Volunteers help Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon weekend run smoothly

Banners, traffic cones, gates and tables all have to be set up in advance before more than 500 marathon runners and more than 1,200 half-marathon runners.
Published: Dec. 12, 2021 at 1:44 PM CST
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PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. (WLOX) - At 7 a.m. on the dot, runners launched from Henderson Point to start their 26.2-mile journey to MGM Park in Biloxi for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon. While the competitors started their race as the sun came up, volunteers had an even earlier morning.

“It’s between a 3 and 3:30 roll call to get everything set,” Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon Marketing Director Michael Wattigny said.

Banners, traffic cones, gates and tables all have to be set up in advance before more than 500 marathon runners and more than 1,200 half-marathon runners make their way down Highway 90. Aid stations also needed to be up and ready to serve water or Powerade to the athletes, and groups like the Mississippi Gulf Coast Youth for Christ manned the tables.

“You’ll see our students get doused with water, but it’s kind of fun for them,” Jasmine Shackelford said. “The kids remember this and they talk about it all year long. It makes it worth doing it.”

Just the day before at the A.J. Holloway Sports Complex, Harrison Central students and teachers did similar work for the Margaritaville 5K.

“We’re here to support our community and also to show that Harrison Central baseball likes to help,” Harrison Central Middle School Baseball Coach Jimmy Barta said.

The groups make up a small portion of the race weekend’s volunteer force that is spread out between two days and four races.

“Close to 900 (volunteers) is I think the number I heard the overall weekend,” Wattigny said.

With multiple races, pre- and post-race activities and parties, organizers stress how important volunteers are to the operations

“It spans the whole Coast, so it requires a lot of manpower,” Barta said.

While it takes a lot of early mornings and late afternoons to make sure that this race weekend runs smoothly, volunteers said they are happy to help any way that they can.

“We look forward to this event every year. This is something we put on our calendar,” Barta said.

The service the volunteers do also comes with a thank you from race organizers.

“There is a volunteer stipend that goes to our ministry,” Shackelford said.

That’s a nice bonus for charities, sports teams and nonprofits, and there could be more volunteers needed as the race continues to grow.

“I believe we are somewhere in the neighborhood between 2,500 to 2,800 room nights booked for this weekend,” Wattigny said. “We did a pre-race survey during registration and asking folks how long they are coming in and there’s quite a few of them that are coming in for three, four nights at a time. There’s not just coming in for one overnight.”

More than 500 marathon runners and more than 1,200 half-marathon runners from all over the country took off at 7 a.m., either from Jones Park for the half marathon or Henderson Point for the full marathon.

Finishing the full marathon with the fastest average pace of 5:56 was 43-year-old Josh Whitehead of Madison, Alabama, with a time of just under two hours and 36 minutes.

The first female runner to finish the full marathon this year was Erica Schramm of Las Vegas with a time of just a few seconds over three hours and 10 minutes.

READ MORE: Alabama native finishes first in full-marathon, course record set by half-marathon winner

For those who competed in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, they can get a special “Beach to Bayou” medal if they also compete in the Louisiana Marathon next month. If you are looking to prepare for next year’s race along the Coast, the marathon will be on Dec. 11.

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