A race for everyone

A 26.2-mile party.

That’s what Runner’s World called The Louisiana Marathon when the magazine named the race to its December list of 10 fun, new marathons.

The 3-year-old marathon starts at the State Capitol and ends with a rollicking post-race party and 21 food trucks serving post-race meals of rich Cajun and Creole cuisine from the likes of Galatoire’s and Acme Oyster House.

“It kind of goes with our motto — Run. Eat. Dance. Laugh,” said Danny Bourgeois, one of three founders of the marathon. “We really want to invoke that Louisiana is a running state. We’d love to be the running state of the South.”

Organizers of the three-day festival, set Friday through Sunday, of running expect to draw 6,000 to 7,000 participants in its three races — a 5-kilometer run and a half- and full marathon. It has grown each year, from 2,800 runners in the inaugural 2012 race to 4,500 in 2013.

Organizers aim to create an even bigger party — 10,000 to 20,000 runners or more, eventually — and to become one of the country’s top events.

“It’s kind of the expectation,” said Bourgeois, the race’s marketing director. “We’re on a good path, but our expectations are so much higher.”

Higher expectations go beyond the race. Organizers Pat Fellows, Craig Sweeney and Bourgeois want to instill a love of exercise and running in Louisiana culture. In the past year, The Louisiana Marathon sponsored teaching events at petrochemical plants surrounding Baton Rouge to educate workers on running and exercise.

On Saturday, the day of The Advocate 5K race and the Kids Marathon, was branded Run Louisiana Day, with events to celebrate local runners.

“Our goal is that we want to have a race for everyone,” Bourgeois said.

The marathon began as a conversation between Fellows and Sweeney.

After growing up together in school in Bay St. Louis, Miss., the pair ran together in Baton Rouge as adults and traveled to races often.

They envied other cities’ “signature events” — races that offer a fun or exciting experience and draw thousands of runners from across the country.

“We asked, ‘Why don’t we have a signature event?’ Instead of complaining about it, we’re going to do something about it,” said Sweeney, the race director.

They spent 18 months planning the inaugural race. Studying successful marathons, especially races in Fargo, N.D.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Cincinnati, provided a road map.

Baton Rouge easily had the resources to create their envisioned “signature event,” Sweeney said.

Fellows mapped out an appealing course through live oak-shaded streets and roads through LSU and around the City Park and University Lakes. The route began and ended at the Capitol, a dramatic backdrop for finish photos. The mostly flat course attracted out-of-state runners looking for fast times to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

A base of college students, local athletes and active homeowners associations provided the 800 to 1,000 volunteers needed for the event.

Consulting a weather almanac, January was the perfect month for a race.

“That’s another ingredient in the gumbo,” Sweeney said. “The weather is usually ideal in January.”

Runners from the first two marathons have given the race high marks. Users at MarathonGuide.com graded the event 4½ out of 5 stars.

In 2012, Paul Maness, of Springfield, Mo., was looking for a flat course to complete his fourth marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon. He found The Louisiana Marathon and convinced his running club to bring two vans of competitors.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Mansess said. “Often first-time marathons can be chaos, but, man were we in for a treat.”

Maness returned for the second year and is making the trip again. He even had the race logo — a cypress against a green background — tattooed on his shoulder.

“I’ve now completed 19 marathons and (ultra-marathons), and, to this day, Louisiana is my favorite,” he said.

Making Baton Rouge a “runner’s town” will benefit the entire state, Bourgeois said.

Making running a part of the state’s other favorite pastimes — eating and having a good time — is a positive way of encouraging healthy living, he said.

“We want people to run before they tailgate, run before the festivals, before they go to a parade,” Bourgeois said. “It makes for a really good day hanging out and doing the other things we love to do.”