Before signing up for Saturday’s Columbia SC Marathon, a woman from Michigan called Dan Hartley, the race director.
“Do the medals have the date on them?” Hartley recalled her asking.
Hartley answered yes before he asked why the date was important.
“She said, ‘It’s my 50th birthday. I wanted to run your race and I wanted to do it on my 50th birthday,” Hartley said.
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Of the 700 runners registered for the marathon, the first 26.2 mile race in Columbia since the Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials in 2000, a third are from out of state. Combined with the 800 runners in the half marathon and the 250 in the 10K, there will be around 1,750 runners on the course that includes USC’s campus, the Shandon neighborhood and Trenholm Road.
Many runners, like the woman who is driving from Michigan to spend her 50th here, will stay in downtown hotels and eat at local restaurants. Marathon organizers expect to generate $253,000, projecting that 350 hotel rooms will be booked because of the race.
By comparison, the Miss South Carolina pageant generated $230,000 in a week of July events, and the USMC Ultimate Challenge Mud Run, now held twice a year, brought in a combined $180,000, according to The Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism figures.
“That’s a conservative estimate,” Scott Powers, executive director of the Columbia Regional Sports Council, said about the marathon. “What we never want to do is misrepresent an event.”
And the estimate only includes runners. There are more than 600 race volunteers, some of whom may book a room. More than 50 exhibitors will be offering free samples and showcasing the latest sports apparel at the health and fitness expo, which begins at noon today, at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
“They’re spending money and they’re staying in hotels,” Hartley said. “There are different aspects other than just the runners.”
But the runners, like the couple flying from Germany for the marathon, will make up the bulk of the race’s economic impact. A 79-year-old marathoner is traveling from Spokane, Wash., one of 46 states represented. Another runner, from the Ontario province in Canada, is bringing several family members with him to Columbia. The Midlands authority sees this as a showcase weekend for the city.
“These are the types of events that we, as the authority, love to be involved in because we’re bringing potential tourists here,” Kim Jamieson, the authority’s director of communications, said. “They can come here and see why Columbia has so much to offer. The event is your main pull, but there’s so many other things you can take part in.”
The marathon begins and ends in the Vista, and area restaurants are offering special prices on meals and drinks for runners, Sarah Luadzers, the executive director of the Vista Guild said.
“Weekends in the Vista are usually busy, but with the marathon, we anticipate that our restaurants, shops and galleries will be busier,” she said. “Many out-of-town runners are also staying in our hotels, and that also makes a positive economic impact.”
Local residents might be concerned about another kind of impact, like how much the race, which requires street closures in the morning and early afternoon, will slow them down. The marathon, Hartley said, has reached out to local neighborhoods so residents know they won’t be trapped in their driveways.
“You’re still going to be able to come and go as you please,” he said. “Just be on the lookout for runners. We’re just trying to create buzz so the whole city can take ownership of the event.”
Runners will continue to affect the city — and the marathon’s future — beyond the weekend.
“On Sunday and Monday, there will be countless blogs and Facebook reports talking about, ‘my race or run at the Columbia marathon,’” Hartley said. “Part of my research for making this a top quality event was learning what people don’t like at other races. That gets circulated.”
Hartley wants runners to return.
“I wanted it to be something people could count on, ‘It’s this weekend every year,’” he said.
The 2013 race is exactly one year from today.