Some 20,000 people are expected to hit the streets for the 39th annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Crescent City Classic on Saturday morning.
For some, finishing the race is an accomplishment. They are the ones who will dress in costumes, second-line to music along the route, and make a pit stop at a local watering hole for Bloody Marys before they hit the 1-mile marker.
For others, however, the 10-kilometer Crescent City Classic is serious business. They train year round to not only stay in shape, but to be among the fastest road runners in the area.
And to a person, each one of those local runners points to the Crescent City Classic as their touchstone event of the year. Why not? It’s the largest road race in the state and in the Gulf Coast region, plus it’s on a fast track — meaning that personal bests are achievable should the weather be agreeable.
And then there’s the bragging rights. Though all the local runners are polite about their intentions, each would like nothing more than to claim they are the fastest long-distance runner in New Orleans — at least for a year.
That competition has really ramped up in the local women’s field in the past couple of years. As many as 12 New Orleans-area women can win any race on any given day, and their combined excellence is driving times even lower.
The group consists of, but is not limited to, Malia Cali, Laura Carleton Doody, Kristen Wenstrom, Meghan Gohres, Lauren Ybarzabal, Grace Thacker, Kat Telfeyan, Julie Martin, Eva Lustigova, Michelle Hymel Parks, Kir Selert Faraud and Melissa Lilly. They range in age from 24 to their early 40s. Almost all of them ran in college, and though they don’t face that level of competition anymore, they certainly enjoy the challenges they face in local races.
Most of them also are registered for the CCC, and each would like to finish first among local woman.
“It’s been a really good couple years to be able to run with these girls,” said Cali, a Hammond native who ran for the University of North Carolina. “This is only my second time in the Classic. I ran it as a sophomore in high school, and I’ve been wanting go get back into it.”
Cali, 24, trains with the Louisiana Distance Project team — a local group that includes many of the area’s top runners. She said the LDP has kept her near peak performance after leaving UNC.
“I ran by myself a lot during my first year of med school,” she said. “But when the LDP got together, it was great. I really haven’t had my times drop off a whole bunch, and that’s with a lot less training. … It’s nice to have a group. I’m happy to win, but I’m happy when my teammates win, too.”
Doody, 27, was the top local woman in last year’s CCC with a time of 36 minutes, 59 seconds, which placed her 55th overall in the race and eighth among women (the first seven woman to finish all were in the elite field). The Lake Charles native and current New Orleans resident has a 10K personal record of 34:01.
“The Classic is the big one for all of us,” Doody said. “It’s a New Orleans tradition. People care about it. ... It was hard for me the first year out of college; (to accept) a new standard. I knew I wasn’t going to put in the same amount of time running because I was going to focus on my career instead. So it’s fun for my new self to have this group to run with.”
The Power Milers is a select group of male runners in town who recently had a few women join their ranks. Grace Thacker, a 34-year-old woman from New Orleans who didn’t run in college, said she already has seen her times drop in the couple months she’s been with that club.
She’s hoping to beat her best showing in the Classic to date — 40:58 which was good enough for 258th overall and 44th among women.
“What I like about the Power Milers is that you have always have a built in rabbit,” Thacker said. “The guys, they’re all faster than me. That’s a good thing about New Orleans is that there are so many good runners. I ran a 5K after training with them for six weeks and I dropped a minute from my time. So I think it’s working.”
And then she has the group of fast women to set the pace in area races like the Classic.
“It can be a really positive thing, but also a little intimidating because there are so many fast women right now,” she said. “I don’t have the talent just yet to run head to head with a lot of these women, but I’d like to. That’s why I’m working at it.”
In the men’s field, 42-year-old Brandon Wingate led all locals in 2016 with a time of 32:36. Wingate was named the Men’s Masters (Over 40) champ, which passes top local honors to Richard Bouckaert, who was close behind in 33:00. Besides elites, runners can only win one award/prize per race.
Both men will run again in 2017, and again are chief contenders in the local open and masters divisions. Other top area runners currently registered include Max Miler, Pat Aucoin, Casey Keiser, Drew Haro, Sean Fitzwilliam and Brendan Minihan Jr. (another top Masters runner). Any of the talented college and high school runners in the area could challenge for top local honors, as well.
The CCC defines “local” as someone who lives in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Washington, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles or Plaquemines parishes. The top man and woman in four divisions (open, masters 40-49, grandmasters 50-59, and seniors 60-and-older) each will win $300, free entry to next year’s race, and a race T-shirt.
For more information, go online to www.ccc10k.com.