As a huge advocate for the benefits of recreational running, Jesse Harmon hated to hear that the Columbia Marathon was dying only two years after it began.
So he did something about it.
Harmon put together the paperwork and worked out the details with USA Track & Field to take over the event. He reached out to some of the same sponsors who have helped him with his Run Hard Running Team for kids. He talked with city officials to get their blessing.
And on March 8, what originally had been planned as the Columbia Marathon, will instead be the Run Hard Columbia Marathon.
“We were planning an off-road half marathon of our own,” Harmon said. “Then we read in The State newspaper about the Columbia Marathon being canceled. We thought ‘We want the capital city to have a marathon. What do we need to do?’”
The previous version of the Columbia Marathon drew good crowds – about 2,000 runners in the various events, including 384 who finished the marathon last year. Former race director Dan Hartley hasn’t provided all of the details of why he decided to cancel the event, but last year’s age group winners never received their awards, according to leading members of the running community.
Harmon acknowledged those problems, and he knows the new organizers picking up the pieces have to overcome some hurdles.
“We have to do some damage control,” Harmon said. “We have to repair the image.”
His first step was to tell about 30 people who already had registered for the 2014 event that he will honor their registrations, even though he won’t receive their money. “It would not be right to ask them to pay again,” Harmon said.
At $65 per person, that’s nearly $2,000 that a non-profit like Run Hard Running Team really could use. But Harmon recognizes the reputation of the youth running club he has worked hard to build will be on the line. It’s more important for him to do the right thing by runners who were hurt by the failure of the event’s previous organizer.
Run Hard puts together an eight-week running program each spring and fall for boys at 19 elementary and middle schools in Lexington County. At the end of the program, the kids complete a 5K run. The end-of-program run, which encourages parents to run with their kids, had 1,200 finishers this fall, Harmon said.
He sees the marathon as an extension of his kids group. “It will inspire our kids to stay active through adulthood,” Harmon said. “That’s one reason I wanted to see it continue, to serve as an inspiration for our boys.”
Columbia officials appreciate that someone with experience putting together running events had taken over the marathon.
“For a community this size not to have a marathon ... shame on us,” said Ric Luber, president and CEO of the Midlands Authority for Conventions Sports and Tourism. “We had one for two years, and it went well. To have somebody pick up and move on with the project is very, very important.”
Luber, who was scheduled to meet with Harmon this week, has been impressed at Run Hard’s ability to quickly line up sponsors and the zeal with which the group has approached the task of coordinating a major event. “They’ve got the right components to do it,” Luber said.