City prepares for more than 2,400 runners this weekend; 2020 run could change to different month. Saturday could mark the last time runners come to the capital city for the Mississippi Blues Marathon, at least in January. Race organizers are hoping to move the race to February, in large part, to improve running conditions and draw more racers. The move comes more than a year after the race was sold to Premier Event Management, a Louisiana-based firm that puts on races across the United States, and two years after the race was cancelled because of icy conditions.
“The cancelled race really hurt,” Premier President and CEO Bill Burke said.
Last year, approximately 2,800 people signed up for the race, down from 4,000 in 2017. This year, about 2,400 people have signed up, he said.
Burke said a similar decrease occurred in the Iron Man New Orleans race, another event managed by Premier. “Two years ago, because of lightning, wind and hail we had to cancel. The next year, the race had 1,200 people, not 2,200,” he said.
He blames the decrease in participation on bad weather. “The reason why it dropped in 2018 was the race was cancelled in 2017. The next year, it was 40 degrees and raining, so it took another hit,” he said.
Premier is facing other challenges as well, including increasing sponsorships.
The same year the Blues was cancelled, Blue Cross Blue Shield pulled out as the event’s title sponsor. With the help of Gov. Phil Bryant, race organizers were able to bring on Continental Tire, which signed a three-year agreement.
Additional sponsorships come from Visit Mississippi and Visit Jackson. Sponsorships are used to help offset race costs, something that keeps registration fees lower for runners, Burke said.
Even with Continental on board, allocations have been cut in half. In 2017, the race had $225,000 in sponsorships. In 2018, the amount had dropped to $150,000. The 2019 race is being put on with a shoestring budget of approximately $100,000, Burke said.
“We can’t do the same things with less money. We’re trying to reach out to additional sponsors and to get athletes to return,” he said.
To help stabilize the race, Premier has been meeting with city officials about moving it to February, which will offer slightly better running conditions.
“Our plan for 2020 is to move it to February 29. The average low for that time of year is between 40 and 42 degrees and the average high is 60 to 61,” he said. “Perfect running weather.”
Burke said additional changes could also be on tap. The course, for instance, could be modified to reduce the number of hills encountered by runners.
The Blues Marathon is entering its 12th year, and second year under new management. Registration for the 2020 race will also open up earlier, with hopefuls being able to sign up at the 2019 race expo.
No changes to the course were made this year, Burke said.
The race previously was managed by Northsider John Noblin. In November, Noblin announced that he was stepping down as race organizer, a position he held for 11 years.
Noblin couldn’t be reached for comment.
Prior to the 2018 event, the rights to the race were sold to Premier, but the sale wasn’t announced until November, along with Noblin’s resignation.
The race draws thousands of people each year to the capital city. This year, the 2,400 participants include representatives from all 50 states and six nations, Burke said.
The event will include a 5K, quarter-note race, half-marathon and marathon. The race will begin at 7 a.m. in front of the Mississippi Arts Center and Russell C. Davis Planetarium on Pascagoula Street.
Runners will be treated to live music along the course, as well as a running tour of the capital city’s best attractions. The race currently runs along the Old Capitol Museum, the New Capitol, the Mississippi Civil Rights and History museums, Jackson State University, Belhaven University, Millsaps College, the Eudora Welty House and the LeFleur Museum District. Runners also cut through the Fondren, Belhaven and Eastover neighborhoods.
The race wraps up in front of the Mississippi Museum of Art and Mississippi Art Garden, at 380 S. Lamar St.
Runners will have seven hours to complete the course, with the best marathoners expected to blaze through the 26.2-mile trek in about two and a half hours, the race website states.
The race expo is slated from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, January 24, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, January 25 at the Jackson Convention Complex.
The event continues to be a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.
Individuals who complete the race will receive a finisher medal.
For more information, log onto msbluesmarathon.events.