Scott Bush, Running USA
Creating a different sort of running experience
We love hearing about the creative efforts of Running USA members, even more so when it comes from race organizers trying to bring new experiences to their running communities.
With that said, we recently caught up with Danny Bourgeois, Marketing Director for the Louisiana Marathon and Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, as well as a Running USA board member. In this lengthy Q&A, Bourgeois shares insights on how he and his team have built up their two marquee events, how they take a different approach with the running festivals, challenges, successes and so much more.
Running USA (RUSA): We're less than four months away from the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon and five months away from the Louisiana Marathon - While that still leaves plenty of weeks for planning and work, what are you most excited for with both events this time around?
Danny Bourgeois (DB): For both races we are most excited about revising our expo experience. We know that our runners enjoy the Finish Festival for 4-5 hours after they cross the finish line, and we want them to bookend their race weekend experience by socializing before the race.
Our layout has open areas for socializing and hanging out with offerings of entertainment, food and beverage. We think this will comfortably extend the runner and their guests’ time at the expo and ultimately help our exhibiting vendors have better opportunities to connect.
At the expo in Baton Rouge, we offer live performances and recorded music -- a mix of Louisiana jazz-funk-zydeco in the background, not in your face. In Biloxi, we set the mood with coastal-country-rock. We want everyone to enjoy the southern hospitality with a hyper-local twist. It will be less of a town market and more of a town square.
RUSA: With all of the intense competition out there these days, with a growing number of running events, how do your events shine amongst that competition?
DB: Our events continue to shine because we approach runner engagement from a guiding principle that doesn’t include mastery of a marketing tactic, discount push or event gimmicks. The story we tell intertwines the defining culture of the location with running as a sport and a lifestyle.
In Louisiana we have a unique culture that celebrates everything important to us festival-style. So, we speak to our runners about running, training, the races and the running festival in local terms. For instance, we talk about running along the river, near bayous, on levees and in spillways, and we all run for a taste of Louisiana. A good run makes the food at our tailgates, parades and festival taste better, especially in smaller serving sizes. One side effect of a runner’s high is a smaller serving size.
In Mississippi it’s all about how running complements the coastal lifestyle. Many people train along the beach, under oak tree canopies on old streets, along bayous and by crossing bridges connecting waterways. We like to wrap up a run with some Mississippi BBQ and local seafood. It’s really more of a social event on the move than a workout.
We also encourage our runners to engage in the development of the race. Over 2,200 participants took the Louisiana Marathon survey and 400 hundred gave feedback through the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon survey. We are fortunate to have our locals share their passion and our travel runners enjoy exploring these authentic experiences all weekend for a big race feel, small town appeal.
RUSA: For the Louisiana Marathon you have an extensive finish festival. How much planning goes into the finish festival and how do you balance that work with staging the actual running events of the weekend?
DB: Heather Day is our Finish Festival Director. She and her team have worked with a different founder each year -- Dan Bourgeois, Craig Sweeney, Patrick Fellows and Jonathan Dziuba. We gather feedback from our runners, staff and partners to (re)define/(re)fine our festival experience. It is a major endeavor at each race, and it’s interesting to hear everyone say the festival complements the course, the communication and the people.
RUSA: What's the biggest challenge your two events face on an annual basis?
DB: Louisiana and Mississippi are the two most unhealthy states in the country. Fortunately, we see growth and interest in the sport each year, so we are doing something right to encourage first-timers to participate and for returning runners to take pride in bringing more family and friends into the sport each year.
RUSA: You packaged your two major events together and created the Beach to Bayou Challenge. Can you explain a little bit about how the challenge works, what level of success you've seen with it so far?
DB: Beach~2~Bayou was coined by our wordsmith and co-founder, Patrick Fellows. We encourage runners to earn an extra medal by completing the half or full marathons in each state a month apart. We recognize those who also do the shorter distances too because we want them running and experiencing our festivals. And it’s working: more than 10 percent of our runners in Mississippi did both races last year - the first year of the challenge.
RUSA: What's one trend in the industry you’re focused on learning more about and putting into practice?
DB: Not only are we focused on retaining runners, but we are also focused on having more runners come from challenges, between training groups, social tribes, families or corporate entities.
RUSA: Where would you love to see the Louisiana Marathon and Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon be in 12-18 months?
DB: Our formal mission for the Louisiana Marathon is to collaborate with the running community to have our state recognized as the running capital of the south. For Mississippi we aspire to have running described as a part of the coastal lifestyle.
The Louisiana and Mississippi Organizing Committees will fully recognize the goal of each running festival when we have 10,000 runners - mostly local - running the short distances on Saturday; and 10,000 runners - mostly from outside of the city - running our long distance races on Sunday. For a little lagniappe, we’d like to host some local super stars, like Shaquille O’Neal, Ellen Degeneres and Harry Connick Jr., as they lead out the kids waves while the Saints are on a path to the Superbowl.