A giant inflatable gateway stood tall over the intersection of Cajundome Boulevard and Reinhart Drive in Lafayette on Sunday as several thousand competitors from around the world crossed under it to start the Zydeco Marathon.
The 26.2-mile marathon, in its second year, took over a section of the city, sending runners through Lafayette who passed such landmarks as the Cajundome, the Oil Center, Jefferson Street and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“What really makes this race different is the Lafayette environment,” marathon co-founder Michael Howard said. “It’s a fantastic place when it comes to having fun, welcoming people in and showing them a good time.”
Howard said there were participants from 40 states and five countries, including France, Canada, Germany, England and even Malaysia.
“Last year, we only saw participation from 26 states, so we’re seeing a lot more out-of-state participation,” Howard said. “The Lafayette culture is what’s going to keep (the marathon) special and keep people coming back.”
Handing out water and fruits in front of her Oil Center running store was Geaux Run owner Mary Hays.
Fruit tray in hand, Hays and her group cheered on the runners as they passed by.
“It takes the mind off the pain and how many more miles they have ahead of them,” she said of the treats she handed to runners.
A runner herself, Hays has participated in multiple marathons, including the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon in New Orleans.
“I think the strongest point the Zydeco Marathon has is the culture here,” she said. “It attracts a lot of people that are not from here when they hear about the food, the friendliness and music.”
Acadiana natives and running partners Lisa Strauss and Leslie Godchaux finished the 13-mile half-marathon in three hours.
“It’s fabulous,” Strauss said. “The course is great. It’s not boring. The weather was perfect. This is a great, well-organized race.”
Strauss’ daughter, Lizzy LaPointe, ran in the full marathon, her first ever.
“She was awesome,” Strauss said proudly. “She went out with a bang.”
Godchaux, whose family owns Live Oak Plantation in Abbeville, is hosting the Run Live Oak, taking place Nov. 22.
“We’ve been running together for over a decade, and our goal is to run until we’re 100,” Strauss, 59, said.
When the racers passed the finish line, they were funneled to a celebration to regain burned calories through beer and food at the Finish Line Festival held in the Blackham Coliseum.
Live zydeco music was provided by Chubby Carrier.
Not only did the Zydeco Marathon give participants the chance to run, but it also put Lafayette on display for visitors coming for the race, some of the runners said.
“It was nice seeing the downtown district,” Shreveport native Leslie Harder said. “That was pretty nice.”
Amy Walker, also of Shreveport, agreed.
“It was a great route,” Walker said. “There was a variety of great places to run.”
This was the first time they’ve been to Lafayette without having to shuttle their kids around to participate in sports, Harder said.
After running the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon, race co-founder Howard started kicking around the idea of hosting a marathon in Lafayette.
“I wanted to combine all the fun stuff about Acadiana with a well put-together run,” he said.
In 2014, the first marathon was held with about 2,000 runners hitting the pavement.
The Zydeco Marathon course is sanctioned by USA Track & Field and is a qualifying course for bigger races like the Boston Marathon on April 20.