When runners toe the line next February for the Hilton Head Island Marathon, a victory will bring a little more than the usual honors.
This one comes with the title “state champion.”
The race has been designated South Carolina’s 2017 state championship by the Road Runners Club of America, becoming part of the RRCA Championship Event Series designed to bring together more top runners in each state at some of its top events.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” said race director Mark Weisner. “We’ve got a good reputation; Hilton Head is a beautiful place. So I figured if we went through the trouble of applying, we had a pretty good shot of getting it.”
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The Hilton Head Island Marathon will take place Feb. 11, following a course that takes runners from Jarvis Creek Park, onto the Cross Island Parkway, through several neighborhoods and over Broad Creek before returning to Jarvis Creek Park.
The race annually draws some 300 runners, with officials expecting at least a 10 percent bump with its new designation. “The numbers were already higher,” Weisner said. “Then with the new accreditation and the fact we’ve been here a while, we expect it to grow even more.”
Overall male and female winners, along with those in three masters categories, will receive RRCA Marathon Championship awards. The race also serves once again as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon, with runners able to submit their times for consideration to get into the nation’s premier running event.
Race day also features a half-marathon that attracts more than 600 runners, and a new 8K run replaces the old 5K distance.
“We obviously think it was an outstanding selection,” said Sherilyn Johnson, the RRCA’s interim South Carolina representative. “It’s a good race with a good number of people, and an exciting place to visit.”
The Championship Event Series dates back to the RRCA’s founding, starting with national championships in 1958 and eventually expanding to regional and state championships. Applicants are chosen for their organization, volunteer staff and an established history.
Championships are selected at various distances, ranging from one mile to ultra-marathons that go beyond the standard 26.2-mile distance.
Weisner, an RRCA member, said he opted to submit a bid a few months ago when an organization mailing noted that South Carolina’s marathon championship had not yet been been selected.
Hosting a state championship, too, could set up the Hilton Head Island Marathon for bigger things. In future years, the event can apply to host the South Region championship. Regional hosts are eligible to bid for the national championship.
For now, Weisner is focusing on giving 1,400 or so runners a first-rate experience this February. He noted the course may need a slight tweak, with Honey Horn Plantation still being used as a staging area for Hurricane Matthew relief.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” he said. “We might have to run around it instead of running through it, that’s all.”
Participants will receive a long-sleeve T-shirt, and finishers medals will be given to all who complete the race. Postrace festivities include live music, vendors and a craft beer garden.
A percentage of proceeds will go to benefit local charities including the Hilton Head Rotary Club, Hilton Head Island High athletics, Hilton Head Christian Academy, Bluffton High School ROTC and others. The event has generated more than $46,000 in donations in its first 13 years.
To register or for more information, visit BearFootSports.com or call 843-757-8520.