As the two had before the first three Louisiana Marathons, co-founder Danny Bourgeois and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne stood together conversing Sunday morning, “The Star-Spangled Banner” being sung in the background before the gun sounded.
The duo looked up to see a familiar sight: A gaggle of geese, flying east-to-west in a V-formation, took off above the runners’ heads.
Coincidence? Maybe. Bourgeois had noticed a gaggle each of the past three years, though, so he took it to have a higher meaning for the race’s fourth edition.
“Somehow, it just seems to mark that we’re blessed and lucky,” Bourgeois said.
Former Missouri cross country standout and local teacher Adam MacDowell took advantage of cool temperatures to set a course record and capture the men’s crown in his first Louisiana Marathon, finishing the 26.2-mile course in 2 hours, 27 minutes, 12 seconds.
MacDowell, a math teacher and assistant track and cross country coach at Catholic High, concocted a plan with runner-up Conor Doan before the race. The two would run a 5:40 pace for as long Doan could endure.
By mile 21, Doan started to struggle, and MacDowell broke away.
“Then I just started running my own pace,” he said. “That was the goal. We had established trying to run 5:40 pace for as long as we could together, then after that, it’s anybody’s game.”
Doan finished in 2:29:53.
The time wasn’t a personal best for MacDowell — he ran the 2013 Boston Marathon in 2:20:38 — but the course and weather gave him a glimpse of how far Baton Rouge has come in being more active.
MacDowell had run the Houston Marathon — always on the same day as the Louisiana Marathon — for the past three years but found himself called to stay in Louisiana this time.
“Best weather I’ve ever had for a marathon,” he said. “I’ve been coming (to Baton Rouge) since about 2006 and moved down in 2012. I’d run the lakes, and you’d see three or four people. Ever since the marathon was instituted, you can see a steady influx of people running around the lakes. It’s building a steady culture of wellness and health around here. Great for Baton Rouge.”
While MacDowell’s time wasn’t a personal best, women’s champion Aimee Newsom shattered her personal best. She finished in 3:02:13, nearly 20 minutes faster than her previous top time.
A self-proclaimed new racer, Newsom credited the Varsity Sports team for her rigorous nine-month training plan and drew support from fans lining the sidewalks and her husband, Rob, who biked the entire 26.2 miles alongside her.
A Louisiana transplant by way of Texas and Chicago, Newsom has only been in the state for a year and relished her first appearance at the Louisiana Marathon. And it only fired her up for another first appearance — in April at the Boston Marathon.
“I think I’m done with the 20-minute PRs,” she said with a laugh. “But we’ll see.”
In the half marathon, Drew Haro, a former LSU track athlete who won the Louisiana Marathon in 2012, held off Kevin Castille to claim the men’s title in 1:11:10, besting Castille by 33 seconds. Baton Rouge native and former Tulane cross country runner Julia Whitrock easily captured the women’s half-marathon, crossing the line in 1:27:34 — almost two minutes before Jessica Demello.
Sitting in the VIP tent as runners continued to finish a block away, Bourgeois marveled at the 30 percent increase in participation in the race — more than 1,800 took part in the marathon, and around 8,500 competed over the two-day weekend. And he began to speak about next year, when he and co-founders Craig Sweeney’s and Pat Fellows’ goal of 10,000 participants seems more and more attainable.
“I want to say it’s better because it’s bigger,” Bourgeois said. “These four years have been different and special. We keep getting better and keep finding areas we can improve.”