The Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon has officially hit its stride.
The annual race and the half-marathon the same weekend have sold out and are now closed to participants.
The only way to take part in the big races now is to sign up through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or the American Red Cross and commit to raising money for the organizations.
Marathon organizer and promoter Mike Shank said race weekend, Feb. 11-14, will likely draw about 11,000 people for a variety of events, including the big races, a 5K and a bike race. The event started with 1,200 total participants.
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The marathon, now in its 13th year, has sold out a couple of times, Shank said, and the half-marathon often sells out, but neither usually closes until the first of the year.
"I think it's because people like to come to the beach. There are things to do here, and I'd like to think it's because they feel this is a well-organized event," Shank said.
The number of entries is limited for the big races - there can be 2,750 runners in the marathon and 3,850 in the half-marathon, he said, because of safety concerns by the city of Myrtle Beach. Shank said the number increases each year, "but it all comes down to safety."
City spokesman Mark Kruea said the marathon has grown in popularity each year since it started.
"This is an early indication that runners have discovered Myrtle Beach," he said of the sold-out races. "People are planning a midwinter vacation, and they bring their families and enjoy the area and the exercise. It's great for them and for us."
Nanci Conley, director of public support for the Coastal South Carolina chapter of the American Red Cross, said runners who sign up through her organization are committing to raise at least $500.
"It helps us here, locally," she said. "That's what it's all about."