In most people’s minds, the ideal Valentine Day in Myrtle Beach might involve a romantic dinner for two, a live show at one of the many local theaters, and maybe a late-night drink and dessert at a bar or coffee house before returning to your oceanfront room. Running for 26.2 miles and sweating like crazy in the dead of winter usually doesn’t make the list.
But this year, with the 18th Annual MyrtleBeach.com Myrtle Beach Marathon falling on Feb. 14, that’s exactly what more than 5,000 runners have in mind when they invade the streets of the Grand Strand. Forget about flowers and chocolates and bring on the power gel and water, and make that romantic meal a heaping helping of pasta as participants carb load for the race.
But it’s the love of running that brings them back every year, and it was that same passion for the sport by five local runners that brought this popular event to town in 1998. Local organizers also happen to be dedicated runners who formed a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society “Team in Training” group in the mid 1990s. They traveled to races all over the country, turning marathons into opportunities to travel visit and explore other cities. It didn’t take long for them to realize that Myrtle Beach would be the perfect place to host a race, so they returned home to start planning the first Myrtle Beach Marathon.
The inaugural race took place at the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, before the opening of Market Common, with a small band of runners and an even smaller group of supporters. When the race moved to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans Ballpark and the course changed to include a long stretch of the Myrtle Beach oceanfront as well as weaving through popular attractions such as Broadway at the Beach, the word began to spread in the running community that Myrtle Beach’s race was a national contender, and national publications ranked it among the top winter marathons in the country.
The Myrtle Beach Marathon also got a big boost from the local business community as the original group of five branched out and brought in even more supporters to help make the race a success. The growth in participation, both in the number of runners and the volunteer organizers, has helped attract a large number of visitors to the Grand Strand during what has traditionally been one of the slowest times of the year. That’s has changed with the explosion of tourism on marathon weekend, transforming the dead of winter into a kickoff weekend for spring.
The Dasani Half-Marathon was added to bring in more people who aren’t quite ready to go the full distance but enjoy the challenge of a 13.1-mile course, and the Ripley’s Aquarium Family Fun Run 1-mile race on the eve of the marathon has opened the race up to a wider audience to include kids and adults who aren’t avid runners. All three events have gained title sponsorship local business community and corporate sponsors quickly joined in to support of the marathon's efforts to attract more visitors to Myrtle Beach during the offseason. And a local company that shares that same goal of attracting guests to the Grand Strand, MyrtleBeach.com, has come on board as the title sponsor in the race's growing phase.
Today, hundreds of bystanders line the streets of Myrtle Beach to cheer on their loved ones and share in their accomplishments. Local hotels, restaurants and attractions reap the benefits, and more than 5,000 participants go home with sore legs but a smile on their faces, and come back the next year for more.