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 marathon's 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 doesn't take place until about 200 meters from Mile 1.

This will be the first time since 1999 that the marathon hasn't had a double-loop, according to longtime Kiawah Island Marathon volunteer Mike Chodnicki.

"It's a better course," 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 don't 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 "one of the most well-attended marathons we've ever had."

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, it's a clear day.

"It has given us the ability to let our runners see all of those views and vistas. It's something we wanted to highlight. That's why they come to Kiawah. It's such a beautiful spot to run," 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 sellers' sites.

What happened?


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 Charlotte's Thunder Road, Raleigh's City of Oaks and Savannah's Rock 'n' 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

I've 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 didn't like the fact that Kiawah tried to get commitments for staying on the island for two nights. Those who don't usually have to park outside the gate and get bused in.

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

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