By the Way

One thing could improve the Gulf Coast marathon

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon begins at Henderson Point, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon begins at Henderson Point, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016.

It was probably about mile 5 of the inaugural Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon on Sunday when Scott ran up beside me.

“What marathon is this for you?” he asked.

It was my first.

“You know what that means, right?” he asked. “You’re going to PR (set a personal record) today.”

Scott — I couldn’t find him after the race to get his last name — was carrying a pink plastic flamingo (“Just for fun,” he said) and wearing a shirt that identified him as a 50-state marathoner. He was running the marathon with his nephew; it was his nephew’s first.

As it happens it was also the first year for the Gulf Coast Marathon and all its associated races. And whatever the organizational equivalent of PRing is, the event achieved that and more.

I’m a believer in supporting big community athletic events like the weekend-long “Coastal Running Fest.”

They are a great chance to show off a region to visitors. And they are also a great entry point to running (or biking or swimming or whatever athletic event it is) for people who may be interested but also a little intimidated. I know plenty of people, me included, who got into bicycling in order to participate in a large statewide ride in my home state of Iowa. I know plenty, myself included, who attended a marathon or shorter race to cheer for friends or to go to the party at the finish line, and were intrigued or inspired enough to sign up for their first 5K.

I’m still not what you would call a good runner. To call my pace through most of the race a “run” might be charitable. But participating in events like this has helped me immeasurably. It’s helped a lot of people. In a state with as many health problems as Mississippi, that can only be a positive thing.

The Sunday marathon may have been the big event this weekend but it may have been the 5K, kids fun run or beer mile that persuades someone to lace up a pair of running shoes.

The well-organized race and the party at the finish line in MGM Park went off as well as you could possibly expect for a first-time event. Sure, there were a few snafus — the speakers at the start didn’t work, for example — but the route was well marked, the aid stations were plentiful and all were staffed by encouraging volunteers, and the shuttle service seemed to run smoothly.

Big thanks to all of the police officers from four cities who did traffic control and maintained the route, and who toward the end began encouraging the runners.

The party at the end had food, massages, drinks and a live band. We spent an hour lounging in the sun on the field in MGM Park, recapping the race, listening to the band and watching the final runners come in.

Everyone I spoke to along the route and at the finish line party had only good things to say. (Except about the part where we ran to within shouting distance of MGM Park only to be directed toward a mile-and-a-half-long out and back. Not cool, guys. Necessary, I understand, but not cool.)

But marathons are — spoiler alert — long, and they can get tedious. With relatively few runners and hardly any spectators (except some amazing friends. Thanks guys!) the race got a little monotonous at times.

I guess what I’m saying is the one thing that would improve the run for next year would be to make it bigger — more runners and especially more spectators. I hope we can manage that.