Get Out: Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon changes courses

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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File/David Quick/staff
Some of the most touching moments during the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon are when children join a parent for the final 100 or so yards to the finish line.
  • Increasingly, more participants in the Kiawah Island Half Marathon are having fun while challenging themselves to running 13.1 miles. Here, a couple dresses as movie couple Forrest Gump and Jenny.
    ( File/David Quick/staff )
    Increasingly, more participants in the Kiawah Island Half Marathon are having fun while challenging themselves to running 13.1 miles. Here, a couple dresses as movie couple Forrest Gump and Jenny.

  • With the Kiawah Island Half Marathon falling just weeks before Christmas, some runners show their holiday spirit as they run the 13.1-mile course.
    ( File/David Quick/staff )
    With the Kiawah Island Half Marathon falling just weeks before Christmas, some runners show their holiday spirit as they run the 13.1-mile course.

  • This yearís Kiawah Island Marathon starting and finishing lines, along with the courses, have been changed in an effort to make the event more efficient and accommodating.
    ( File/David Quick/staff )
    This yearís Kiawah Island Marathon starting and finishing lines, along with the courses, have been changed in an effort to make the event more efficient and accommodating.

  • You donít have to be an elite runner to have a competitive streak, especially during a marathon such as the Kiawah Island Marathon.
    ( File/David Quick/staff )
    You donít have to be an elite runner to have a competitive streak, especially during a marathon such as the Kiawah Island Marathon.

By the time you read this, the 35th annual Turkey Day Run and Gobble Wobble, one of only a half-dozen area races dating back to the 1970s, likely will be finished and in the record books.

But another one of those classic races is a mere 16 days away, and its 35th edition features sweeping changes meant to improve the race.

No double loop

The Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon, which originated in 1978 as the Island Marathon on the Isle of Palms, is Dec. 8 and will debut new courses for both events.

Most notably, organizers have eliminated the marathonís infamous double loop that so many runners have complained about over the years and moved the start and finish lines for both races to get rid of two awkward, 90-degree turns within the first half-mile of the starting line. In fact, the first turn doesnít take place until about 200 meters from Mile 1.

This will be the first time since 1999 that the marathon hasnít had a double-loop, according to longtime Kiawah Island Marathon volunteer Mike Chodnicki.

ďItís a better course,Ē said Chodnicki, a former Charleston Running Club president whom Kiawah officials consulted.

See the bridge?

The changes also are expected to alleviate another problem: Faster marathoners have to run around and dodge half-marathon joggers and walkers.

The marathon and half-marathon courses split at mile 11.5 and donít rejoin until about a mile and half from the finish line.

Kiawah race director Liz King predicts the changes, along with other efforts, will make the race ďone of the most well-attended marathons weíve ever had.Ē

King said the changes are possible because roads and development have opened up new areas of Kiawah for the race, many of which go through maritime forest and offer sweeping marsh vistas. In fact, at Mile 15, marathoners will be able to see a distant Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge if, and this is a big if, itís a clear day.

ďIt has given us the ability to let our runners see all of those views and vistas. Itís something we wanted to highlight. Thatís why they come to Kiawah. Itís such a beautiful spot to run,Ē King said.

Supply and demand

Changes also come as demand to run Kiawah has been waning the past two years.

Gone are the days when runners, particularly those in the half-marathon, had to be on the ball and sign up within days of registration opening in late August or early September.

In fact, some who missed out often made desperate pleas for race bibs at online sellersí sites.

What happened?

Competition.

Kiawah, which used to be one of the few options to run a marathon or half late in the fall season in the Carolinas and Georgia, slowly got squeezed by Charlotteís Thunder Road, Raleighís City of Oaks and Savannahís Rock íní Roll in November and the Charleston Marathon in January.

Though Kiawah always has capped its total number of participants, organizers started to watch finisher numbers erode.

The marathon, the title event, has lost more than 110 runners for two years straight, from 990 in 2009 to 761 in 2011.

And while the half is more steady, ranging around 2,300, it was starting to show signs of slipping in the past two years, as well.

Local outreach

Iíve always thought Kiawah did a fine job on the event, especially with the food and refreshments post-race, for a relatively small marathon.

However, many local runners think the race fees were pricey (believe me, fees are lower than major marathons) and didnít like the fact that Kiawah tried to get commitments for staying on the island for two nights. Those who donít usually have to park outside the gate and get bused in.

Kiawah addressed the race fees, as well, offering early bird incentives for this yearís race as low as $60 for the marathon and $50 for the half in the weeks following last yearís race.

And to improve convenience, Kiawah will be offering in-person packet pickup next weekend (noon-4 p.m. Nov. 30 and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 1) at the Charleston Area Senior Center, 259 Meeting St. next to Jestineís Kitchen downtown. The pickup is for people who registered by Nov. 18.

As for the race closing to registration, King said she expects both races to remain open until Dec. 7.

Go to www.kiawahresort.com/recreation/kiawah-island-marathon.