GET OUT: Charleston Marathon continues to grow and evolve

Runners in last year’s Charleston Marathon and Half-Marathon on King Street.

The early, formative years of the Cooper River Bridge Run faced obstacles and challenges, and the same holds true for this weekend's Charleston Marathon.

Unlike the Bridge Run, the Charleston Marathon includes multiple events over two days, including the second annual marathon, a third annual half-marathon and a third annual 5K on Saturday and bikes rides of 30 and 60 miles on Sunday.

Last year, organizers scrambled when barricades appeared on certain roads along the course in North Charleston. This year, part of the heartburn came with an announcement that officials soon would ban bikes on the James Island connector, part of the bike ride course.

Organizers were assuring folks that the ban won't start before the weekend, or if it did, it wouldn't apply to participants this year, according to marathon co-founder Charles Fox.

Meanwhile, the event is enjoying healthy growth, and I'm confident it will evolve into something better and bigger. It likely will never become a mega-race like the Bridge Run, but with the right changes and support, the Charleston Marathon has the potential of being a national-level race.

As of Tuesday morning, 2,416 had signed up for the half-marathon, 1,114 for the marathon, 476 for the 5K and 269 for the bike rides. The numbers have been running at about 15 percent above last year's year-to-date numbers. With online registration closing on Wednesday but in-person registration still available, and with the forecast looking cold but dry, the event could still get a late registration bounce for the half-marathon and 5K.

Meanwhile, organizers seem to have improving routes as their No. 1 goal for 2013. In a good move, the event hired a paid part-time director, Liz Alford, who has experience in event planning for the Olympics, to provide a new level of professionalism to the event.

Organizers have found North Charleston to be extremely accommodating for the event, while Charleston, which has to deal with exponentially more event-driven road closures, has been less so.

The route

The basic "rolling" road closure plan is this: Downtown's East Bay Street from Calhoun Street to The Battery will be closed 7:30 a.m. Saturday until runners pass; King Street will be closed as the runners approach and pass from The Battery all the way to North Charleston; Spruill Avenue will be closed from 8 a.m. until the last runners pass (there is a 6 1/2-hour limit); Park Circle, West Montague Avenue to Mixon Avenue, and around the School of the Arts will be closed about 9 a.m.-1 p.m. To see the course, go to www.charlestonmarathon.com.

With the marathon being a potential draw for more visitors (less than half of those signed up are local) in one of the few months that Charleston doesn't have many visitors, it needs to change three basic elements: the course, the day of the event and the number of events.

I've long said the course needs to be more scenic (one word: Spruill?). And the marathon and half need to be on Sunday, which is when most marathons are and gives visitors an extra day to settle in and carbo-load at local restaurants before the big race. Also, Sunday races improve the chances of people staying Friday, Saturday and even Sunday night, with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday giving people an extra day to relax.

I know the argument against Sunday, and it has to do with living in The Holy City. But I know plenty of good Christians who run marathons on Sunday and even witness by doing so.

As for the events, focus on the marathon and half. Ditch the 5K and bike ride.

Helping the arts

Ultimately the marathon events raise money for the Youth Endowment for the Arts. All proceeds fund grants to support fine arts programs in Charleston County schools. Last year's event raised $40,000.

In fact, children and the arts are key components of the event. A Youth Marathon encourages kids to run the equivalent of a marathon with the final miles culminating Friday. And youth bands, along with other musicians, pepper the course.