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Mississippi River Marathon hopes for growth in second year

The organizers of the Mississippi River Marathon in Greenville and Lake Village, Ark., are hoping to build on last February’s success.

This was the first year for the marathon and half-marathon, which starts in Lake Village and ends in Greenville, but it still managed to attract more than 1,300 participants from 37 states and three foreign countries.

In 2014, officials want that number to jump to at least 2,000 runners for the Feb. 8 race. Online race registration has already started at www.msrivermarathon.com.

“We are encouraged by the success of last year’s race and encouraged by the benefit it will provide to improve the health and wellness of our community,” said Race Committee co-chair Suzette Matthews.

marathon2013-6United Healthcare served as the title sponsor for the event. Greg Claus, assistant to Greenville Mayor John Cox., said in a phone interview Tuesday negotiations for United Healthcare to renew its sponsorship are ongoing.

“Nothing is finalized,” Claus said. He added that if a title sponsor isn’t found, it could be replaced by a consortium of sponsorships. Either way, Claus said, officials are confident they’ll round up adequate sponsorship money.

They will need it. The race’s purse has increased to a total of $3,000, awarded to the top five finishers in the male and female categories.

Also new next year is an additional Community Run, a free event that encourages locals to walk or run one mile along the race course. February’s event featured one Community Run.

Like last year, Teach for America will be the signature charity to which proceeds will flow. The 2013 marathon raised $40,000, Claus said, for the organization that places new college graduates in classrooms in impoverished areas.

TFA teacher Christ Marsh was one of the race’s founders. He told the Mississippi Business Journal in an interview shortly before the 2013 marathon that the race could highlight two issues important to the Mississippi Delta – health and education.

“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,” Marsh said. “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.

Claus said this week officials surveyed runners once they had finished the race to gauge how much they had spent on hotels, restaurants, gasoline and related expenses while they were in the area. Based on those surveys, Claus said officials estimate the approximately 1,300 participants pumped just more than $500,000 into Greenville. Claus said he expects that number to increase significantly if the number of runners for this year’s race, set for Feb. 8, exceeds organizers’ goal of 2,000.

Runners who competed last year will receive a 15 percent discount on race fees if they register by Aug. 31. That discount shrinks as race day approaches.



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