting area had a large section blocked off with police motorcycles, Shriner’s buggies that would lead the race, a truck for members of the press and other official vehicles including the van Angela would be driving. Dozens of the best runners in the world jogged, ran strides and stretched all around us as Angela got directions for where to go with the van. A field loaded with Kenyan runners prepared for the race and with about 5 minutes to go they all hurriedly pulled off their long sweat pants, and jackets, stuffed them in the van and nervously bounced around the starting line. The temperature was about 60 degrees and I didn’t feel the need for long pants or a jacket but for these runners, warmth was a key ingredient. An announcer interrupted the music playing on the loudspeakers to explain there would be a 10 – 15 minute delay until the start. Some of the busses carrying runners from where they parked at the finish line to the start had mechanical problems. So we would wait a few minutes to allow those runners to arrive. The Kenyans swarmed the van retrieving their sweat suits. They all got fully dressed again and continued their pre-race rituals. During the warm-up I noticed a familiar face. Vladimir Tontchinski, an elite Masters runner from Belarus was at the race. He spent some time training in Gainesville last year and I ran a cool down with him after he smoked me in a 5K in High Springs. Greeting him with a smile, I said I remembered him from Gainesville, Florida. “Ahh! Yes! Tortoise Race!” he responded. We wished each other good luck and continued stretching.
Finally the runners were gathered on the line, the National Anthem had been played and it was race time. I stood just behind two rows of mostly Kenyan and Eastern European runners who looked ready to fly. Fly, they did! Shooting down Poydras Street, I focused on my own running and not bumping into other runners. When runners were spread out enough to look up, the flashing lights on the lead vehicle were far ahead and turning left. Wow. Those guys were moving. They went through the mile mark in 4:15, over a minute ahead of me! I got my mile split on Decatur Street, felt good and was pleased with the time. I noted the restaurant I ate at the night before and smiled, remembering the smell of the food. Easy running at this point.
Turning left on Esplanade Avenue, I surged to move ahead of a runner who was breathing way too hard for this early in the race. I focused on the pack in front of me which included two women and four men. I wanted to reel them in so I’d have people to run with as the miles got harder. Esplanade is a beautiful street if you look up at the historic houses and other buildings. Unfortunately, my eyes were glued to the pavement because the footing was so terrible; I had to focus on not doing a face plant. It was like running on a cross country course made of asphalt! Despite footing frustrations, miles 2,3 and 4 went pretty smoothly. Passing a few runners and staying focused, the race was going well. Not long after the four mile mark, the discomfort of a hard race really began. I struggled to stay focused and had to use mental tricks of short term goals. Thinking, “Make it to that next turn on pace!” and then shifting the goal 200 Meters further down the road. The sight of the five mile marker seemed to never arrive. The last mile never hurts as much because it will be over soon! Surging into the final mile, I vowed to catch the runner just ahead of me. Finally, in front of the Art Museum at about 5 ¾ miles, I caught him and zeroed in on the next runner ahead. Reeling him in slowly wasn’t going to work since the race was almost over. The last straightaway headed to the finish line, I poured it on, closing in fast. However, the line came too soon and he escaped my final surge by two seconds. My first thought crossing the line was “Should have kicked a bit sooner!” It had been a solid race and I was fortunate to have runners around me the whole way that pulled me on to a strong effort. Official time- 34:15.
The post-race festivities included beer, red beans and rice, music and commemorative posters for the top 500 runners. Angela had arrived in plenty of time at the finish area and actually got to drive the race course there ahead of the runners, with all the streets blocked. We enjoyed the food and company of the elite runners and agents. I had the chance to discuss training with Ian Forsyth who was 3rd place Masters in 31:02. He ran at Michigan the same time I ran at Florida and we laughed about Florida runners racing Cross Country at the Michigan Invitational in snow flurries. Kevin Castille, the Masters Champion in 29:39 (just 2 seconds shy of an American Masters Record) was kind enough to talk training, racing and pose for a picture with me.
Now, back to the shrimp swimming in butter and Bar-B-Que….
After returning to the hotel, showering and feeling somewhat refreshed, Angela and I walked around New Orleans in search of food and fun. Those are easy commodities to find in the French Quarter! Royal Street had some top notch performers just sitting out in the street on folding chairs. A woman with a golden voice and the fastest fingers I’ve seen on a clarinet was collecting some well-deserved tips. A quartet of men in matching lime green suits sang to the gathering crowd and cracked jokes about how to determine the correct amount to tip. Near Jackson Square a 14 year old boy played trumpet and got plenty of applause. A wedding party paraded down the street with the bride and groom leading the way, waving umbrellas and dancing to the music from the jazz band following them. We discovered fantastic shrimp creole and the redfish special at Coop’s Place. Strolling along, watching the sites we noticed a man in silver clothes with his face and skin painted silver. He looked like a statue frozen on the sidewalk. Suddenly as a group of three teenaged girls walked by he came to life and jumped at them. The girls screamed, everyone on the street laughed at the scene and the tin man held out his hat for tips. These are just a few of the unique experiences we had that afternoon. New Orleans is an entertaining and tasty city.
If you go I recommend:
Get a hotel close to the Superdome and walk to the Starting Line in the morning. The Superdome is walking distance to the French Quarter, dozens of restaurants, and other entertainment.
Run hard and go for a fast time. It is a flat course and a good opportunity to PR.
Frenchman’s Market Restaurant- Bar-B-Que Shrimp
Coop’s Place on Decatur St- Shrimp Creole
Walk Royal Street and enjoy the musicians, magicians and other entertainers.
Walk around Jackson Square to see lots of great local art.
Visit the Pepper Palace. They sell a huge variety of hot sauces including one you have to sign a waiver for if you want to sample it. Yes, it is really that hot.
Stop by the Glassworks. You can go into their art studio and watch them make blown glass art.
Crescent City Classic 10K info: www.ccc10k.com