Last Friday saw the 28th running of the Tchoupitoulas Barathon. The premise of this annual event is simple: 6 miles, 6 bars, 6 beers. Although many treat it as a race, probably most participants today treat it as a combination fun run and pub crawl. For both sets of participants, I’d like to give the story of how it started.
It started with the Tchoupitoulas Social Aid & Athletic Club. The TSA&AC was a hard-core running club, with its culture heavily soaked in beer. Its leaders were President-For-Life Kent McDonald and Big Chief Ron Brinkman. Kent was a top-flight runner. By “top flight,” I mean a 10-K time of around 28:30. Ron was a pretty good runner, as was every member of the TSA&AC. He also was, and is, one of those people who reduces the degrees of separation between everyone in New Orleans. By this, I mean that everyone in New Orleans either knows Ron or knows someone who knows Ron.
I was privileged to hook up with this club in late 1982. We’d do speed training every Tuesday afternoon in City Park, and afterwards repair to the Parkway Tavern for beer.* The speed work was pretty intense, as everyone was pulled along by Kent. The after-workout beers were consumed just as intensely.
I can’t tell you who first came up with the idea of combining beer drinking with serious running. The idea seemed to emerge from the club itself, rather than from any particular member.
The first one was held in the spring of 1983. The course was roughly the same as today’s. The biggest difference is that we started and finished at Hillary’s, across the street from what used to be T.J. Quill’s, at the corner of Hillary and Maple. Another difference between then and now: then we did not drink a beer at the start, but had to chug one at the finish line to be officially clocked in.
Another difference between then and now: Then it was neither a fun run nor a pub crawl. It was a race, and a highly competitive one at that. It took a couple of tries for most of us to get the hang of running while drinking. By the time the second Barathon was held (in the fall of 1983, a one-time Oktoberfest Barathon), the times across the board improved significantly.
As time went on, the Tchoupitoulas Social Aid & Athletic Club dwindled away. But Ron Brinkman kept the Barathon going. It grew into what it is today: a cult classic. Hundreds showed up at last Friday’s running. Among that number were (by my count) five from the first Barathon and six from the second.
Last Friday, I finished in 51:45, nowhere near my heyday but still my best finish since probably 2001—not bad for a 52-year-old. The photo at upper left is me crossing the finish line of the 1992 Barathon. As I said, it was a serious race. For a few, it still is.
* Back then, the Parkway Tavern was located where Ralph’s on the Park is now. Same building, but back then, it was the kind of bar that was cleaned out every morning after with a hose.