Mardi Gras Marathon, Feb. 5, 2006 (late race report)

            Harriet Kang


            Here at last is my race report for the Merms Rule! Mardi Gras Marathon weekend!

            The Mardi Gras Marathon and Half Marathon, run last weekend, was the first major

            organized sports event in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.  You have to give a lot

            of credit to the New Orleans Track Club for putting this on - we had the NYCM 2 months

            after 9/11, but that disaster didn't destroy the marathon course.  Three of us (Louise,

            Cindy and me) flew into New Orleans on Friday 2/3 and met at the airport where I rented

            a car.  We had reservations for 7 PM at Emeril's, which should have been plenty of time

            except for a tremendous traffic jam approaching the city.  We got to the Intercontinental

            with just half an hour to spare, so I sent Louise and Cindy up to check in and change,

            while I did the Superman thing in our car so that I could stay parked at the front door. 

            Then we headed out to Emeril's for a wonderful dinner.  Emeril was actually there that

            evening, and was kind enough to let us have our picture taken with him.

            The packet pick-up and expo were conveniently in our hotel, and we went there Saturday

            morning.  I found my Penguin friend Dudley and his wife Mary manning the New

            Orleans Track Club table, although I think he actually saw me first (wearing my Pink Hat).,

            and we exchanged flipper hugs.  I had done the Mardi Gras Half with Dudley (a true

            Cajun from Bayou la Franche) in 2001.  This year I was waffling between doing

            the full (which I signed up for) or the half, as my training was totally inadequate, but was

            assured that I could simply finish with the half marathoners who had a separate finish

            mat.  The shirts were long-sleeved, yellow for the marathon and a really nice purple for

            the half, with a multicolor Mardi Gras design. They are much nicer than the white short-

            sleeved T that I got for the half in 2001.  The goody bags included, among other things,

            a small packet of Boudreau's Butt Paste.

            For lunch, we found a local hangout called Mother's, where we had to wait outside for

            a bit.  The manager, who fancied himself to be something of an Elvis impersonator, came

            out and sang to Cindy.  We were joined by a friend of Louise, who drove in from

            somewhere out towards Baton Rouge.  Barbara was a riot!  She told us that when she

            married, she told her husband that if she ever caught him fooling around, she would have

            his house, his car, and a face-lift.  "And that's why I don't look like I'm 75!"

            In the afternoon, I joined Cindy as she visited her grandson, a freshman at Tulane.  He

            gave us a tour of the campus, which suffered mild flooding during Katrina.  We then

            drove portions of the course, but although we saw some of the flooded areas, the damage

            would be much more evident when we ran through the city on Sunday.  I also noted that

            the road surface was quite rough on the street on which most of the second half (an out

            and back) would be run.

            The races began at 7 AM on Sunday, which really was 8 AM for us New Yorkers, so it

            wasn't that bad.  The temperature was perfect, starting in the 40's and rising to probably

            around 60, sunny and calm.  The organizers had received permission just a week earlier

            to use the outside of the Superdome (and its garage) for the start, finish and post-race

            party.  We drove to the Superdome and stayed in the car to keep warm until we had to

            head for the start.  Full and half runners started together, about 3600 altogether with most

            doing the half (pre-Katrina races drew around 6000).  I started at the very end, planning

            to run 3 minutes out of 10, and found myself with a friendly bunch of mostly locals,

            many wearing Mardi Gras beads and decorations with a few wearing full costumes. 

            I wore a purple and silver boa that I had bought on Bourbon Street the evening before. 

            One group of walkers was dressed as Willy Wonka, an Oompa Loompa, and a Hershey

            Kiss.  I thought they were just awfully cute, but Dudley later said, "Yes, there's been a lot

            of that since Mayor Nagin's comment [about the Chocolate City]."

            The course went first through the French Quarter, which was not flooded, and then turned

            towards City Park on Esplanade.  I remembered a beautiful tree-lined avenue from five

            years ago, but the trees have been significantly stripped and wind-damaged.  Many of the

            houses were being repaired.  City Park itself was green and neat, after a major volunteer

            effort to tidy up the park a couple of weeks ago.  Lampposts along the median that had

            been knocked over were still lying on the ground.  There was a half-mile out-and-back

            into a neighboring residential area that had been under 7 feet of water, and here the

            damage was much more evident.  Many houses looked abandoned with broken windows

            and gaping doors, marked with red coded "X's".  A few houses had FEMA trailers in their

            yards.  The run back to the Superdome again passed residential and commercial areas that

            had been flooded but were being repaired, and many businesses had signs that said

            "Now Open".

            I was having a great time with my running/walking companions, as we stayed just ahead

            of the 16 mpm police car with its flashing lights (marking the pace for the 7 hour

            marathon limit - the half actually had a 4 hour limit)..  I decided to have a fun half

            marathon and finish happy, rather than try to do the full.  I actually ran more in the last

            three miles, reaching the finish at around 3:20 and getting my medal and a hug from

            Dudley at the finish line.  Then it was a walk up to the upper deck for the traditional red

            beans and rice, King cake, beer (free) and music.  I was even able to get a purple half

            marathon shirt.  I did miss the Chee-Wees (a local version of Cheese Doodles, but better)

            from 2001, as the Chee-Wees factory was destroyed by Katrina.

            I had finished in the gap between Louise and Ilene, who also did the Half, and Shirley

            and Cindy, so I wasn't able to get back in time to cheer in our marathon champions. 

            After well-deserved "freshening-up", we walked a couple of blocks into the French

            Quarter where we celebrated with dinner at the Red Fish Grill in the French Quarter.

            Five months after the hurricane, New Orleans remains visibly scarred, but the people are

            slowly rebuilding.  Everyone was warm and welcoming, thanking us for coming to the

            city.  The race was well-organized and supported, at least on the half-marathon part, and

            the shirts and medals are really nice.   I would be happy to go back again, although I'd

            have to be more careful about eating (I gained three pounds in three days).