This story originally appeared in the September 2015 edition of Georgia's Cities.
On the last Saturday in October, runners of various skill levels gather to run the Boston. The Boston Mini Marathon that is. Boston, Georgia—a town of one-square-mile near Thomasville—hosts a junior version of the famed Boston, Mass., Marathon.
The Boston Mini Marathon features options to run a half marathon (13.1 miles), a relay (two runners competing in the half marathon), a 5K walk or a one-mile fun run. The Georgia version of the marathon is worlds away from the big-city Boston event. The half marathon takes runners out of town on a long stretch of country road, where cows gaze dispassionately as the human herd passes by. Boy Scouts provide water breaks from tables along the way, and the half-way point features an orange cone, with a chalk arrow drawn around it, to indicate the turning point. Runners return to downtown Boston to enjoy the town’s fall festival.
For Gary Jenkins, creator of the Run and See Georgia Grand Prix Running Series, it’s the perfect kind of race.
“I love those runs that take you down country roads,” he said.
Jenkins spent a year in Kansas City, away from his family on a work assignment. To entertain himself, he began running on the weekends at locations around the state. A friend joined him and soon, “I really fell in love with the travel aspect of it.”
Realizing that others would also enjoy combining running and tourism, Jenkins created the Georgia Grand Prix Running Series in 1989. The first year featured 32 races; today, the Grand Prix series has nearly 500 races. Runners earn points for participating depending on the number of races and the distance. Last year’s winner, a runner from Alabama, ran in 154 races.
“When we started out it was all about getting people to see the festivals,” said Jenkins. As more cities have added running events to their festivals, the list of runs available has grown. So has the number of people involved. There are about 71,000 runners who participate in the Grand Prix series races, like the one in Boston, Georgia.
“You meet some really good folks along the way, both runners and people in the communities,” said Jenkins. “The whole point is to get people out and travel and see the state.”
Cities can list their running events at Georgiarunner.com, the on-line magazine for runners that Jenkins publishes.
“There are some great festivals out there,” noted Jenkins, who said he used to travel to Vienna for the Big Pig Jig where he served as a barbecue judge on Friday, ran the Hog Jog on Saturday and then changed clothes to go back and enjoy the rest of the festival.
“To me that’s what it’s all about: good food, good folks and having fun at a festival.”