More than 3,500 runners will be lacing up their running shoes for Sunday's second annual Myrtle Beach Mini Marathon.
It's one of several running events to be held on the Grand Strand this weekend. The CCU President's Homecoming 5K race and the Pawleys Island Turtle Strut 5K/10K, marking its 20th annual run this year, will both be held on Saturday.
With so many running events on one weekend, leaders of the Grand Strand Running Club expect participation in the smaller events to lag from previous years.
When will the Grand Strand reach the saturation point for running events?
"We're already there," said club president Richard Lanigan. "We have a lot of races that are overlapping. Sometimes there's three events on one weekend and all three events suffer because of it."
The club will have about 40 members involved in Sunday's Mini Marathon he said, as running participants or volunteers at water stops. Lanigan said those special running events continue to do well, but races with fewer participants may struggle to attract runners.
"When you get the smaller, little club events that we put on and then somebody else pops up with a little charity they want to support and put on an event, that's when both of them suffer, because they don't get the participants," he said.
Dr. Mark Schecker, the medical director and a founder of the Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon, said the Grand Strand has been slow to catch on with the running boom in the rest of the country. But now that it's here, he said shorter races are becoming more popular with local runners and more numerous because they don't require much training.
It's hard to tell when the area will reach the saturation point for running events, but it is something that's on the minds of Myrtle Beach Marathon board members, he said.
"We talk about this frequently and of course we have concerns, particularly in races that are similar to what we do, because we hope that it doesn't effect our participation," Schecker said.
Spacing of races is critical, Schecker said. Marathons and half-marathons that are scheduled too close to each other will lose participation. "So we're constantly evaluating what we do, what kind of race we put on, what kind of product we put on to try to separate ourselves from that, to make us more unique."
It's hard to tell how much outside events have had an impact on participation in the marathon, Schecker said. While the numbers still look good and there's potential for the February event to grow, he said cancellation of the marathon two years ago due to snow and a difficult economy are factors that may discourage some runners from participating. Or, they may be drawn to races in Charleston and other nearby cities.
"Right now, I don't think we know the answer yet. I think it's going to take us a couple of more years to figure that out."
But the marathon board is always evaluating the race, trying to come up with ways to make it more attractive in an increasingly competitive running environment, he said.
Though having more races in the area may cause some of them to struggle to attract runners, in the end, it's all for the good of the community, Schecker said. "It's great for health and for the Myrtle Beach area as well."
Lanigan said the answer for solving the problem of events that overlap and draw runners away from each other may be some type of governing body for the Grand Strand, to oversee a schedule that works out best for all events.
"Unfortunately, I think there's more people that want to do more events than there are weekends," Lanigan said.