Friday, March 5, 2010

Mardi Gras Rock 'N' Roll Marathon Race Review

About the race. The EXPO was well run. It was crowed but that was to be expected. However, the Competitor Group has refined this process. It took all of 2 or 3 minutes to get processed. This was the largest race that I have ever participated in and this was the most efficient check in! When I did my ironman it literally took hours. Yes, there was a lot of hand holding for the ironman and regulations and rules and stuff but there were only 3,000 people participating – the marathon had 16,000. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Series has this down to a science.

The EXPO itself was pretty good also. There were several booths doing what appeared to be brisk business. You were also able to show your ID so that you could have beer at the finish line. If you checked in during the EXPO you would not have to show ID at the finish line. You could also sample the MGD 64 in Dixie cups at the EXPO. But, there was a rumor that you were only allowed 2 beers at the finish. That must be a dirty joke – this is after all New Orleans. The New Orleans Track Club almost starts serving beer prior to the start of their races. Now, don’t get me started on Baton Rouge – many races have food and drink the night before the race (included in the fee) as well as food and beer immediately following the race. This two beer limit must be a joke.

The race started near the convention center. The corrals were well marked and each corral had several port-a-loos. This was done very well. When I first got to the start line there were no lines for the potties and I hopped in and did my business. A little bit later I needed to go again and this time there was a line but it was acceptable. Even with a line it took only a couple of minutes. I don’t know how many corrals there were – twenty something I would guess – and there were a couple or three port-a-loos in each corral. I appreciated the amount of facilities that were available. There was a VIP area near the start that had heaters so you could stay warm. This area also had food, drinks and VIP bathrooms. However, you had to have purchased $150 worth of stuff at the EPXO. That was not for me.

The start was in the warehouse district, an industrial part of town. I have started at races here before and it is as good as anywhere to start. The course went east and looped around Audubon Park. This was a nice run even though the pavement was less than ideal. After the race I heard several stories of people falling. I hate to hear that but this is New Orleans and the roads are just that bad – there is no way around that.

Prior to the race I was looking over the course map and I was immediately concerned about the Half and Full marathoners branching off from each other and then merging back. I was concerned because the two groups would merge back together at mile 4.5 for the half marathoners and mile 8 for the full marathoners. I was afraid that there would be two groups of runners at very different paces. Worrying was all for not. The groups never actually merged – instead they ran side by side separated by a median or a line of cones.

As the name of the race suggests, there were a lot of bands. They were place at every mile of the race. This was not as motivating as you might think. You ran by the bands and heard them for about a minute. I do not remember any of the bands specifically. Maybe the bands are for the spectators?

The volunteers were plentiful and enthusiastic. There were cheerleaders from area schools everywhere cheering the runners on – they were competing for monies for their schools. Water and sports drink was every mile. I prefer to take gels and wash them down with straight water. It might be prissy but I do not want to spill the sports drink all over me and have to lose the mental concentration fussing with the stickiness. Anyway, I always take my own gels so this is not an issue for me (my gels are looped into my race belt), but I believe that there were only two water stops that had the gels. The map of the race indicated that gels would be available but it did not say where they would be available. If I had not had my own gels I might have been out of luck. As it turns out I did take 3 gels from the course. I combined this with the 5 that I had with me. Yes, that is right, I had 8 gels during the race (1 before and 7 during). Not having gels at all or most water stops seemed, I don’t know, I guess a little bit cheap. Once again, this did not pose a problem for me.

The finish line was lined deep with spectators and you could see the clock from a hundred yards out. This was well done and it definitely encouraged me to ‘sprint it out’. Once you crossed the finish line you were given your medal and a sports drink. The area immediately after finishing was well stocked with bagels, bananas, sports bars, water and sports drink. You were also given a solar blanket. There were speakers at the exit of this area that told you that once you left you would not be allowed back into the area. The notification system was well done. There was no doubt that you would not be let back in – they also had security standing there to ensure that no one came back into the area. I was spent when I finished and did not feel like eating much of anything – after all I had just finished a marathon. I did eat a bite of a banana and grabbed an additional sports drink as well as two sports bars.

I left the finishers area and found my group. I changed clothes in a port-a-loo. The park was huge and you had to walk a good distance to the reunion area. They had letters posted in a field that allowed for you to easily meet up with group. I thought this was done well. We ventured over to the letter P (for Pine belt Pacers – our running club) and met several of our group. The ground was damp so we used our solar blankets to keep us dry.

I went over to the beer area and my race bib procured me two beer tickets. They marked the bib to show that I had received my tickets. Each additional beer would be $2. Now, this race cost well over $100. I wonder how much money was saved (or made) from limiting cans of cheap beer? This did not affect me too much but there was a lot of grumbling amongst the finishers. In addition, who carries money with them on a race? I guess you could have packed it in your finish line bag – but …

After a few more people finished we started to get a little bit hungry. There was no food available outside of the finisher’s area. I take that back, they did have food for purchase. Now here is the rub, they have a captive audience of 16,000 people that have just run several hours and they charge them for food. That is just wrong. I have been to a lot of races and there is always food for the racers. That is just how races are done. There was a national chain restaurant serving food for free if you jumped through some hoops the day before. I was not aware of this and I did not jump through the necessary hoops. Anyway, they ran out of food.

This was also a point to point race and you had to take shuttles back to ‘near’ the start. There was no parking at the finish. You had to walk about a mile to get to the shuttles. I am not sure why they could not have been closer. I mean, we did have to walk along a road to get to the buses. But the number of buses was plentiful. There was no wait once you made the trek. The buses took you to the Superdome which is where most of participates had parked for the race and the second stop was close to the French Quarter. But if you were staying in a hotel near the race start you had another mile to walk. I knew where the shuttles were dropping off and was okay with the walk but I did hear of many people being upset – especially if you did not know the area.

I am aware that you cannot make everyone happy. And I did have a great race (I am signed up for next year already – I signed up prior to running the race for about a 50% discount). But there are a few things that need to be done better. Having done a number of triathlons I often hear of people being upset with WTC (World Triathlon Corporation - the ironman company) and talk about how expensive their races are. Both of these companies put on an efficient race and sell an experience. And I am perfectly fine paying for these experiences. At the end of my ironman, there was a ton of food (cheap food like pizza, bagels, cookies – but who cares at the end of an ironman) and even complimentary massages. My ironman and my marathon were both wonderful. But the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series seems to be rather greedy. After all, it is just a marathon. If you charge a premium you had better deliver. With just a few changes to the amenities these events would be spectacular. I believe that the cost of the race should cover post race food. For crying out loud, no one would have complained if they charged an extra $5 and gave you a hamburger (although the race is already at a premium). There are a lot of marathons around. I am not sure if the Rock ‘n’ Roll experience is the premium.

The Good:
Fast easy check-in
Start Line facilities
Nice course
Ample water stations
Festive Finish line

The Bad:
Expensive Race
Limited Beer
Limited Gels at the water stations

All in all I had a great race and many of the CONS just did not have an effect on my experience. Most of what I am reporting on was from other racers. However, I do see their points. As I have previously mentioned I will be doing the race again next year. It will be interesting to see how the race grows.


Marci said...

Overall... sounds like a great race! Will mostly likely be on that must do marathon list!