I signed up for the New Orleans Rock and Roll half marathon three months ago, taking advantage of the travel opportunity to make a fun weekend out of it. I booked three nights at the Royal Sonesta in the heart of the French Quarter, on Bourbon street, with its five-star ratings and an inner courtyard facing room, allowing for peace among the chaos. Upon arrival the street buzzed with performers, tourists, hobos and bead throwers. After all Mardi Gras was only a few weeks away, but it seemed like the party had already started. Our chosen restaurant for the night, Grapevine Bistro, was a short walk with a few drink and entertainment stops along the way. A crowd gathered around two break dancers jumping around to “I got a feeling“, a song by Maroon 5 that always gets my hips moving. The next crowd was standing below a balcony of men and woman throwing beads for flashes of boobs. A pair landed at my feet, so I looked up with a wide smile. Not this trip, maybe ten years ago. At the Grapevine, I savored baked Brie, artesian salad and my favorite dessert crime brûlée, while my husband was in seafood heaven. Afterwards, we sauntered over to the oldest jazz club in the French Quarter, Fritzel’s, finishing our evening listening to live traditional jazz in a casual atmosphere. The walk back to the hotel was even more crazy with larger, drunker, louder crowds. Oh, the French Quarter, how do I love thee? The food, jazz, people, town… even if only for a few days.
Saturday centered around marathon preparation. Finding the starting and finishing line, picking up my race packet at one of longest the convention centers spanning over six blocks, the running expo was in the last hall. Since a cold front left the city around 40 degrees in the morning and evening, I picked up a hat and gloves for my 13.1 mile run. I also acquired free samples of mostly energy boosters. Who knew they made energy jelly bellies. After prepping my clothes, gear and caffeine for the following morning we headed out for an extremely well-behaved early evening around Bourbon Street. Well almost. Music continued blaring and drinks flowed as we visited a few bars, for me that was white wine mixed with ice and soda water as a safe pre-race drink. At a close-by Italian restaurant, a small plate of linguine pesto soaked up the alcohol while providing a scrumptious carb-loading meal for the following day. The crowd outside was just beginning their debauchery as we ended a perfect evening at Irvin Mayfield’s jazz playhouse in the quiet comfort of our hotel.
By 6:30 a.m. I was bouncing off the walls from the energy drinks I sipped while getting ready, mostly a giant Monster green tea tasting like medicine. That combined with pure adrenaline and anticipation for the race had me acting like a caged lion pacing for freedom. My hubby and pup slept through the madness. Bourbon street was eerie in the early morning, the way I pictured the fictional Gotham City to be right before Batman’s arrival. Spotting a group of runners ahead, I swiftly caught up with them. The street smelled of stale alcohol mixed with fresh-baked bread. The wind was blowing with an occasional strong gust. My long running pants, three layers of shirts and running beanie complete with a pony tail gap provided enough warmth. A few young drifters slept in sleeping bags against the buildings. Who would choose that lifestyle, I wondered.
The starting line overflowed with runners prepping for the half and full marathon, like a skinny healthy version of Fat Tuesday kicking off Mardi Gras. They had corrals instead of pace groups, and they seemed endless, winding around corners and streets.
“How do I know what corral I’m in?” I asked a stranger.
“It’s based on the first number on your race bib,” She said, and added, “They’re not that strict.”
Mine was seven, towards the front. I was relived not to be in back of the 30,000 runners. It was about ten minutes from the official start when my corral was up for release. A thin yellow rope held us at the starting line until countdown and then we were set free as if bulls running in Pamplona, Spain. I started my marathon playlist with my chosen first song, Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys. Every few miles a band played above my music, and then my earphones went silent after about mile five. I was also getting extremely hot. After trying to talk myself out of it I stopped and removed one of my shirts, tossing it to the side entangling my earphones in the process. The music came and went intermittently as I tried not to let it bother me. Around mile ten my left foot went from numb to shooting an intense pain. All the little nerves in my foot protesting, I ignored it. Many observers with creative signs lined the marathon course.
I thought you said rum, not run. Do you still have your toenails. Look alive you’re about to pass a cemetery. We’re looking at your ass, keep running. Run, Zombies are chasing you. It sounded like a great idea a few months ago.
Some bystanders offered jello shots, mimosa and even a slice of pizza. I smiled, waved and looked forward to the near end of 13.1 miles.
I found my husband and dog at the finish line, took a nice long hot shower and then met up with an old friend for a quick museum visit and Jazz brunch. The small Voodoo museum I went to years ago was interesting, but this time I was looking for information to include in my upcoming book, Breakfast in Bimini. The attendant was very helpful suggesting a few possibilities and resources to check out. Brunch was simply amazing and I was famished. Made to order omelets, eggs benedict and pancakes. A traditional pirogue, a flat boat-shaped serving vessel, held salads, meats, seafood and specialities. Dessert pies and king cake tempted at the stern of the pirogue. It was my first time trying the purple, green and gold doughy cake, and my little sliver didn’t hold the hidden plastic baby, meaning I didn’t have to buy the next king cake. Mimosa and Bloody Mary’s were constantly refreshed.
Afterwards we roamed the streets of the French Quarter, leisurely checking out boutiques, street art and pop up jazz bands. The music continued to delight with the rhythm, creativity and talent. Young hobos still abundant, I gazed into one young girl’s blue eyes, probably about 18 years old. She looked pretty, clean and lost sitting next to her sleeping bag on the street with a bowl holding coins. I understand rebellion, wanting to travel and experience life, but at what cost? Would she be lost forever in an unrealistic quest? I hoped not, but the French quarter draws people to its culture and some just get sucked into a romantic abyss.