Meridian Star

November 13, 2013

LEO Marathon nears capacity

Sarah Moomaw
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — This year's LEO Run To Remember Marathon will take place on Saturday and organizers said on Wednesday that its running field is almost at capacity.

    In 2012 – the inaugural year – 259 runners competed the the 13.1 and 26.2 mile courses. This year, they've already passed that mark well before the starting gun.

    “We're right now, a little over 300, and around 325 to 250 is our capacity, so we only have a few slots left,” Race Director Bonnie Earley said.

    Runners are flocking to the Queen City from across the country and even international waters.  Earley said she believes the draw is mostly better advertising by the committee but it's also a Boston Marathon qualifier.

    “Now it's really and international race,” she said. “We have people coming from five different countries to race. We have a wheel chair guy that is coming to race … Sometimes people will come just to check it off their list of 50 states. I think this one appeals to a lot of people because it's a Boston qualifier.”

    As with last year's race, all proceeds will go to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, Lions Club and local cross-country teams. The three organizations might be the only financial beneficiaries, but the race has been dedicated to the city of Boston and the Boston Marathon after the April bombing attack on the historic race.

    Earley said the decision to use the Boston Marathon blue and yellow as this year's race day colors was a unanimous decision.

    “Runners in general are a close nit group of people, you just feel this bond with them,” she said. “[We wanted to] do whatever we could do to honor those that ran Boston, that supported Boston, lost family members, friends, and we just want to send the message that we're not afraid. We're here and we're going to do this.”  

     Race organizers are asking runners to wear the blue ribbon included in the race packets while running as part of the tribute. T-shirts and race-day bags will be in the iconic blue and yellow.

    In the wake of the bombings, there will be an increased security presence at the start and finish line in Northeast Recreation Park, and along the course.  

    “This year our security force as definitely double and possible tripled,” Earley said. “We have security from Lauderdale County Sherifs Department and the Meridian Police Department and I believe the Highway Patrol is also going to stop in and help us as well.”

    The course has slightly changed from last year, cutting out a few of the tougher hills, but runners will still be challenged, Earley said.

    “It is pretty hill and you would not think that Meridian is really hilly, but it really is,” she said. “Last year, it was a right off of North Hills to 52 Street. That was a couple pretty bad hills, pretty steep hills, took that out of the equation this year.”

    Similarly though, race options include a half and full half marathon with the addition of a “virtual” half marathon for school students.

    Earley said five students signed up and received a training plan that had them run a total of 12 miles over the alloded time. On Saturday, they'll run the final 1.1 mile to complete the 13.1.

    “They ran small distances each week,” she said. “They get a metal just like everybody else … Next year we are going to try and get every kid in Lauderdale County and Meridian schools involved.”

    The race will kick off at 7 a.m. from the softball fields. Runners will travel down Highway 39 before taking a right turn towards downtown Meridian and then up Poplar Springs Drive. Half marathoners will be diverted back to the softball complex after crossing North Hills Street as the second half of the marathon course wraps through northern country roads.

    Race organizers are asking motorists to be respectful of the marathon and avoid the streets in use. Some will be closed in stretches, including the right southbound lane of Highway 39. They also like to see swarms of spectators along the course and at the softball fields where there will be entertainment and a medal presentation to finishers.