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Myrtle Beach marathon sign-ups fall short of 2010

Fewer runners have registered so far for next month's Myrtle Beach marathon than last year, fallout from the canceled run in 2010 and because of competition from a new marathon in Charleston, an official said.

About 5,500 runners have registered for the Feb. 19 marathon and half-marathon in Myrtle Beach, down from the 6,600 runners who were set to participate in 2010 but didn't get to run after officials canceled the event the night before because of snow. Though the registration is down from 2010, it's in line with 2009, said Shaun Walsh, the marathon's co-director.

Some runners have opted to run in the inaugural Charleston marathon instead of Myrtle Beach's marathon, Walsh said. The Charleston Marathon is set for Jan. 15 and has 3,600 runners registered - more than twice as many as organizers anticipated, event director Charles Fox said.

"Registration is not as strong as last year," Walsh said. "We definitely had people who were upset with us. Obviously [the Charleston marathon] took some folks who were disappointed with what happened."

About 1,500 runners who had shown up for the 2010 marathon in Myrtle Beach took advantage of the half-price, early registration that Myrtle Beach marathon organizers offered as a way to try to entice runners to come back, Walsh said.

The city of Myrtle Beach canceled the 2010 marathon because of safety concerns for participants and for volunteers and crews who would have had to set up the race course during the snow. Some determined runners unofficially ran the route on marathon day anyway, and some blasted the city for the last-minute cancellation - the only time the marathon has been called off.

"We tried to do what we could to encourage people to come back," Walsh said. "We are fully apologetic for the weather. We can't control the weather."

Still, marathon organizers have reviewed the policy for canceling the event in case a rare February snowstorm should hit the Grand Strand again. Officials are trying to come up with a contingency plan to set up the heavy parts of the race course the day before instead of hours before the start, Walsh said. That way, the final touches of the course could come together in an hour or so instead of the four to five hours it takes to set up the entire course, Walsh said.

The only hurdle to that plan is security. People have swiped cones in advance of the marathon, so officials would need to make sure the barricades, water stations and early setups wouldn't get carted away by thieves, Walsh said.

The course is changing this year, aiming to alleviate congestion and make it more attractive for the runners, Walsh said. Organizers upped the cap on runners to 7,000, though it is unlikely to fill up.

Registration for the marathon's bike ride in Conway is a little bit ahead of last year's, event coordinator George Ulrich said, though he didn't have specific numbers available.

One change made to the bike ride last year to accommodate the winter weather has stuck. The ride started two hours later than its 7 a.m. start time in 2010 and bikers preferred the later start that allowed them to sleep in, so 9 a.m. has become the new official start time, Ulrich said.

Registration for the first Charleston Marathon is going better than organizers anticipated - another 59 runners registered Thursday morning before noon - in part because runners like the flat course and because of the special touches planned, including Lowcountry staple shrimp and grits and music at the finish line, Fox said. The Myrtle Beach Marathon hasn't affected registration in the Charleston Marathon, he said.

"I don't think it is any one thing," Fox said of the registration going better than expected. "It is a lot of little things."

The two coastal marathons aren't competing for runners, Fox said. Charleston Marathon organizers didn't target Myrtle Beach in its promotions last year, he said.

Runners are dedicated and often travel to several marathons a year. Demand for half-marathons has surged, and there's room for the ones in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, Fox said.

"I don't perceive it to be competition," Fox said. "People who do marathons do many of them. ... The market is wide open for all of us."