Beaufort News

Bear Foot Sports bringing marathon to Hilton Head Island in February 2014

Mark Weisner's grand visions of Hilton Head Island's first marathon sat inside his head for years. The end result would be a thing of beauty, but getting to that point a burdensome task of its own.

Weisner -- whose Bear Foot Sports 5K, 10K and half marathons have been popular on the island for some time now -- heard the clamoring for a greater, more daunting challenge. But first came the nuts and bolts of it all: Requesting permission from the town, transportation and sheriffs departments, all while making sure the island could provide a suitable course for runners.

"It's something that we've been thinking about doing but we wanted to make sure that we had all our ducks in our row, so to speak, before we made the leap to do a marathon," Weisner said. "As far as making sure the course was safe, the town was on board, DOT and that kind of stuff. We've kind of been thinking about it for a few years now and decided it was a good time to just go ahead and go for it."

It took a while for things to fall into place, but Weisner eventually got his wish. And now, Hilton Head Island's first marathon is set for Feb. 8, 2014, an expansion of the half marathon Bear Foot Sports has operated for the last 11 years.

"As far as I know ... there's never been an official marathon on Hilton Head," Weisner said. "As far as I know, we were the first to ever put on a half marathon on the island and we're the only one doing that."

Runners will compete over the already established half marathon course, which begins at Jarvis Greek Park, but with slight adjustments. The path will take participants over the Cross Island Parkway, through two parks and several neighborhoods and over Broad Creek. The 13.1 miles of additional course is all new and will run on the other side of the Cross Island Parkway, Spanish Wells Road and Point Comfort Road.

No runner will go through circles or hit the same spot twice, Weisner said. The path will feature all different directions with different views to take in.

"People are asking for it," he said. "We feel like we're suited to do it. We have a pretty good reputation of putting on good races. So I think it's a fun challenge to put on something different."

It's a course that would have been impossible to replicate until recently, Weisner said, as the town's addition of several new bike paths allowed his marathon to come to life.

"There's a lot of things that had to come into play to make this happen," he said. "The DOT was able to allow us to do some things, which was great. The island building bike paths. A couple years ago you couldn't have done this race. ... We're fortunate that the island has done a great job building bike paths and we're going to be utilizing them."

Weisner's 5K, 10K and half marathon generally draw about 1,200 runners combined, he said. He expects an additional 400-600 participants for the 2014 marathon but will cap the number at 2,500 for the first year.

The presence of a marathon should benefit the town as well, Weisner said, as longer distance races typically attract runners from farther away. Bear Foot Sports plans on partnering with Charleston's marathon, which will take place in January, in the hopes of drawing more participants.

"What we don't want to do is have so many people out there that we get in a situation where we forget something," he said. "It's been a thorough planning process but we want to make sure we can safely accommodate 2,500 people before we do anything crazy and try to expand it more than that."