By ALEXIS WILLIAMS
With just over three months to go before the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, organizers, endurance runners and first-time racers are all preparing for the second annual event, which will be held the weekend of Dec. 8-10.
Race director Jonathan “Juba” Dziuba and his team felt the Gulf of Mexico and beach-lined stretch of Highway 90 from Pass Christian to Biloxi “screamed for a marathon.” His team worked with municipalities along the Coast, Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast and other organizations to make the sun-soaked, beach-view marathon a reality.
“The uniqueness of the Coast and the fact that there are very few buildings between the road and the water made us really want to host a point-to-point race the length of it,” said Dziuba.
In last year’s inaugural race, over 3,300 runners registered to run in one or more distances from 5K to full marathon. Currently, registration is showing a trend toward growth with Dziuba and his team hoping to reach 5,000 runners for the weekend and then working to double that number to 10,000 participants in the future.
After the successful weekend event in 2016, Dziuba and his staff began preparing for this year’s event just after they wrapped up their other race weekend, the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge. Both racing events are official qualifiers for the Boston Marathon.
“We have had tremendous support from so many along the Gulf Coast,” adds Dziuba. “Every city council and police district from Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi and Ocean Springs have played a role and shown genuine excitement for having an event like this down here. The casinos were instrumental in helping us get off the ground in the first year.”
Dziuba, who began volunteering for racing events in 2009 and working full time in race production in 2013, believes the course for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon is what makes it so unique and helps draw a crowd to race in early December, when temperatures are cooler and almost perfect for distance running.
“Every memorable race or event has a story or an experience that producers hope the participants get to share in,” said Dziuba. “The course for this race is really the highlight. When you couple that with a very laid back and welcoming culture along the Gulf Coast, you get the story we are trying to convey. We want everyone to experience ‘soaking up the run’ while they are here with us for the weekend.”
The weekend’s events offer something for everyone and every age. Children can even participate in the event by registering for the Kids Marathon, which is geared for the entire family and held on Saturday along with the 5K race. Both events start at Biloxi’s Point Cadet. Organizers hope to expand the Kids Marathon participation in 2017.
Sunday’s half-marathon and full marathon racing begins at 7 a.m. For full marathon runners, the beautiful course begins at Henderson Point in Pass Christian and half-marathon runners start their journey at Gulfport’s Jones Park.
Dziuba has many favorite memories from 2016’s inaugural race. “Some of the things I enjoy the most are things that our runners never see like the OPS crew sharing a laugh as we walk out of the hotel lobby at 3 a.m.,” he said. “I always love watching people jump out of their skin when the start cannon goes off and of course all the smiles and hugs we get to watch at the finish line.”
Runners and groups are now training for this year’s race. “It’s time to start!” advises Dziuba. “Endurance running is not an exclusive club. It just takes time and dedication to make gradual gains over a long period of time. Start slow, increase distance…”
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon website offers training tips and plans as well as race schedules and registration information.
Enhancements are being made to the Coors Light Finish Fest which is held post-race at MGM Park in Biloxi. “They layout will be a little different to accommodate more restaurants and hang out areas,” adds Dziuba. Runners and the public are welcome to sample Gulf Coast seafood and barbecue as well as cold beer and live music.
Dziuba and staff will perform an official economic impact study of the race after its conclusion, but he says the numbers on the Coast were similar to their first Louisiana Marathon. That first year, it brought in $3 million to the Baton Rouge area. Now, in its sixth year, the Louisiana Marathon brings in almost $6 million, a statistic he hopes will hold true on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
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