Saturday’s Crescent City Classic offers new look

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Ethiopian runners Aziza Aliyu, left, who won the 2012 Richmond, Va., marathon; Sofya Shemsu, left; and Hilwot Ayalew, who represented Ethiopia at the 2012 Olympics in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and Belainsh Gebre, far right, practice Friday in the Roosevelt Mall in City Park by Tad Gormley Stadium while inspecting the course for Saturday's Crescent City Classic in New Orleans. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Ethiopian runners Aziza Aliyu, left, who won the 2012 Richmond, Va., marathon; Sofya Shemsu, left; and Hilwot Ayalew, who represented Ethiopia at the 2012 Olympics in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and Belainsh Gebre, far right, practice Friday in the Roosevelt Mall in City Park by Tad Gormley Stadium while inspecting the course for Saturday's Crescent City Classic in New Orleans.

The 35th Allstate Crescent City Classic will unveil its new look Saturday morning in the shadow of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at the corners of Loyola Avenue and Poydras Street in New Orleans.

The race has undergone several changes this year, including a new corral system to better organize the start, a new starting point and a new route.

The changes were seen as necessary updates by organizers, who witnessed the Classic’s numbers flagging as complaints mounted about the way the race was organized.

“One of our biggest complaints was running around strollers or walkers that were five abreast — you couldn’t get a good run in,” said Eric Stuart, the race director. “With the new corral system, walkers will be in a walkers corral, strollers will be in a strollers corral and runners will have a chance to run.”

Runners will start near the Superdome rather than in front of Jackson Square in the French Quarter. That change puts an emphasis on giving runners a smoother transition into their pace instead of having them jostle for position in the narrow Quarter streets.

Racers still will be treated to the scenes of the French Quarter; they’ll just come later. The new route features several long and straight stretches, including a jaunt right through the historic neighborhood.

“You’re running by the casino, you run through the French Quarter — past Jackson Square, the French market, Café Du Monde — and then take a left on Esplanade Avenue and you’re looking at some historical houses, old places of business in that area,” Stuart said. “The scenery is unbelievable. It’s just a great route.”

The top finisher is expected to be 19-year-old Kenyan Isaiah Koech, who will be running his first road race. He figures to be challenged by countrymen David Bett and 36-year-old Philip Mosima, among others.

“With those two front-runners and maybe this 36-year-old, we could have five runners pushing under 28 minutes,” elite athlete coordinator Andrew Lilly said. “That’s pretty much unheard of on a worldwide basis. … That could very well happen.”

The weather is expected to cooperate this year, with expected temperatures in the low 60s for the 8 a.m. start and a 20 percent chance of rain. If it stays dry, the weather is just about perfect to go out and turn in a fast time — and maybe good enough for some of the elite athletes to break records along the way.

“I would think you’re going to see some people going out there and putting up a real fast time,” Stuart said. “If their training is in order, the course we have laid out and the weather will enhance their ability to try to get into record territory.”

As usual, there will be a strong contingent of runners from around the state. Jenni Peters, founder of Varsity Sports running store in Baton Rouge, chartered three buses and a limo bus to shuttle members of her running group to the race.

“Those people are there just for the fun,” Peters said. “They’re going to hang out after, drink their beer, eat their food and enjoy the camaraderie.”