Great Huey P run more than a race

Runners in south Louisiana are so accustomed to flat land, they’ll do anything to find even the slightest inclines to add to their training regimens.

Overpasses? Check.

Levees? Check.

Monkey Hill? Yep, they’ve used that, too.

Local race organizers know this to be true, so they often include an embankment in their courses, when possible. But the same folks have taken the idea further this year with the Great Louisiana Bridge Run Series, which will conclude Sunday with the Great Huey P. Long Bridge Run. That race will begin at 8 a.m. in Bridge City on the West Bank and end at the Wal-Mart parking lot at Clearview Parkway and Jefferson Highway.

The Huey P. Long run will be a 5K (3.1 mile) event and is sponsored by The Advocate. It was preceded in the bridge series by the United Way of St. Charles Bridge Run (over the Hale Boggs Bridge) in early April and the Allstate Sugar Bowl Crescent Connection on June 8.

Runners with the best times in each of the three races will be honored after Sunday’s run over the Huey P. Long Bridge. Approximately 2,200 runners and walkers are set to participate, with 250 of those having already completed the first two races in the series. The runner with the lowest aggregate time in the series also will be recognized.

The final bridge race is only part of a day’s worth of events planned Sunday. For starters, it will be the first “official” showing of the bridge, after a substantial widening project. A dedication ceremony hosted by the organizations, government agencies and public service leaders responsible for managing the widening project will follow the race at 9:30 a.m.

At 10 a.m., a second line band will signal attendees to gather and “parade” onto the bridge for the ribbon cutting ceremony. The ceremony will take place at the top of the new Jefferson Highway on-ramp on the East Bank of the bridge.

Other post-race festivities will include performances by the Jay Walkers Second Line Band and the Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band. There also will be an antique car show, vehicles from NOLA Motorsports Park and other activities for children and families.

The Huey P. Long Widening Project and the Department of Transportation contracted Gulf Coast Event Group to stage Sunday’s race. Danny Bourgeois, the Marketing Director for the Huey P. Long Bridge Run, said Louisiana DOTD Secretary Sheri LeBas is expected to not only participate in the grand-reopening ceremony, but also to participate in the race itself. Persons who worked on the bridge widening project also are expected to take part, he said.

While runners and walkers from as many as 14 different states are expected in town for the Huey P. Long Bridge Run, Bourgeois said the race appeals mostly to locals. He expects Sunday’s field to be composed chiefly by south Louisiana participants.

“From a Huey P. Long Bridge standpoint, this is big,” he said. “The bridge dates back to 1935 and now with the renovation, it’s a reunion almost. People here love color and a historic story. I think that feel, that connection, has a lot to do with why we’ve seen such good numbers sign up to participate. That, and for people who live and train here, it’s like going over a mountain. It’s exciting for them to be able to see their city from that perspective instead of driving past it at 55 mph.

“There are three things about it that are making it special — the history of the bridge, the progressive nature of the widening and the familiarity people have with the bridge itself. It sort of is like the gumbo that we are. It’s something to celebrate — the bridge, the renovation and the race.”

Bourgeois said the new bridge race series has been very successful and he anticipates it to continue flourishing in future years.

“As long as there aren’t races on the same day as yours, you’re complimenting, not competing,” he said. “This was about collaboration and cooperation. For us, being the first year of the Huey P. Long race, I think the partnership and the production of the series allows us all to grow over the next few years.”

Ian Carr holds a commanding lead in the bridge series heading into Sunday’s race over the Huey P. The 22-year old ran the 5K United Way Run in 16 minutes, 23 seconds, and followed with a 21:29 in the 4-mile run over the Crescent City Connection. His total of 37:51 is two and half minutes faster than 18-year old Bryce Robinson (second place, 40:20 total.) Khanh Le leads the women heading into the final race of the series. The 33-year old has a two-race total of 50:44 and is in sixth place overall.

Though Sunday’s race will begin on the West Bank, runners and walkers are reminded busses will be used to shuttle participants from the finish line on the East Bank to the starting point in Bridge City. After the ribbon-cutting, members of the public will be allowed on the bridge until 1 p.m. and vehicular traffic will be disallowed. No backpacks or handbags can be taken onto the bridge. The Louisiana State Police, Jefferson Parish Sherriff’s Office and Causeway Police will be on the bridge to ensure the safety of all participants.

The bridge will open to traffic later in the day.

For more information on the Huey P. Long Bridge Run and the Great Louisiana Bridge Race Series, go online to www.hueyprun.com.