People come to New Orleans from all over the globe for numerous reasons — the history, the food, the party.
And in rapidly growing numbers, they’re coming to town to attend the Humana Rock n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon. This year’s event will be held Sunday, beginning downtown at 7:30 a.m. near Lafayette Square and ending in City Park.
Last year, an estimated 13,000 people combined to take part in either the 26.2-mile marathon, the half-marathon, or a 10K race all held under the Rock n’ Roll umbrella. This year, 23,000 people are expected to enter, which makes the gathering one of the largest road-racing events in the South.
Event director Luke Wright said there are several guesses for that growth, but the largest is timing.
“The race is nearly three weeks after Mardi Gras this year,” Wright said. “This is a pretty local event, as far as the Rock n’ Roll name goes. So people are rested for a few weeks after Fat Tuesday and all that fun.”
Wright said between 68-70 percent of participants will come from Louisiana, and most of those from the metro New Orleans area. Still, runners and walkers from all 50 states and 32 countries are expected to descend upon the city to take part in one of the races. As many as 50,000 are expected to attend a subsequent Health & Fitness Expo in Hall C of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Wright said post-race surveys shows that many people sign up to run in New Orleans because of a flat and fast course.
“People want to set a personal record,” he said. “There are many competitive runners, but there also a lot of ‘bucket listers’ who want to come here and run a fast time.”
Runners also come for many of the same reasons the typical tourist visits south Louisiana.
“They want to come here and have fun,” he said. “We encourage them to bring a couple friends and come enjoy themselves. It’s the type of place where you don’t fly in on a Saturday, pick up your bib, run, then catch the next flight out of town. This is a destination city, so it’s great for local tourism.”
Once in town, participants will find this Rock n’ Roll experience slightyly different from others around the world. Wright noted that participants get a commemorative medal attached to Carnival beads, rather than the usual cloth ribbon and medal distributed at other races. He also said New Orleans runners get unlimited beer here (“only one can every place else,”) and that there are two concert headliners at the post-race festival in New Orleans, whereas there is only one at other tour stops.
Both the male and female marathon winners of 2015 return to race in 2016. John Brigham of Mobile, Alabama, won last year’s full race in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 45 seconds. Samantha Gardner of Daphne, Alabama, ran 3:03.41 to lead the women. She’ll participate in the half-marathon this year.
The full and half courses will wind from the CBD to Audubon Park via St. Charles Ave., and coming back will include stretches on Magazine, Tchopitoulas and Decatur streets, as well as Esplanade Ave. The 13.1-mile racers will stop at City Park, while the marathoners will head toward Lake Pontchartrain via Marconi Ave. and Robert E. Lee Blvd. The return will begin on Lakeshore Drive and follow Wisner Blvd. and Harrison Ave. before snaking through the park and ending at Roosevelt Mall.
The post-race festival will feature the Preservation Hall Jazz Band as well as J. Roddy Walston & The Business. Awards will be presented to winning men and women in all three races between the musical acts.
The Health and Fitness Expo at the Convention Center will feature more than 80 vendors Friday from noon-6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Final registrations for the full and half marathons can be completed at the expo. There will be no race-day registration. All 3,000 spaces in the 10K race have been filled.
For information on the races, road closures, registration, the expo and more, go online to www.runrocknroll.com/new-orleans.