There's a tourism niche among the world's growing population of endurance athletes known as the "destination marathon."
It's basically runners, a demographic known for higher-than-average income levels, traveling to cities or places that tend to be popular vacation spots to run a marathon and have a mini-vacation, at least for a long weekend.
Hotels, restaurants and others who depend on tourism tend to like destination marathons because the events are usually scheduled during cooler "off-season" months.
Join the party
Among the better-known destination marathons in the U.S. are Big Sur in California, Honolulu, New York and Mayor's Midnight, held in Alaska during the summer solstice.
Charleston's primary destination marathon for three decades continues to be the Kiawah Island Marathon in December. Like many, it features a half-marathon. Unlike many, it restricts its numbers.
On Saturday, the Charleston Marathon will emerge as the area's second destination marathon, strategically held on the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
Working out kinks
While the event is in its fourth year, the marathon is in its third and has had its growing pains.
In 2010, organizers went ahead with a half-marathon despite not being able to hammer out details for the marathon. But they ironed out plans for 2011.
In all, the event features not only a marathon and half-marathon, but a 5K and a Sunday bike ride, as well as a kid's "marathon" on Friday.
The event, however, has had some issues with the route and logistics. Those appear to have been smoothed over, thanks, in part, to the event hiring a part-time race director, Liz Alford, in 2011.
Among the major changes is the route, which many previously complained didn't feature much of Charleston or the Lowcountry landscape.
The new route change adds only two more miles in Charleston, for a total of eight in the downtown area. It includes the gorgeous vistas of the Ashley River and Charleston Harbor along Lockwood Boulevard and The Battery and all of King Street.
"I don't know how much more we can get inside the city of Charleston," said Howie Schomer, one of the event's co-founders and the point man on route design.
"We've mapped this course hundreds of times over the years, and I don't know how many variations we've had, but I think this one is really interesting."
Marathoners and half-marathoners split from each other just before the Mile 10 mark on Viaduct Road in North Charleston. Runners in the half then proceed toward North Charleston Highway while the marathoners head to the Cooper River Marina and a short jaunt on a pier between miles 12 and 13.
School to school
Another organization coup was the brilliant idea of starting the marathon and half at Burke Middle High School in Charleston and finishing at North Charleston High School. Runners will be able to wait for the start inside Burke and even have the ability to shower after the races at North Charleston High.
Charleston Marathon board member Kyle Lahm added that the Burke-to-North Charleston High route not only provides relief to participants from bad weather but saves the organization money spent on tents and many portable toilets. Ample parking also exists at both sites.
Meanwhile, organizers also have created a way to capture participants following the marathon by holding a street party on a closed-off Montague Avenue, a short stroll from North Charleston High.
Scott Cloud, past president of the Olde North Charleston Merchants Association and owner of The Barbecue Joint, said that the marathon in the past two years "killed business" because it not only closed streets but deposited runners and spectators at the finish line at the Navy Yard.
The route change, Cloud said, should be better for those businesses, particularly restaurants and bars.
"Everyone I've talked to thinks it great," Cloud said. "Anything we can do to drum up business after the holidays and before spring I'm all for."
Hitting its stride
Alford said all the tweaking appears to be paying off. Registration for the event has climbed a substantial 20 percent this year.
As of late last week, the half had 2,375 registrants, the marathon 1,030, the 5K 575 and the bike ride about 200. Alford said about half of the registrants are coming from outside the Charleston area.
"It has totally become a destination marathon," said Alford, noting that Conde Nast magazine's ranking of Charleston as the No. 1 destination in the world didn't hurt.
Alford said the marathon and half will feature a "rolling closure"; streets closed for the race will reopen as the last runners pass. And runners must keep a 15-minute per mile, or 4 mph, pace going.
"We'll be out of downtown Charleston by 10 a.m.," she said. "Streets in North Charleston will be reopened by 2 p.m."
For specifics on the route and closures, go to charlestonmarathon.com
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.
Runners participating in the Charleston Marathon and Half Marathon head down East Bay Street.×
Runners participating in the Charleston Marathon and Half Marathon head down King Street.×
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