Charleston Marathon edges closer to city-imposed participant cap
David Quick – Wednesday, January 15, 2014
As most of us know, Charleston is a thriving place to live and visit — most of the year. From the Southeastern Wildlife Expo in mid-February to New Year’s Day, the issue facing most of us is what not to do.
Yet January and early February, other than a plethora of oyster roasts, remains relatively dead when it comes to organized outdoor events.
So it’s a wonder why the city of Charleston would put handcuffs on an event that could not only bring a much needed shot of tourism money to the area but a little sizzle to our often chilly streets.
The three-day Charleston Marathon fitness festival, which starts Friday with the final 1.2 miles of a kids marathon and ends Sunday with bike rides of 20, 40 and 60 miles, started in 2010 without a marathon. Logistically, organizers couldn’t swing it, but they got the ball rolling with a half-marathon and other events.
And while it added the title 26.2-mile event in 2011, the half-marathon remains a bigger draw. That is typical of events that feature both distances.
As a grassroots fundraiser for a local charity, the Youth Endowment for the Arts, or YEA, the Charleston Marathon has grown slowly in the past five years. Part of that is likely due to most of the events actually taking place in North Charleston. Frankly, some local runners don’t like running the industrialized area of the Neck Area.
But with last year’s retooled marathon and half route featuring a start at Burke High School and a finish at North Charleston High School, along with the organizational skills of paid, part-time director Liz Miello Alford, it’s growing and bearing fruit.
Most notably, the race has gone from donating $40,000 to YEA in 2011 to $60,000 in 2012 to $80,000 last year. The money is used to fund grant requests from Charleston County schools for arts programming. Part of that financial success has come with the support of presenting sponsor Harris Teeter.
Reaching a limit
Registration numbers as of 1 p.m. Monday were 3,120 for the half-marathon, 1,497 for the marathon, 720 for the 5K, 629 for the kids marathon and a laggard 158 for the bike rides. Those numbers have grown basically 20 percent year-to-date from last year.
Among the adult participants, 57 percent come from outside of South Carolina. The field represents 46 states and 10 countries.
But there’s not much more room for growth of the marathon and half.
Because the marathon and half start in the city of Charleston near Burke High School, the city is wary of disrupting lives with road closures and has placed a total cap on those events of 5,000.
Why the cap?
Stella Fruit, recreation facilities superintendent, says that when the marathon organizers first pitched a marathon, the city was already “saturated” with requests for street closures for parades, races and other events held on the peninsula downtown.
Fruit says the number was picked because that was what the Komen Lowcountry Race for the Cure reached before it outgrew downtown Charleston and that the special permits committee has even warned organizers on the Turkey Day Run, which had 6,563 finishers last year, that it may need to be capped.
Fruit says that despite the fact that January is a slower month for events, the city still has other requests to close the streets, such as the Emancipation Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades.
She adds that marathon organizers have not yet approached the committee about increasing the cap, and while members would consider a request, she doesn’t foresee granting an increase.
As for road closures, North Charleston will bear more of the brunt than Charleston.
The route in Charleston basically goes from Burke to The Battery, then up King Street to North Charleston. The police will reopen streets as the last runners pass.
In North Charleston, East Montague Avenue, from Jenkins to Virginia avenues, will be closed 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. It will be the location of post-race festivities. The city also will host the Shrimp & Grits 5K in its entirety.
Consult the marathon’s website for other streets along the route that will be closed or partially closed.
For runners, walkers and spectators, weather forecasts call for cool, windy conditions. As of Monday, the forecast was calling for 42 degrees but a wind chill of 33, thanks to the 17 mph Northwest wind. But on the brighter side, no rain.
Charleston Marathon board member Howie Schomer, who helped create the marathon event, says when people worry about the cold, he likes to remind them of something: “It could be hot.”
Meanwhile, Alford joked about wearing her “Charleston Marathon Snuggie” to the event.
Because of the cooler temperatures, officials are hoping to stock up on volunteers to serve as course marshals. Those interested can go to the Charleston Marathon website to sign up.
Last minute tips
Packet pick-up and late registration will be 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday at Burke High, 244 President St. The youth marathon, which is really fun to watch, starts at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Participants are strongly urged to park at Burke on Saturday morning and get tickets for a shuttle back from North Charleston.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.