The more than 6,000 runners entered in the 20th Myrtle Beach Marathon weekend’s various races won’t see much of a change from recent races, and that’s by design.
Despite the event and its management changing hands last September from a group of local running enthusiasts who started it two decades ago to the Capstone Event Group of Raleigh, N.C., features of the races and the vendors involved remain consistent.
“Our main goal with this was to keep as many things the same as possible and try to tweak on the margins where we could without changing the experience from what it has been for the runners, volunteers, city officials and everyone who has been involved in 19 years,” CEG president Charlie Mercer said. “We didn’t want to come in and change a bunch of things and rock the boat, and frankly there wasn’t a lot that needed changing.”
Expected participants in Saturday’s races include nearly 1,600 in the marathon, close to 3,000 in the half marathon and 500 in the relay, and another 1,000 or so are expected in Friday’s 5-kilometer run.
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Those numbers are down slightly from those provided by former race president Shaun Walsh last year, when there were more than 2,000 in the marathon, more than 3,200 in the half marathon, slightly more than 500 in the relay and about 1,000 in the 5K. Those figures were down slightly from 2015.
“We’re really pleased with the numbers,” Mercer said. “We really didn’t get to start our marketing efforts until November, which is about six months later than we would have liked. So when we started our marketing the projections were much lower than they are now, so we’re really pleased with the uptick we saw in the end and we hope to build on that next year and in the future.”
CEG has focused on increasing marketing and promotion for the event and has added a few sponsors, including BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, which has partnered with CEG for other races, Grande Dunes, Amino Vital sports drinks and Food Lion, which is providing food and water.
Several existing sponsors such as Mellow Mushroom, Krispy Kreme and Dole are also still on board. “Any organizations that have been involved in the past, we’ve tried to maintain that continuity to the extent they’re interested,” Mercer said.
Capstone’s marathon organizers have traveled to Myrtle Beach multiple times over the past few months to meet with local authorities and groups to plan out race week details.
“Thus far the group has been a pleasure to work with and been very receptive to ideas,” said Lt. Joey Crosby, the Myrtle Beach Police Department’s special events coordinator. “It’s been a collaborative effort and a good working relationship.”
CEG expects to operate 25 to 27 races in 2017 predominantly in the Southeast and Midwest, and the Myrtle Beach race is just the second of the year, following a half marathon in Wilmington, N.C.
Marathon-related events kick off with the opening of the Runner’s Expo from 5-8 p.m. Thursday at the Myrtle Beach Sports Center, which is open to the public as well as race participants and will feature between 30 and 40 vendors.
Friday’s 5-kilometer race and the one-mile Family Fun Run have been moved from Broadway at the Beach to the area of the Grande Dunes marina – the 5K will be run on Wild Iris Drive and Marina Parkway.
A pasta dinner party complete with face painting and balloon animals is being held Friday night at the marina with the Tim Clark Band as entertainment. It is also open to the public for $10 in advance or $15 at the event. “We wanted something to welcome the out of towners on Friday night, to where they have a place to go,” Mercer said.
The race will still feature musicians performing throughout the course and the post-race band is Liquid Pleasure of Chapel Hill, N.C.
Mercer said the support CEG has received from local officials and the local running community has been unmatched.
“We have been struck by the support in the Myrtle Beach community. It’s honestly like nothing we’ve seen in most other communities we’ve worked with,” Mercer said. “We feel completely welcomed with open arms by everyone we’ve been in contact with.”
The race will have between 600 and 800 volunteers, and several individual and business race contributors have retained their roles and offerings.
“That’s just a huge number of people to be willing to come out and support an event like this,” Mercer said. “A lot of the people who were involved with the race in the past, we weren’t sure how much involvement they would want to have once we took over, and it’s just been a blessing to have so many people want to continue to be involved. The event means a lot to a lot of people. We want those people to have as much involvement as they want moving forward.”
Mercer said contributing vendors are nearly unchanged. Local individuals and businesses that remain involved include Doug Kelly and Chuck Stokes handling emcee, audio and video duties, Elvis Services providing portable toilets, Jim Troxell handling awards, Scott Byrd of Songbyrd Productions organizing the on-course entertainment, Coastal Ice providing ice and American Pure Spring Water providing on-course water.
Local resident Dawn White of Black Dog Running is the director of the 5K.
“That’s something we’re pretty proud of is we’re able to still support the local community in that way,” CEG operations manager Harrison Schenck said. “We’ve really been lucky to have Jim, Doug and a couple other local people who have helped us kind of bridge the gap between the old owners and us. Our goal is not to change it, it’s to make it bigger and make it better, and these guys have been helpful in that.”
Local businesses that are no longer needed for the event’s marketing and operation with CEG’s involvement include Stanton Media, owned by Bill Stanton, and Festival Promotions, owned by Mike Shank, who had been involved in the race since its outset.
The Native Sons t-shirt and apparel company no longer provides the gift bag merchandise but is still selling race apparel at the expo and on-site after the race.
“They were kind enough to let us sell product at the event. Hopefully it will lead to a bigger relationship than that part of it,” Native Sons owner Steve Taylor said. “I’d rather have some of it than none of it. They’re letting us get in front of them and show what we can do. I respect someone having [an existing] relationship with a vendor.”
CEG executives say they like the race offerings and having the 5k the night before the longer distances, though they may tweak the structure of the relay in future years.
The forecast for Saturday’s races is sunshine and temperatures generally in the 40s with a high in the low-50s, which is good for the runners despite being cool for spectators and volunteers.
Runner’s Expo, Myrtle Beach Sports Center, 5-8 p.m.
Runner’s Expo, Myrtle Beach Sports Center, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Family Fun Run, Grande Dunes marina, 5:30 p.m.
5K, Grande Dunes marina, 7 p.m.
Myrtle Beach Marathon, Half Marathon & Relay, Pelicans Ballpark start/finish, 6:30 a.m.