As I have become more involved with the Columbia SC Marathon (DO IT!) over the past month or so, my interest in the inner workings of other marathons and the differences between race directors has been piqued. I’ve decided to start interviewing the race directors of the races I’m running whenever possible. I figure this gives you guys a little bit of behind-the-scenes information and the race a little bit of extra PR, so everyone wins! I, of course, am satisfying my sick curiosity regarding all things marathon.
Today, I interviewed Craig Watson, the race director for the Baton Rouge Beach Marathon, which Amanda, Chelsea, and I will be running on December 1. He’s an attorney in real life and a marathon nut in his spare time. He’s good friends with the likes of the great Larry Macon, Jim Simpson, Steve Boone, etc, so he is automatically extremely cool in my eyes. Keep in mind that this isn’t exactly word for word since he talks even faster than I can type (and I type really fast), but I got as much of it as I possibly could. Prepare yourself for some hard-hitting journalism and/or confirmation that I should not be a reporter. Please note that all italicized remarks are mine, not Craig’s. Don’t blame him.
1. How many years has the Baton Rouge Beach Marathon been running? What is the course like?
The marathon is in its 19th year this year. The course is a double loop that runs predominantly through the Louisiana State University campus (boo, hiss) and residential areas. There aren’t any urban warehouse districts, because those are terrible, and we don’t want this race to be like every other race in an urban area. The course runs through “Baton Rouge Beach” on the LSU campus, which is how the race gets its name. There were about 1400 runners in last year’s race, and we are capping it at 1500 runners this year. Like most races, the majority of our participants are half marathoners.
2. How did you get into race directing?
I’ve been directing the marathon for 9 years but have been involved with the planning of the race since the first year. I took over the official director’s position from Bill Lowery, the race director for the first 10 years, and we continue to work together on it to this day. Bill didn’t want the full responsibility after the first ten years, but by that point, we had just finally figured out how to really run the thing! We both agreed that the race needed to continue, so we decided to work together to make that happen. One thing worth mentioning is that the entire race committee has changed very little over the past 19 years. The majority of the original members are still planning the race today
3. Tell me a little about your marathon history. Do you still actively race?
I have completed the 50 states three times and I’ve run over 200 marathons. I’m a proud member of the 50 States Club! I’m still running marathons today, just slower than I used to. Up until about a year ago, I was still running under 4 hours consistently. My most recent/relevant PR is 3:38, but in my younger days, I ran a 3:20. That doesn’t count anymore! I currently have a torn Achilles, but the doctor says there is nothing he can do about it. The way I see it, that means I can keep running (see Mom? It’s NOT just me!), but it hurts like hell! I’m debating heading up to the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa this weekend. This is where I tried really hard to convince Craig to come to Route 66, but for some reason he seemed unconvinced.
4. What sets the Baton Rouge Beach Marathon apart from other races?
The food! I’ve been to a lot of marathons, and no other marathon even comes close to the spread we have, with the possible exception of the Newport Marathon. They serve lobster at the end of that race, so that’s a pretty big deal. Of course, if you’re from Newport you probably don’t think it’s very exciting to eat lobster at the end of a race, but everyone else does. I like to say that the Baton Rouge Beach Marathon is a “food festival with a run,” not a run with food at the end. We have a huge spread with great local food and beer – jambalaya, gumbo, alligator piquant, fried fish, friend jalapeno poppers, french fries – you name it!
When I mentioned that I almost always get sick during races and never feel like eating, Craig actually told me that he is the same way after most races. That being said, I’m going to take a triple dose of my medication before this race and hope for the best, because baby likes free food way too much to turn this stuff down.
5. What changes can runners expect this year?
Well, for one thing, we’ll have more food than last year! The goal is always to increase the amount of food and the variety we have at the finish line. We are also going to have an expo for the first time. In previous years, we haven’t had enough available space for an expo, but this year we do, so we’ll see how it goes. The expo will be from 11 am to 9 pm on Friday, and we’ll have Jeff Galloway in attendance. He’ll be the speaker at the pre-race pasta dinner and will also be hosting a class on his run-walk method from 2 – 5 pm on Friday, with the proceeds going to our charities.
6. Baton Rouge has two marathons. How does a city that is relatively small support both races?
Running is on a boom right now, so we have seen an upswing in the number of runners lately in general. With LSU right in Baton Rouge, there is a huge population of half marathoners that come over from the college. Both our race and the other marathon haven’t had any problems with numbers, and both races continue to see increases. With the two marathons and an increasing number of half marathons in the Baton Rouge area, runners don’t really need to leave the city at all for their races for a good portion of the year. It also helps that there is now a 6-7 mile running path around the lake and through the city that has given the community a safe place to run. It is always packed with people and that has definitely been good for the running community. We really have a pretty vibrant running scene in Baton Rouge, which surprises a lot of people.
7. What’s the deal with the running chicken?
Awhile back, the track club was trying to get someone else to take over the management of the race, but mostly keep the details the same as they are now. The people who offered to take it over wanted to change it completely, including the logo. The head of the track club at the time said no, and while looking through the computer, saw a picture of a running chicken and decided to name it the Running Chicken Track Club. Boy, those people get mad if you don’t put the chicken on the race shirts! I made the mistake of leaving it off one year and I sure learned my lesson. The chicken stays!
8. I’m flying in from South Carolina to do your race. What should the other traveling runners and I make sure to do while we are in Baton Rouge?
Eat! Seriously, that’s our thing. Cajun food is a must do while you’re in Louisiana, even though you’ll get plenty of that at the finish line. Get some crawfish etoufee. There are tons of different restaurants to try. One of my personal favorites is the Acme Oyster House. Digiulio Brothers is great for Italian food (so is Monjuni’s! It was my favorite when I was a kid visiting my grandmother in Louisiana!) and Parrain’s is great for seafood. All the food in Baton Rouge is good!
Of course, you should also buy some LSU gear while you’re hear (gag), and there’s plenty of casinos to gamble at, if that is your thing. I’m not sure if we have any microbreweries, but with the college right here, we really should. Note: they do have breweries. Obviously, I’m on the hunt.
9. Besides BRB, what is your favorite marathon that you have run?
Wow, that’s a tough question. It’s really hard to just pick one. Of course, I’ve got to say Big Sur. Everyone loves Big Sur, and that’s a great race. I really enjoy the smaller races though. The Timberline Marathon in Oregon is also pretty spectacular, but wow the pain! The course starts on Mount Hood and runs downhill for seven miles. I’ve never hurt that bad before. The Smoky Mountain Marathon in Tennessee is also one of my favorites.
And that concludes my interview with Craig Watson. After talking with him, I’m even more excited about this race than I was before, and not just because of the exceptional emphasis on food. It is clear that the race makes a real effort to cater to the Maniacs and 50 Staters that show up, and because Craig has run so many marathons, I have the utmost confidence that this will be a great race experience. Interested in joining me? It’s going to be realllllllllllllllly fun! Click here to sign up!
Are you headed to Baton Rouge for the marathon too? Leave a comment! Or leave a comment just saying hi if you aren’t going.