The number 13.1 means a lot to long-distance runners — especially in recent years.

For starters, 13.1 miles constitutes a half marathon. And as many race directors will tell you, that may be the most popular distance on the racing scene these days.

But local race director Chuck George of New Orleans Running Systems has put his own spin on the 13.1 figure. He’s hosting the inaugural Louisiana Paradise Bridge Run on Feb. 20, and rather than last 13.1 miles, this first-time race will cover 13.1 kilometers.

That turns out to be a more manageable 8.2-mile course, and George said it could be one reason there has been so much interest in the first Louisiana Paradise Bridge Run. The event is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. near the Irish Bayou Travel Center on the edge of Orleans Parish and cross the U.S. Hwy. 11 Bridge into St. Tammany Parish, where it will end at the intersection of Pontchartrain and Spartan drives.

Approximately 1,000 people are expected to take part, and that crowd hails from at least 10 different states, George said.

“I’m very happy with the number of people registered so far,” said George, who coincidentally is scheduled to direct his 1,000th race in April. “This is the result of 16 or so months of work. We’ve had to work with six or seven different agencies to make this happen, including the NOPD, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Louisiana DOTD, the Slidell Police, the state police, the U.S. Coast Guard. ... And it’s all been worth it.

“Inaugural races are hard,” George continued. “You want to put on a good event for the running and walking public. Take the Run on the Bayou (in Bayou Segnette State Park) we had a few weeks ago. That race has been going on for years. It’s pretty much a turnkey event, besides marketing. The Louisiana Paradise Bridge Run is new. You want it to be good. You want it to work.”

And as evidenced by the amount of logistical work done in preparation, the job hasn’t been exactly easy. George said the U.S. Hwy. 11 Bridge is scheduled to close at 6:30 a.m. as set-up is completed along the course. He said it’s safe to say that the bridge will be closed until 8:30 a.m. to allow the final runners to clear the span.

George said the closure is reasonable, considering that all race proceeds will go to the Slidell Memorial Foundation to help local cancer patients and children in the community.

“We will cause some disruption,” he said. “You hope to have everything work out. It’s a very creative race, so you hope people will pardon us, so to speak, with interruptions. It’s for a great cause.”

George said the north side of U.S. Hwy. 11 will close “on a rolling basis;” further mentioning that if someone truly does have to get out of their home or a side street along the route, “we will coordinate traffic in different lanes to assist.

“We certainly will learn how this can best be done, depending on the traffic flow that morning,” the longtime race director said. “With a 7:30 (a.m.) start, hopefully we’ll be out of the way before there are any (major snags.)”

Everyone is asked to park on the north shore, as busses will ferry the crowd to the south shore for the race’s start. There will be a gear check near the Cross Gates Athletic Club Pontchartrain Drive location on the north shore, and water/restroom locations will be set up at various points on the course (including the bridge.)

Cash prizes will be awarded to the top finishers in the race, as well as both the man and woman who are first to exit the bridge (provided they finish the race in the top 10 in their gender overall.) All participants will receive a custom medallion, and will have access to a post-race party with food, drink, and DJ music.

Cost to register is $50 on race day and will be held from only 6-6:40 a.m. at Cross Gates Athletic Club’s Pontchartrain Drive location.) Free bus service from Slidell to New Orleans will be held from 5:30-6:45 a.m. All parking should be at First Baptist Church of Slidell (across Pontchartrain Drive from Cross Gates.)

A 2-mile event also will be held and cost is $30 on race day.

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