Special to the Sun Herald

The inaugural Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon kicked off three days of events with a health expo and participant registrations at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center on Friday. More than 3,400 participants are expected to take part in events over the next two days. The 5K and Kids Marathon take place on Saturday. The half marathon and full marathon will both start at 7 a.m. on Sunday.

A steady flow of participants registered on Friday afternoon as volunteers cheerfully welcomed them to an event that has been several years in the making.

“Renee Areng and the team at Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast have sparked a certain level of interest that has been incredible,” said Danny Bourgeois, marketing director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon. “They have done a great job to let the running festival blossom, in terms of putting energy behind it. If we get the next couple of years with the same amount of energy in the community that we've had, we're going to break 5,000 (participants) sooner than we think. I think for the whole running festival, we're going to do really well."

The field of runners for the first Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon is made up of runners representing 42 states and Canada. Bourgeois said that with good experiences shared on social media, he anticipates growth for Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon should be similar to what he has observed with the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge, which attracts 11,000 runners from across the United States, 34 countries and an economic impact of about $17 million.

“Runners travel in herds and packs,” Bourgeois said. “If a couple of good runners travel well and tell good stories and blog about their experiences as well as the running, the runners will come check it out. Awareness is one thing; word of mouth from another runner is what counts.”

Bill Morgan came with a group of six runners from St. Francisville, Louisiana, for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon. All of them are running the half marathon on Sunday morning, and some will also run the 5K on Saturday.

“It looks like a great place to come run,” Morgan said. “It looks like a unique race because it's a point-to-point. Also, it's a sister race with the Louisiana Marathon. We run that also. They have some awards if you do the race here and also the Louisiana Marathon. A lot of things to entice us to come here.”

Daric Bass is hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The Michigan native who currently lives in New Orleans has run six prior marathons.

“I'm trying to qualify for Boston in 2018,” said Bass. “Also, I needed additional training. I looked at the course. It's a beautiful course, beautiful scenery. It's going to be nice because it is flat, you don't have to worry about turns, you don't have to worry about going uphill or downhill. All you have to worry about is the wind.”

Emily Armstrong and Al Navidi came from the Washington, D.C., area to participate. This will be Armstrong's 20 marathon. For Navidi, his motivation is to run a marathon in all 50 states. Sunday's marathon will mark his thirty-fourth state.

“It's pretty much timing,” said Navidi who is a native of Iran about selecting the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon. “I had heard about Gulfport and Biloxi. It is beautiful.”

“Such a pretty coast,” said Armstrong who is a native of Vancouver, Canada. “Stunning! Really beautiful beaches.”

Read more here: