MEMPHIS, TN - Runners from all over the country are in Memphis this weekend. The St. Jude Memphis Marathon, Half Marathon and Grizzlies House 5K race sold out earlier than ever this year. The event itself isn't the only thing that's a success.
Runners poured in Friday to pick up everything they need for Saturday's marathon, but they're also pumping millions of dollars into the local economy. From near and far, these people came here for a cause.
“My niece, she died of a brain tumor 5 years ago, and so last year was the first year for us to run in her memory, and so we're doing it again this year,” said Julie Boling, from Stuttgart, Arkansas.
“When we started,” said Rosalee Echele, from St. Louis, MO. “The cure rate for leukemia was 4-percent and now it's 94-percent. That alone is enough reason to continue to come down here and be a part of it.”
They come alone and in groups, about 16,000 runners in all, most of them from out-of-town. The race will raise about $2.5 million for St. Jude.
“We've got a lot of folks coming into Memphis this weekend,” said event coordinator Dwight Drinkard. “They're going to spend their money here. They'll have an economic impact of probably about $5 million to $6 million.”
Hotels filled up fast. Downtown sold out in September, suburban hotels soon after that.
“We booked back in May,” said Debbi DePriest and Tanya West, from Stuttgart, Arkansas.
“We know to book it in March, if you want to be at one of the close hotels,” said Echele.
And they plan to do a lot more than just running and sleeping.
“Excuse me, yes,” said Echele. “Eating and probably a little drinking and listening to the blues and visiting as many places as we can.”
Even the sign above Beale Street welcomes the runners to town.
“Everything is full,” said Boling. “You wait in line for everything, but it's worth it, it's fun.”
“You can't go anywhere Downtown, even Midtown, without knowing there is a big event getting ready to happen tomorrow morning,” said Drinkard.
And that gives everyone something to dance about.
Organizers expect the races to fill up even faster next year. Registration begins in May.
Most of the money raised for the Children's Research Hospital during the weekend’s events comes from those known as "St. Jude Heroes." Heroes are participants who raise $500 or more for the race. This year, 4,000 runners agreed to take part in the Heroes program. The goal was to raise $2 million.
"Over the past 3 to 4 months, they have been asking friends and family to support them in their efforts,” said Brandon Wilmoth, with St. Jude Heroes. “And, as of right now, we're at about $2.2 million raised, just from the Heroes program, and it's still counting."
The 5K race starts at 7:15 Saturday morning. The marathon and half-marathon begin at 8 am.