As runners corralled themselves in front of Fondren Corner on January 5, 2008, it was the start of something new – the first-ever Mississippi Blues Marathon and Half Marathon, presented by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi.
“[The race] is something that a lot of people have rallied around and taken a sense of ownership in,” said founder John Noblin, praising those who have supported the marathon for the last decade.Â “It’s a chance for runners, and even volunteers, to show their hometown to visitors from all over the country and beyond. Â It has served as a lifestyle changer, a bucket list checker and friendship builder and I’m proud that’s something I created.”
Starting these days from the Mississippi Museum of Art, the course winds westward toward Jackson State University before looping back to downtown, heading north to Belhaven and then Fondren. It’s those neighborhoods where runners find some of their most enthusiastic spectators and supportive volunteers.
Jane Jones, who works in the hospitality industry, has been a cheerleader for race participants for the last seven years. She believes community support is what brings runners back each year. “Some of them do the race because they love the people,” she said. “That’s a great city image to portray to our guests.”
Others like Andi Agnew, who will run the “quarter note” portion of the race this year, support the event by running first and encouraging after. “As a runner, I can tell you it makes a huge difference to see people out cheering you on, waving funny signs or playing music,” she said. “Our group of friends makes it a big party each year.”
But for all the revelry and fun that is seen, hours and hours of work and months of planning and preparation go in behind the scenes to pull off a race that draws thousands of runners and walkers.
From Wednesday setup to Saturday afternoon cleanup and tear down, around 900 volunteers make the Mississippi Blues Marathon work.
Dawn Macke serves as volunteer coordinator and said people from all across the metro area return year after year to serve in some capacity. “We are the Hospitality State, and our volunteers just seem to naturallyÂ portray that, making themÂ inherently successful and great supporters,” she added.
Noblin noted the proclivity for repeat volunteers. “Everyone has a ‘first time’ and we’ve always gotten rave reviews, so even the first-timers must do a great job. All you need is a good attitude, and maybe a warm coat.”
Since the race’s inception, John Sewell has been an integral part. His earlier days brought him responsibility for marketing and creative direction. This year, he’ll book bands for the race expo and to play along the 26.2 mile course.
“[The race] gives Mississippi one more vehicle to promote its tremendous gift to American music, the blues,” he said. “It puts a great spotlight on this genre of music that is the foundation for so much of today’s popular music, but it’s also music that remains unique on its own.” Proceeds from the race benefit the Musicians Benevolence Fund through the Blues Commission, a fund that helps musicians who have run into hard times.
Harmonica player Scott Albert Johnson, who has shared his talents along the race route since 2010, said, as a local musician who performs many kinds of music, he is grateful to be included in this celebration of our state and city’s vibrant heritage and contemporary culture, adding,” It’s a first-class event and a ton of fun.”
Runner Marika Cackett, who this year will coordinate the pre-race expo, said the race, with its hilly course, is no joke. “It’s an incredible physical feat to accomplish,” she noted. “And throw in Mississippi’s penchant for crazy weather and you never know what you’re going to get race day.”
Born out of Noblin’s work with the Tour LeFleur cycling race, the Mississippi Blues Marathon is just get started — and shining a light on Mississippi’s capital. “It really is a highlight reel of the best of Jackson,” Cackett added. “From JSU to our Medical Corridor, to incredible historic neighborhoods like Belhaven and Fondren, you really get a great tour of the city, not to mention the best of our people who are so willing to celebrate your accomplishment with you.”
Volunteers can still reach out to help with Thursday and Friday’s expo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult msbluesmarathon.com for the race route to find the best place to be a spectator and be aware of traffic delays and other safety notices.