Organizers and backers of the first Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon weekend Dec. 9-11 compare it to the origins of Cruisin’ The Coast and expect it to bring crowds to hotels, shops and restaurants in an otherwise slow time for South Mississippi tourism.
December is a great time for the race, said Danny Bourgeois, marketing director for the new event. Temperatures are expected to be cool when race starts at 7 a.m. Dec. 11 in Pass Christian for the marathon and Gulfport for the half marathon.
The day should warm up by the time the runners cross the finish line inside MGM Park in Biloxi, he said, where a festival is planned.
About 1,000 runners have registered since the marathon was announced in March.
“We already have 29 states and Canada represented,” Bourgeois said. “Our goal is a little over 3,000 for our first year.”
The race is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon and that should attract spectators to see some of the best runners in the world race along the beach and into MGM Park.
“It’s flat, fast and festive,” Bourgeois described the event.
Keith Crosby, general manager of the Palace Casino in Biloxi, explained the significance of the race by telling his staff, “Let me explain how Cruisin’ started.”
He was there with the other casino managers who started the celebration of antique and classic cars that has grown from a weekend into an eight-day event with a local economic impact of more than $20 million.
All the casinos are supporting the marathon and its organizers and Crosby said, “We’re all talking about what we can do to help them be successful.”
Like Cruisin’, the marathon will benefit cities across all three counties, he said, and is that “something else” people are wanting on the Coast.
It’s been talked about for years that the distance between the Bay St. Louis Bridge and the Biloxi Bay Bridge is perfect for a 26-mile course.
“Let’s do it,” Crosby said.
“We hope to have similar impact to local businesses and the travel industry on the Mississippi Coast as we have had in Baton Rouge,” said Jonathan Dzuiba, the race director of both marathons.
The Louisiana race is held in January and has an economic impact of $5.7 million.
Renee Areng, executive director of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, worked with the organizers of the race when she was in Baton Rouge and said bringing the marathon to South Mississippi is a great opportunity to generate overnight stays for years to come.
The timing is good, she said, coming early enough in December it will not interfere with holiday vacations and will provide a great Christmas gift of a weekend on the Coast.
Saturday will be more of a local day, with races for children and a health and fitness expo at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center in Biloxi. Sunday is the main event.
“There will be some road closures,” Bourgeois said, most of them partial closures from 6 a.m. until about noon.
More than 500 volunteers will be recruited to help with the race and the festival that will feature music, local seafood and Mississippi barbecue.
Dec. 9-10: Health and Fitness Expo at Coast Convention Center in Biloxi.
Dec. 10: 5K and kids fun run followed by post-race party.
Dec. 11: Marathon starts in Pass Christian and half marathon starts in Gulfport. The Finish Festival at MGM Park in Biloxi.