Louisiana lands an ultra on the levee
The Mississippi River levee is the course of a new ultra: the Rouge-Orleans. ...
Photo by Ben Benton
The Mississippi River levee is the course of a new ultra: the Rouge-Orleans, and the inaugural race was held last March.
"We had no trail ultras in Louisiana," says Rouge-Orleans race director Jeff Beck. "So my business partner, Denver Benton, and I decided to introduce one. Nobody had utilized the levee for a foot race, but, even though we have a lot of trails here, when most people do a long run, they go to the levee."
The point-to-point course hugs the Mississippi River, the longest river in the nation, and runners race atop the gravel and dirt levee, a sloping bell curve raised 15 to 20 feet above the surrounding area, 126.2 flat miles from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. You may run solo or on a relay team of two, three or six people.
The levee provides racers with an intimate glimpse of the Deep South, offering expansive views of barges and ships passing down the Mississippi, and an agricultural basin home to farmland, cypress trees, sugarcane fields, live oaks, swamps and trees dripping with Spanish Moss.
"It's beautiful. You're running alongside the river, through plantation areas, open cattle ranges and along with wild horses," says 2011 solo finisher Mark Hellenthal of Phoenix, Arizona. "And at night, the fog rolls off the river. I had done night runs before but nothing with such vast areas of emptiness as the Rouge-Orleans."
The only aid stations are at mile 25, 50, 75 and 105. To make it feel even more isolated, the race takes off in three waves—based on expected finishing times—starting at 7:30 p.m., so be prepared to potentially run many night-miles alone.
A Run through History
Most everything about Rouge-Orleans is steeped in history. The main cannons of the U.S.S. Kidd Battleship, a historic World War II destroyer moored beyond the levee, are fired to signal the start of the race, which ends at the popular Audubon Park, the former 18th-century plantation of Etienne de Boré, the father of the sugar industry in Louisiana and New Orleans' first mayor.