Mississippi River Marathon hopes to raise money and awareness

by Clay Chandler

Published: November 9,2012

Tags: Greenville, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi River Marathon, Teach for America

The inaugural Mississippi River Marathon started with a conversation between two Teach for America corps members.

Those putting on the race, set for February in Greenville and Lake Village, Ark., say it could end up paying nice dividends for the Delta and for the teacher-placement organization.

Chris Marsh and a Teach for America colleague came up with the idea.

“We both love to run, and we both love to run in this area because it’s so flat,” Marsh said. “We thought it would be great to have a race here that we wouldn’t have to travel a couple hours to get to.”

Once Marsh and his colleague knew they wanted to organize a marathon, they decided they wanted it to benefit Teach for America, an organization that trains recent college graduates and places them in poor and underserved school districts.

Marsh, who teaches at Lakeside High School in Lake Village, said the response from city officials in Lake Village and Greenville was immediately positive once he and others started floating the idea.

“Our pitch to everybody was that our race would be kind of a symbol, a way to bring two of the most important issues that people here in the Delta communities face. The first one is health, and living a healthy lifestyle by exercising and eating right. The second is education, with the hope that people would take responsibility for getting an education. The way to do that was to donate all the proceeds to Teach for America.”

Marsh said the first conversation he and fellow organizers had about the marathon was last December. Not long after, they started applying for event permits and firming up memorandums of understanding with government officials in Greenville and Lake Village. The whole time, they pitched the social and financial benefits of the event.

It worked. By April, race organizers had incorporated and secured the permits they needed from both sides of the river. Runner registration started in June. As of last week, just more than 500 runners from 30 states had signed up. By the time race day arrives in February, Marsh hopes to have 1,000 runners committed.

As of last week, sponsorships — health insurance provider United Healthcare anted up enough to serve as title sponsor — had raised just more than $50,000 for Teach for America.

“And that doesn’t include runners’ fees,” which range from $60 (half marathon) to $80 (full marathon), but will creep higher as race day approaches, Marsh said. “Things are looking good for us.”

Marsh said he has “no idea” what the final amount of money raised will be, due to he and just about everybody else involved being brand new at this.

The most eye-opening part of putting together an event this size came when Marsh and his colleagues visited the people involved in the Mississippi Blues Marathon, which takes place every January in Jackson.

“The number they gave us on what it actually costs to put on a race scared us to death,” Marsh said. “It made us feel like we couldn’t actually pull it off.”

The deeper they got into the number-crunching and budgeting process, the more Mississippi River Marathon officials realized they could put on a respectable event for a cost far short of the Blues Marathon number, which was in the mid-six figures.

The cost whittled down to a manageable figure, race organizers turned their attention to another number — the economic impact Washington County can expect.

Greg Claus, executive assistant to Greenville Mayor John Cox, said the packet runners will get will include a survey aimed at finding out how much money they spent on things like restaurant visits and hotel stays. Those totals will be calculated after the marathon in an attempt to gauge the financial punch the marathon packed.

To compare, last January’s Blues Marathon in Jackson brought 5,000 people, which included runners and spectators, to the Fondren neighborhood and the downtown business district, said Marika Cackett, spokesperson for the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The total impact of that race was $490,000, she said.

Equaling that will take more than just the runners involved, Claus said, and there are plans to involve Greenville’s business community to push that number as high as possible. Included is a Friday Night Carbo and Pasta Dine Around for runners at Greenville restaurants.

“We know this will generate a lot of buzz about Greenville,” Claus said. “And it benefits an organization in Teach for America that helps to fill a huge need in the Delta.”

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