As my wife Suzanne & I have "matured" in our running lives we've slowly, steadily progressed out of the comfort zone we see in many of our running friends. It's difficult to maintain the joy of the sport, or realize just how good you have it (or how much better you can have it) in your home town until you travel somewhere else and run or race. Runners who race only in their home town, or don't take their running gear with them when they travel, miss the boat. Representing the northern half of Florida has allowed me to see cities like Chicago, Cincinnati, San Francisco & New Orleans, to name a few burgs, at a pace & perspective most business or pleasure travelers never get.
We've tried to encourage some of our close friends to toddle along with us on occasion to Key West, Jacksonville, Nashville, San Diego, Honolulu, and even outside the country...especially if there were cool places to see/be or cool races to do/get through. It didn't hurt to have: a) coaches who told sea stories about their favorite running places and partners, trying (like a parent does to a stubborn three-year-old) to diversify our running taste buds, and b) jobs which have required varying degrees of travel at diffferent times of the year.
And it doesn't necessarily take a convention trip to get us out the door. The challenge in our district is what I like to call the "Jumpy Two Equation." A friend of mine (her e-mail address includes "jumpy two") told me once she will travel to events as long as the event duration is longer than the drive. My district, from end-to end, is a nearly-eight hour drive. Since I don't like to race events longer than the half-marathon distance (a distance I can truly race & still feel semi-all right the next day), that kind of limits me to a two-hour window of opportunity...unless we (read: my wife) have business travel which can be tied in to justify such a junket, er, journey.
For Suzanne & me, a jaunt to New Orleans has progressed from being "strictly tourism" (Vieux Carre' all the way) to "race-related tourism" (run 10K, then Vieux Carre'), to "business & pleasure" (plug & pray, run 10K, Vieux Carre') to "checking in with the extended family." (5:20, Snooie Bread, Community Cafe', Speedo jokes, etc.) The more we run in NOLA, and with NOLA people when they come to see us, the more we find out what a real NOLA runner will - and will not - say.
We'll wait until after sunrise. This goes without regard to the season or climate conditions. A real NOLA runner knows to start a long training run early. Starting a run after sunrise during the summer is considered by local emergency room doctors to be an act of near-suicidal proportions. During winter, however, starting the run at the scheduled time is a sign of real NOLA runner discipline. For example, if you're running with 5:20 & your run is going longer than ten, it's better that you start earlier than you not show up to breakfast at the appointed hour.
Watch out for ice on the road. Okay, after Jackson Day weekend that might not be so correct. And the odds of seeing ice on the roadway - away from the Quarter - is fairly slim. Of course, this last weekend, Slim did show for 5:20. In fact, I saw Slim in a couple of locations. There are other hazards to running on NOLA roads which I've chalked up as normal state of affairs (usually treated with very comfortable shoes & ibuprofen for the next few days) after nearly ten years, but ice is one of those one-off things. No real NOLA runner will think to warn you about ice on the road. It just isn't all that common.
We can run on the median. Silly me, the social studies/history major. Why didn't they teach me this tidbit of information at the University of Tampa? Like anything else in NOLA, there are things which are said/done a little differently in NOLA than we highlanders know. I heard (NOTC president Aaron, & RRCA LA rep Betsy) Boudreaux talk about neutral ground when talking courses in the past. Didn't put two-and-two together until jogging up Esplanade & we got on that nice, wide, tree/grass/bush strip I called a median. You'd have thought I'd hit a canine land mine up there and kicked it into the face of a local. I was quickly corrected on that faux pas. 'Dude,' I was icily informed, 'we call those neutral ground.' I swear it's all the fault of the French & Spanish. Not me.
This is a hilly course. Unless a real NOLA runner leaves NOLA they never race on a really hilly course. Thing is, even the slightest positive elevation change is a negative to a real NOLA runner. Real NOLA runners have the most sensitive internal inclinometers known to man. Forget about taking them on an easy, slightly hilly 8.2-mile loop run. The real NOLA runner will not be looking at the scenery or the houses, but looking for the flattest route to the finish...or asking how many more climbs there are. One of the courses I've measured, a point-to-point from downtown Pensacola to Pensacola Beach, goes over two spans of water. Oh, there is a viaduct probably the height of the bridge on Wisner, which some have taken to call a bridge. So, rather than call that event the Double Bridge Run, I will recommend to the race organization, on behalf of all real NOLA runners, it be renamed "Two and a Half Bridges." Fair enough?
I've got other things to catch up on. The run is not over until you've had breakfast, or lunch, or adult beverage of choice. Usually this is where side bets, wagers or dares are paid in full, & roll is taken to determine whether you were really there. Ask 5:20. Once you've checked in & been duly chastened because of the shirt or hat you were forced to wear because your team lost, or you got 'chicked,' then you know the love of the real NOLA runner.
In towns where the act of running can be hazardous to one's health, it's nice to know there are other like-minded lunatics evading homicidal hack handlers, defusing "canine land mines" & enduring (or returning) pithy one-liners at street-corner orthopedic practitioners. It's our reality, & we take comfort in the common bond. See you guys in about six weeks, unless we can justify coming sooner...our bosses are beginning to get suspicious.