By John Hanley
Louisiana is notorious for a lot of things: good food, local beers, festivals. We love to eat, drink, and have a good time.
But with all that food and drink being passed around, it’s important that Louisiana and Baton Rouge stay on their toes and keep healthy.
Health has definitely been gaining a little local traction lately, with plans to increase biking and pedestrian infrastructure in Baton Rouge, but some of the attendees of one of Baton Rouge’s big upcoming events have been in the health mix for quite a while.
The Louisiana Marathon, a three-day event starting January 16th, is more than just a race.
Not only does the weekend host a full-length, 26.2-mile marathon (a certified qualifier for the Boston Marathon), it also hosts a half-marathon, quarter-marathon, 5K, and kids marathon, so runners of all levels and ages can join in. In its fourth year running (no pun intended), the event is expected to have between 8,200 and 8,500 runners.
The marathon course runs through downtown Baton Rouge, winding through LSU’s scenic campus, River Road, and Goodwood Blvd. Other, shorter races stick around the downtown area.
Beyond the race itself, the marathon event also sticks to Louisiana tradition, holding a “Finish Festival” Saturday and Sunday at the A.Z. Young Park with a plethora of local foods, beers, and music.
The marathon also has an accompanying business expo that will run Friday and Saturday on the first floor of the River Center, hosting a variety of over 50 running- and sporting-related businesses for runners (or anyone interested) to peruse, and giving those businesses the opportunity to market to thousands of potential customers.
The event started when co-founder Craig Sweeney realized that he would need to be the one to create Baton Rouge’s signature running event. After running a marathon in New Orleans in 2010, Sweeney noticed that Louisiana had a lot of culture and food to offer, and that that could be incorporated into the post-marathon activities in the place of normal corporate food chains. With that in mind, Sweeney and other organizers put the idea into action.
“We decided to stop complaining about it and do something,” said Sweeney, who is also the Race Director and Strategic Partnerships Director for the marathon.
After just a few years of existence, the event has grown exponentially to a full-on community gathering, and is expected to grow even more in coming years. At this point, the marathon event takes over a year to plan, with the 2016 event already having been in the works for several months.
There are only four full-time employees for the marathon, but thousands of people volunteer each year as well.
“One of our goals is making Louisiana the running capital of the South,” said Sweeney, “We felt that with Baton Rouge growing and Louisiana coming back from Katrina, it was time to have a race that everyone in Louisiana could get behind and attract national and international participants to our great state.”
According to Sweeney, the Louisiana Marathon has definitely helped Baton Rouge grow.
“Endurance events are the number one vehicle for non-profit fundraising worldwide,” he said. “We have over 2,000 hotel rooms booked and will have over $4 million in overall economic impact for 2015.”
“The growth continues to bring activity to the city with visitors from out of city and out of state,” said Jenny Colomb, Marketing and Events Manager for the marathon and coordinator of the expo. “This helps local businesses and overall state tourism.”
This event has definitely offered a lot for the Baton Rouge community and economy, raising money for charities, increasing wellness and health, and stimulating economy by offering businesses the chance to sell to a wide array of customers.
“I truly feel that the Louisiana Marathon can become the signature event for Baton Rouge and maybe even Louisiana,” said Sweeney.
If you’re interested in being a part of this event, registration is still open on the Louisiana Marathon website, and the expo and festival are open to the public.