Running is Better Here
“You should sign up for a race.” My therapist said, peering over the top of her glasses.
“Uhh, me?” I muttered, squirming in my seat. “No. I’m too slow and I’m nowhere near good enough to race.” I was barely able to hide my horror at her suggestion.
“It will be good for you.” She pressed, “I think it’s important for you to challenge yourself, and besides, It will be fun!”
“Running was something I literally did in the dark.”
I couldn’t think of anything that sounded less fun.
Running was something I literally did in the dark. I had only been running for about 6 months, in a last-ditch attempt to kick my 17-year smoking habit and maybe drop some pounds. I’d get up, put on my busted-up sneakers pre-dawn, and sneak out before anyone in my Washington DC neighborhood was awake. I was terrified at the thought of any of my over-achieving neighbors seeing me sweating, red faced, struggling and jiggling up and down the sidewalks. A race? Surely you jest!
Nevertheless, (thanks to her prodding) a month later I found myself blinking at my desktop screen in mild panic. I stared at the “submit” button on the race entry form for what seemed like a long time before taking a deep breath and – [click].
For the next 8 years I raced once or twice per year, mostly to check on my progress (or lack thereof) or to try a new distance. I started with 5Ks and 5milers, and eventually got up the guts to run my first half marathon. Racing was always purposeful, expensive, and a logistical nightmare transportation wise.
Running the Marine Corps 10k was day long saga. It started with a 4:30am to drive to the metro station, praying & paying for a parking spot, waiting 20-30min for the train, a 30-minute ride downtown, then running immediately to the 1 hour + line for the port-o-lets. Going home meant searching 20,000 faces for my husband, slogging back through the crowd to the metro & doing the whole ordeal in reverse. The next day, instead of “congratulations” I was almost always greeted by co-workers with “So what’s your best time?” or “When are you going to sign up for the real race?” (aka the marathon). Bleh. Twice a year was plenty.
Everything changed in 2015 when my husband and I finally moved to New Orleans. It was a difficult & scary move, but it’s been worth it because I’ve found my tribe: The running community of South Louisiana. Last year (2017) I ran 20 races. I’m on pace for about 30 races this year. In a fit of bravado, I signed up for and ran 4 half marathons, in the last 4 months, and dang it, I’m having FUN!
This is a special place, and it’s full of special people.
For starters, a quick google search will tell you that in the greater New Orleans area there are over 20 local running groups (and I can think of at least another seven that the search didn’t turn up). You can literally run every single day of the week with a different group, for almost a month and not repeat one.
To locals that might not sound like much but the same Google search for the DC area turns up 8 groups. EIGHT. There are probably a handful more but that’s a hefty difference.
More importantly, the group members here seem to be far more social, friendly, and generally up for anything that might be fun, but never afraid to put in the hard work first.
Even more surprising, run groups in the city don’t tend to be static tribes with set members and rigid social demarcations. One can float easily from MYB shake out runs, to Best Bank bridge workouts, Girl Gang speedwork sessions, Tasc Tuesday’s “choose your distance” courses, and last-minute Sunday Runday meet ups. Every group welcomes newcomers, offers a pace and distance for everyone, and an astonishing level of encouragement and support.
Races here are special as well. The nearly 100 races within driving distance of New Orleans each year are largely put on by local track clubs and race organizations. Race directors recognize you, call you by name, and congratulate you at the finish. (In DC, that is NOT a thing!)
The variety of races is staggering – You name It, we’ve got it. Big, small, long, short, road, track, trail, bridge or parks – always with a little “something” that makes them interesting.
NOTC’s events are incredibly well organized, super friendly and offer family discounts with membership. Q50 and WHOA racing have year-round trail races with beautiful terrain, tons of support, and distances from 5k to ultra-marathon. NORSI races cover a little bit of everything from bridges, to trails, to road and festival races with a lot of food and fun.
Actually, fun might be the wrong word. Party is a better one. This is New Orleans baby. If there isn’t a theme for the race, we’ll make one! People here have costume collections that rival the NYU theater department and more wigs than Versailles circa 1660, so the creativity and imagination on display at the start line always make me smile. We sweat glitter. It’s amazing.
Beyond theatrics, most events offer a chance to tip a cold one afterwards. The beer trucks are often loaded with local or craft brews and best of all, there’s no “beer ticket”, it’s available until the always ample supplies run out.
Best of all for me, a girl accustomed to being handed a bottle of water and half of a green banana at the finish, is the “F” word. Food!
Besides the Jambalaya, red beans, and crunchy cheese snacks that always abound, some races have donuts, sno-balls, BBQ, cookies, char-broiled oysters, pasta and chicken fingers. Middendorf’s Manchac run has heaping plates of hot, crisp, thin fried catfish. Q50’s trail races have vegetarian and vegan options for every event, and the new Ruby slipper 5k had brunch items including candied bacon. All of it is delicious and made with love.
In the end, I guess running and racing here is reflective of this amazing city and the people who live in it. Exciting, exuberant, gracious and heart achingly beautiful. It has stolen my heart, made me a better runner, and I couldn’t be prouder to call it home.
See you at the finish line.
Bio: Noelle Ramsey is a digital media consultant living in the Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans. She grew up in rural Wisconsin and studied Opera at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. She and her Husband Dan moved here from DC in 2015 where she was a political consultant. She’s a runner, amateur cook, cocktail connoisseur, Nyx sister, Saints Fan, dog mom and cat lady. Please don’t ask me if I own a cheesehead.