I’ve run five marathons so far. And frankly, it’s usually not much fun.
Marathons are painful. They’re long. Every part of you ends up sore. And chafed. And exhausted. And sweaty. It’s bad for your shoes. And your joints. It’s a huge investment, of both money—at around $100 a pop just for the entry fee—and time, between months of training and the race itself (it takes me about five hours to finish one). But the feeling of accomplishment when crossing the finish line at the completion of the 26.2 miles of a marathon—or even “just” the 13.1 miles of a half marathon—is like no other. That part is fun. So are the bragging rights, and the celebratory box of donuts or entire king cakes afterwards (the average runner burns up to 3,000 calories during a marathon).
I have some running gear imprinted with the slogan, “I love running, just not when I’m doing it.”
Normally, that is very true. Except, perhaps, when it comes to a race in the Rock ‘n’ Roll series. These folks have been planning running races for over 20 years and now hold events in nearly 30 cities worldwide. I find it rather impressive that anyone can manage to make such grueling exercise pleasant, but Rock ‘n’ Roll does exactly that. And that is what I like about the organization and the events they put on.
They put the fun back in mile 25. They distract you from thinking about that knee that’s throbbing or the fact that you still have 20 miles left to go. Teyva Sammet, the spokesperson for Rock ‘n’ Roll, explained, “Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons are all about making running fun. We appreciate the incredible physical challenge our runners have signed up for, and we want to do everything we can to make it as enjoyable as possible.”
From the live bands playing along the race course, the thousands of volunteers on the route offering everything from Powerade to first aid, to the smooth and easy organization of all their events, participating in one of the Rock ‘n’ Roll races is not only stress-free, but actually a fairly good time. If, that is, you like the feeling of your lungs burning, your legs giving out, and somebody taking a hammer to your knees for long, excruciating intervals. It’s a dull, ceaseless, ongoing pain—kind of like getting a very time-consuming tattoo, passing a kidney stone, or being clawed by a cat on the same patch of skin for several hours straight. And you know that dream you have where you are trying desperately to escape from somewhere (or someone) in a hurry, but you can only move in slow motion, like your limbs are stuck in cement and can’t be lifted? That’s a little bit how it feels to run a marathon.
But if you’re going to suffer anyway in the name of exercise, you might as well do it with live music accompaniment. Because even when you’re hitting rock bottom, you can still rock. This year, even more bands will be playing both during the race and at the post-race party, and the acts will be announced shortly.
So just when you think you can’t run a single step further, the bands or the cheering crowds—offering you jazz, beer, mimosas, moral support, and a variety of baked goods—will uplift you.
“The community support in the city is unparalleled,” Sammet said. We see groups of people flocking to the streets to cheer on these runners and hand out their own kinds of on-course support. I’ve seen everything—beignets, Jell-O shots, king cake, martinis...”
Many people sign up for races merely for the free stuff they’ll get, from medals to t-shirts to all-you-can-eat bananas. And if bling is your incentive, then you can’t go wrong with Rock ‘n’ Roll. You’ll get a great race t-shirt, a personalized bib, and unlimited free beer. There’s even chocolate milk at the finish (which is supposed to help with muscle recovery), and yes, bananas. The medals are big, heavy, and specially designed each year just for New Orleans (usually with either a music- or Mardi Gras-related design). For 2018, Rock ‘n’ Roll is offering voodoo-themed medals. Not to mention, participants who take part in the full marathon will really be given the red-carpet treatment: a red carpet at the finish line and pizza and massages after the race.
But if that’s not enough running-related goodies for you, there’s a giant “runner’s expo” before the race, where you can stock up on anything imaginable related to the sport of running, such as race-day vitamins and nutrients, running clothes, and 26.2 and 13.1 emblazoned across coffee mugs, t-shirts, and car magnets.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon New Orleans is always such a grand affair, complete with a two-day running expo, a big post-run after-party (aka “finishers fest”), and, of course, the race itself (which now also includes a 5k the day before the longer-distance races). And with approximately 20,000 people taking part this year, that makes for one heck of a shindig. Besides, that many people can’t be wrong—they know a good thing when they sign up for it. And I don’t want to be the only one to pass up on the festivities. Sammet calls the race a “26.2-mile block party” that is fun for runners, walkers, and spectators alike.
In fact, because the Rock ‘n’ Roll races are so good, I get sucked in every time, against my better judgment. I’m in no shape to do a marathon this year; I haven’t been training enough; I’m tired. But I gave in to my Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and signed up anyway, for the third year in a row. Rather than deciding not to take part at all this year, I opted instead to try not to overdo it and just walk the marathon. I also could have planned to do the shorter half marathon, but that marathon glory (and free massage) is calling my name.
Sammet said, “This race is a great one to sign up for, especially for the marathon, because, of all our races, it has the longest time limit [seven hours] and the course is very flat. So, it is great for beginners and people wanting to take it easy.”
It brings in people from around the country and the world to take part in the event, and to take in a bit of New Orleans while they’re at it. “For out-of-towners who are looking for somewhere to travel for their race, New Orleans has so much to offer tourists,” Sammet said. “It’s a great city to plan a ‘runcation.’”
The Rock ‘n’ Roll 5k takes place on Saturday, March 3, 2018, followed by the marathon and half marathon the next day—Sunday, March 4. Getting into running and the training leading up to the race is a great opportunity to work off some of those Mardi Gras overindulgences. “Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans is situated perfectly just a couple weeks after Mardi Gras and the Carnival season,” Sammet said. “So, it’s a perfect way to get back to your fitness goals and keep you focused through the festivities.”
Just don’t give up carbs for Lent. You’re going to want to carb-load on pasta the night before the run, and you’ll really deserve those donuts after. (Incidentally, just to end with a word of advice: plan your pasta dinner well in advance. I’ve seen firsthand that nearly every Italian eatery within a 30-mile radius books up when Rock ‘n’ Roll—and 20,000 spaghetti-craving runners—come to town.)