I’ve previously written in these pages about the 10 Best First Marathons for runners, and the many wonderful attributes of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a hidden gem travel destination that I love. Now the two themes have come together, and this is good news for anyone who wants to run 26.2 miles on flat, scenic, oceanfront terrain without spending a fortune and have a ton of fun afterwards.
Just announced last week, the debut Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon will be held December 11, 2016 and registration is now open. One of the big tourism draws of the region is America’s longest manmade beach, which was substantially rebuilt and widened after Hurricane Katrina, a gorgeous stretch of sand that just happens to be about 26 miles long. The course, which seems almost custom built for an ideal race, follows the beach on almost totally flat terrain, which is easier for first time marathoners and faster for experienced vets looking for a personal record or low qualifying time for other events (the course is certified as a Boston Marathon qualifier). The race begins in Pass Christian, on the Louisiana side of Mississippi, then winds east along the coast on Beach Boulevard (Highway 90) to a grand finale in Biloxi, the region’s tourism epicenter, full of large modern casino hotels, standout golf courses, museums, attractions, fishing and great restaurants. There are few other races worldwide with this much coastal exposure, the waves almost always in sight.
The race itself is the centerpiece of a new three-day Running Festival (December 9-11) featuring “Mississippi Gulf Coast Culture.” The goal is to establish the festival as an important annual destination event with strong ties to the regional flavor, showcasing the music, food and entertainment of the coastal resort area. Runs include a full marathon, half marathon, 5K (3.1 miles), and kids’ fun run (1.2 mile). The weekend kicks off Friday, December 9 with a health and fitness expo. The 5K and Kids race are the next day, followed by a post-race party and more of the expo. The marathon and half-marathon (which starts in Gulfport) are Sunday morning, followed by the Finish Festival, a post-race beach-party featuring local Gulf Coast seafood, Mississippi style barbeque and live performances of country, rock and blues.
The new race is especially welcome since marathon participation and interest in traveling to races has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, with many races selling out quickly and hard to get into. Earlier this year, more than 8,600 runners, 1,100 volunteers and 24,000 attendees from 48 states and 11 countries came for the nearby Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge, produced by the same organizers. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon hopes to attract over 3,000 runners and 5,000 attendees in this, its inaugural year, and eventually expand to host 10,000 runners and 25,000 attendees.
For visitors, the race and festival should be great fun, as the proud region is heavily backing the event, with strong support from the community, visitor’s bureau, and a several casino resorts. The region is a very inexpensive place to visit with a wide range of quality accommodations and incredible food, combining the biggest fishery in the lower 48, famed for its excellent wild caught shrimp, crab and oysters, with Southern flair and Cajun and Creole influences. Due to the gaming subsidized casino lodging at first rate properties such as the Island View, MGM’s Beau Rivage, Hard Rock and Harrah’s, there is a large inventory of hotel rooms, and lots to see and do afterwards, including great golf and fishing.
Online registration opened March 17, and fees, now $85 for the full marathon, will increase slightly as it grows closer. In honor of their service to our country, a 20 percent discount is available for military, law enforcement personnel and first responders.