Today I'm reviewing the actual race we ran yesterday. In past years, the Mardi Gras Marathon was hosted by the New Orleans Track Club. Its course alternated each year between the city's 2 big parks: The race always started downtown by the Superdome; one year the half marathoners would run to City Park and back and the next year they'd run to Audubon park and back. The marathoners would continue the run through the other park before returning. This year, the Rock 'N Roll Marathon organization took over the race and changed the course. That was the biggest difference from past years.
So here's the good and the bad.
The good part was that the race was remarkably well organized and efficient, from the expo and packet pick-up to the post race party (I've never seen such a neat beer line in New Orleans; plus the family reunion section was conveniently placed in front of the stage instead of off in nowheresville like it was last year). The after-party line up of Sister Hazel and Cowboy Mouth was impressive, and the course was well-marked.
But there were some things I didn't like very much. My biggest beef is with the corral start. We started in 26 corrals over the course of AN HOUR. AN ENTIRE HOUR. The result was an extremely spread-out race - and it killed the adrenaline-filled camaraderie that makes racing fun. After the start runners spaced out even more, to the point that when the full and half marathon courses split there was only me and 2 other marathoners as far as my eye could see! Not at all fun. And when the half and full re-joined later we were separated on different sides of the street, so still - no mingling. This really affected the race atmosphere. Additionally, it discouraged spectating (especially as the course separated so much for the half and full), and there was a lower turn out than usual to watch the race.
I also had a major issue about the marathon course. I assume that miles 20 - 24 are toughest for most runners: they sure were for me! And the course was designed so that those key miles went on a straight, boring street in a flooded area of New Orleans. The scenery was blah, the houses abandoned, and there was not a single person watching the race for the whole loop. It was crushing! After the loop re-entered city park the spirit picked back up, but I think that course planning was not great.
And the last thing I disliked was the sports drink. They served Cytomax on the course and frankly the stuff is revolting. I knew I needed some electrolytes but I could barely choke the drink down. It is incredibly sweet, which is tough to stomach while you're running!
A word about the Rock 'n Roll format: The funniest thing about this race is how they try to get MONEY out of you. It's hilarious. I received a million emails trying to sell me the craziest things: For $9.99 they'll email you a link to a video of yourself running the race (why would you want that?!); for a similar charge they will text your friends and family your position throughout the race; you can pay a gigantic fee and have your medal engraved with your name and time; you can have your race number framed; you could earn a port-a-potty pass if you buy enough Brooks merchandise; there are about 20 different "finisher" doodads you can purchase for an exorbitant price. Most of it's aimed at the first-time runner who probably won't run another marathon and wants commemoration (my sister wants to know if I'm going to buy some vanity plate with 26.2 worked in somehow).
The idea behind the Rock n Roll marathons is that bands play throughout the course, but I could take it or leave it. They spend so much time tuning up and talking that only 1 or 2 bands were actually playing as I ran past. I ended up turning my ipod on. I think some people really enjoyed it though; it just didn't do much for me.
SO there you have it. I give this race a B-. It doesn't get an A because of the corral start problems, and then I stuck the minus on there for that ugly loop of misery at mile 20-ish. I'm a tough grader. Good thing I don't teach school.