It’s hard to think of New Orleans as a city for running. It’s hot and humid for more than half of the year. We love to eat, drink, and be merry. A lot. However, as someone who took their first running steps here, I think it’s those same qualities that make New Orleans a unique city for runners. Sure, we like to indulge. But we get our run in first.
I have run in other cities like Boston, New York City, and San Francisco, but there’s just something special about New Orleans. Much like the rest of the city, the running community welcomes all people into it, and I think it’s hard to find that kind of camaraderie anywhere else. The city is full of unique running crews with tight-knit communities. Whether you’re a crew looking for a spot to run, or a solo runner trying to find peace on the pavement, these are some of my favorite spots in the city to gain some miles.
Tucked away in uptown, Audubon Park is a runner’s dream. It’s tree lined, so it provides some relief from the sun’s heat. The park offers a nicely paved 1.8 mile loop; if you’re feeling adventurous, you can hop onto the 2 mile trail that surrounds the park, but watch out for the tree roots! You can also cross Magazine Street and enter “The Fly” and catch a view of the Mississippi (you might even spot the giraffes from Audubon Zoo if they’re out). The loop and the fly is a little over a 5K (3.1 miles), so your run is over before you know it.
I love running on the streetcar line because it’s mindless, happening, and accessible. It’s also a dirt path, so it’s a nice break from the pavement. You can hop on the line and run in any direction, whether it’s uptown towards the River Bend, or downtown towards the French Quarter. Between locals and visitors, there is always activity on the line, so you are entertained along the way. I carry cash because if for some reason I need to bail, I can just hop on the next streetcar coming and catch a ride home! I also like running along the streetcar line during Mardi Gras to watch as parade-goers set up for the days ahead. Be sure you run opposite of the streetcar’s direction so that you can see and hear one coming towards you.
City Park/Bayou St. John
I was once told that City Park is the biggest intercity park in the country, slightly edging out New York City’s Central Park. City Park goes on for miles and miles. You can run the outside perimeter of the park, cross Robert E. Lee Boulevard to hit the lakefront, and make a big rectangle, all while catching a glimpse of both Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John. The inside of the park is full of adventures as well. There are smaller loops around the lakes like the City Park Track if you want to do speed work, exercise stations if you want to strength train, and even a secret trail that you can catch on Harrison Avenue that takes through some beautiful greenery. I’d call City Park the runner’s “complete package.”
The phrase “pancake flat” is one that gets thrown around by local runners often when describing the lack of elevation in the city. Sometimes, you have to get creative to get in some hill training, and we’re not ashamed of using the city’s infrastructure to do so. The Jeff Davis Overpass sits above I-10 on Jeff Davis and pseudo-connects uptown to Mid-City. It offers a paved pedestrian path in the middle that allows you to go back and forth without the worry of cars coming your way. It’s personally my favorite, but that’s because we have a group (Varsity Sports Running Group aka OPT Overpass Tuesday) that meets there every Tuesday morning. You’ve also got the option of the Wisner Overpass right off of City Park that goes over 6-10. Its path is brand new and also pedestrian only. Both overpasses are guaranteed to give you a good but unexpected butt kicking, as well as spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Watch out for bikers because the path is shared.
I love Crescent Park because it boasts the city’s best views, and this holds true for running as well. Crescent Park has a 1.4 mile long path that you can enter from three spots: Bartholomew Street has an opening coming off of Chartres, Mandeville Street has a foot and elevator entrance or, if you want a challenge, you can run the stairs up the Rusty Rainbow at Piety Street. Sometimes I run through the park for the city views and river breeze.
New to the running scene is the Lafitte Greenway. The greenway provides a well paved and well-lit 2.6 mile path that connects the town from City Park to Armstrong Park. The path takes you through different neighborhoods in the city that you may typically run by otherwise. Along the route, you’ll see spots such as basketball courts, a football field, a community pool, and a FitLot. What I love most about the Greenway is that it is part of an initiative to bring free and accessible exercise into the community surrounding it.
On the Levee
I often take to the levee when I want to get away from street noise. The levee lines the Mississippi River for endless miles and is an easy place to zone out. It’s also well paved, so there’s less of a concern about tripping over cracks in the road. You can enter it from anywhere you see river and run for as long as your heart desires. The nice thing about the levee is that you can run both the east and west bank side and catch different city views. I once relayed a race that ran the levee from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, but I’ll save that for a different day. Make sure you carry water (or cash for a pit stop) because there is little shade and very few water stops up there.
This one is for my runners out there that want the full city experience on by foot: meet the city loop. This is a 12-14 mile loop of the city (distance depends on the exact route you take and who you ask) that takes you through a large chunk of the city. To give you an idea of how to run the loop, here’s my route. Starting at the St. Charles entrance of Audubon Park, I run up the streetcar line towards the river (it turns into Carrollton), and follow it until it ends. Then I continue onto Carrollton, which takes me through Mid-City, until I hit City Park at Esplanade Avenue and turn down Esplanade. Here, pass through Tremé and the Quarter. I run Esplanade all the way down until I hit the river, run the Riverwalk, and exit by the aquarium. I dodge cars as I run down Poydras to St. Charles, and stop for a water break in Lafayette Square. The St. Charles streetcar line then takes me through downtown, Lower Garden District, and Uptown before taking me right back where I started at the front of Audubon Park. (That’s about 13ish miles, plus or minus a half mile.)
Here’s the one running tip I’d like to leave you with. In New Orleans, no matter where you’re running, you’re always close to home. Take a chance and run somewhere you wouldn’t think of running. Take your phone and snap a picture of that pelican you may otherwise never see. And visit the local running shops like Varsity Sports for example, and grab local swag to bring home with you. I hope this helps you plan your next course. I gotta run now!