The Roving, Running Reporter
– Andy Barton
Volume 1: Tipitina’s Rhythm and Blues 5k
“This is the first time I’ve ever been happy to report that the New Orleans Police have arrived at Tipitina’s” – PA Announcer
This was not the Crescent City Classic, nor the Jazz Half; not a race that would draw the interest or participation of a national audience. The Tipitina’s Rhythm & Blues 5k was, however, a quintessentially New Orleanian affair. To illustrate my point, I offer you the following long-winded metaphor:
If you were to take a survey of people, asking whether or not respondants would enjoy playing football on a frozen field in Iowa during a blizzard, those who responded ‘Yes’ would be, well, Iowans. Similarly, if another survey asked whether or not participants would like to run an out-and-back 5 kilometer race down a decidedly unscenic stretch of Tchoupitoulas Street warehouses during a rainstorm, those who said ‘Yes’ would be (quick, one guess) New Orleanians. Did I mention that the cops were late to close off the street, and that, as a consequence, the entire thing kicked off over an hour late? That’s probably notable, too, but we’ll rail against the police later. Suffice it, for now, to say that this city has a rare knack for repairing dampened enthusiasms, if not drying dampened clothes.
As I disembarked from the bus, and looked around, I saw what seemed to be a refugee camp for thin, scantily clad people. People were wet, and restless: a shuffling mess of brightly colored jerseys under palm trees, framed by a slate gray sky. The New Orleans Track Club representatives huddled in their tent stated that the registrants had numbered 500, but my cursory survey of the surroundings told me that this was a liberal estimate. Was a race even going to happen here? Had Tipitina’s just concoted an elaborate excuse to throw a party in the street?
The minutes ticked by, though, and distractions from the drizzle (and pre-race nerves) appeared. Seemingly from nowhere, the horns from Sophie B. Wright struck up ‘Casanova’, and the preparing runners’ high-knees and back-kicks morphed into more rhythmic shuffling. As the stated start time came and went, and the course remained open to vehicle traffic, some offered rumors explaining the tardiness of the police while others simply expanded the definition of ‘afterparty’ to include the moments preceding the party. The Abita trucks opened, the jambalaya was spooned out, and men and women who would soon be competing dispensed with their preconceived notions of pre-race nutrition, and indulged a little. A friend approached and asked, appropriately, why we couldn’t just run the race with the cars on the road. “The weak get hit, the strong get beer.”
Much like the return of locked-out NFL referees, the arrival of the New Orleans Police was a cause for ironic, but very ebullient, applause. By this time, many of the stronger competitors had warmed up twice. The Sophie B. Wright band was finishing its seventh set, but without five horn players who had collapsed due to exhaustion. Legs and minds were tiring, and the darkening of the road at sunset gave the atmosphere a fever-dream quality that could only be broken by the starting gun. And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
But if the circumstances surrounding the run-up were unpredictable, the outcome of the race itself was never in question. New Orleans road racing royalty commanded the field, as Nick Accardo led from tape to tape (15:48), followed by Sarah Skotty, who marked her reentry into the road racing scene with an impressive 17:18 (a new personal best)*. Kevin Kirchner and Luis Itturalde had strong showings as well, which is somewhat unnerving, given that Luis is a triathlete who has no business running. The triathlete revolution has apparently begun, and I have the pictures to prove it.
The rain dissipated as the sun vanished, and the mood of the crowd was elevated from that all-too-potent cocktail of endorphins, sodium, and beer**, I looked around, and noticed that the assembled revellers were far greater than 500. Probably twice that number had laughed in the face of Doppler Radar and laced up their racing flats, unwilling to miss a party come hell or—more plausibly—high water***. What may have turned into a debacle anywhere else in the world had become a celebration on Napoleon Street.
Full results posted here, courtesy of New Orleans Track Club.
*By a wide margin, I just set a new personal best with the least surprising sentence I’ve ever written.
** Shameless footnote advertisement: Jacques-Imo’s, la Madeleine, Shaggy’s, P.F. Chang’s, be sweet CUPCAKE!, NOLA Brewing Co., Kentwood Springs, and Crescent Crown Distributing.
*** 419 racers and racewalkers competed, apparently, so this crowd likely included friends, spouses, and other enablers of runners.