How do you get New Orleans to exercise? Free beer, naturally.
Mac DeVaughn just wanted to sell some shoes. So, to promote his business — and with U.S. interest in road racing hitting its stride — he decided to organize a New Orleans race. When the starter’s pistol sounded at 9 a.m. on Sept. 23, 1979, it marked the birth of the Crescent City Classic, now one of the oldest 10K events in the country. Moving to the spring calendar in its second year, it has grown to become an annual Easter weekend tradition in New Orleans, known for its festival-like atmosphere and post-race party and concert at City Park’s Tad Gormley Stadium.
With its one-of-a-kind backdrop and a blend of world-class runners, fitness buffs, stroller-pushers and costumed nut-jobs, the Crescent City Classic is consistently listed on rankings of the nation’s can’t-miss 10K races. When its 39th running takes place Saturday (April 15) — as always, the Saturday before Easter — more than 20,000 people are expected to lace up and report to the starting line.
- The Crescent City Classic was the first 10k to be televised nationally when the then-fledgling ESPN broadcast it in 1982.
- U.S. Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter of Boulder, Colo., won the inaugural CCC, finishing in 28:36. Alicia Reese of New Orleans won the women’s division, finishing in 37:40. In that first year, 902 people participated.
- DeVaughn sold the race in 1996 to the nonprofit Crescent City Fitness Foundation, which still operates it today, as well as its four sister races, all sponsored by the Allstate Sugar Bowl: the St. Patrick’s Day Classic, a 2-miler; the Crescent Connection Bridge Run, a 4-mile race across the Mississippi River; the Crescent City Fall Classic, a 5k; and the Celebration in the Oaks Run/Walk, a 2-mile run through the annual Christmas lights display at City Park.
- Although it used to begin at Jackson Square, the race’s current course begins downtown in front of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, runs through the French Quarter, and then up Esplanade Avenue to City Park.
- The men’s course record is held by Sammy Kipketer of Kenya, who in 2002 finished in 27:10. The women’s record is held by four-time CCC winner Isabella Ochichi, also of Kenya, who in 2005 finished in 30:27.
- According to DeVaughn, there was one year that the race helped solve a bank robbery. As the story goes, a local bank was robbed the Friday before the race by a guy in a distinctive sweatshirt and bandana. The next day, a teller from that bank attended the race — and saw a runner wearing the same get-up. She copied down his bib number and reported it to police. “After the race, the police show up wanting to know who runner number such-and-such is,” DeVaughn said in a 1999 interview with The Times-Picayune. “We identify him and solve a bank robbery. He was from Texas, in for the race. That was the dumbest runner we ever had.”
- In the third Crescent City Classic in 1981, Michael Musyoki of Kenya won the race in 27:55, breaking the world record. A year later, he broke his own world record again, finishing in 27:48. That record stood for just two years, when U.S. runner Mark Nenow set a new world record by finishing in 27:23. All these years later, Nenow’s time stands as the 13th best 10K road race finish on record.
Few people would mistake New Orleans as a place obsessed with physical fitness. It is, however, a place that knows how to throw a party. From the beginning, that has shined through with the Crescent City Classic. In a 1999 interview, DeVaughn remembered attending Atlanta’s Peachtree Race in 1979 with a local reporter. “He said, ‘This race is a big rip-off.’ I said ‘Why?’ He said, ‘There’s no beer, no music. It’s just a damn race,'” DeVaughn said. “So I thought, that’s not going to be enough for New Orleans. … Any time people in the running community talk about all the great national class races, they’ll say ‘The Peachtree: What a great race,’ or ‘Spokane: What a great race.’ But they’ll say, ‘The Crescent City: What a great party.’ All races have the flavor of the city they’re run in, and the Classic’s been successful because it’s New Orleans.”