CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the last several years, the annual Charleston Distance Run has undergone major alterations.The race committee even considered a change in its 15-mile distance, one of the race's hallmarks since its debut in 1973.Shortly after the 2010 race, the committee voted on a controversial proposal that would have made the race a half-marathon (13.1 miles), a distance that's more familiar to the racing crowd nationally. The vote, however, kept the race at 15 miles.At about the same time, the committee decided to abandon its traditional Virginia Street starting line in favor of the more picturesque Kanawha Boulevard beside the Capitol.A year later, it drastically reduced the prize money to the top male and female finishers and instead increased the cash awards to age-group winners, thereby retaining the same amount but distributing it more evenly.For the moment, the race, which is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Aug. 31, seems to have found a comfortable niche in terms of distance, course and distribution of prize money.And for good reason. Participation in the event has grown in each of the last four years, increasing year-by-year from 491 finishers in 2009 to 633 last year. Participation in the accompanying 5-kilometer run likewise has grown during that time, rising annually from 450 in '09 to 529 last year.
Feedback from the runners has been good, said race director John Palmer, and the word is getting out better now than ever before."It's the publicity that we're getting, both in the various running publications and also in social media,'' said Palmer. "Plus, we've added some things. Last year, for example, it was our 40th anniversary, so we had a 40th anniversary jacket.''For most of the race's existence, the committee attracted elite, professional runners by offering lucrative prize money to the top finishers but, in a dramatic reversal, concluded before the 2010 race that the presence of world-class runners did not deliver much clout.
The committee dropped prize money entirely that year but brought it back the following year, focusing more on the top recreational runners than the pros."We found that we don't get a lot of benefit from having the elite runner in the race,'' said Palmer. "It doesn't seem to increase the number of spectators or the overall interest in the race. That's why we would rather distribute the cash awards in the age groups.''In 2009, the top male and female earned $1,100, and the second-place through fifth-place finishers picked up $800, $600, $400 and $300, respectively.Now, the top five male and female runners collect only $595, $500, $400, $300 and $200, respectively, but the top three finishers in each age group earn $125, $100 and $75, respectively."The runners enjoy the competitive nature of it in their own age groups,'' said the race director.
Total prize money, $5,995, is the same now as it was in 2009.BRIEFLY: An annual concern, the start of football season, undoubtedly will be a factor this year. The West Virginia-William & Mary game begins at noon in Morgantown on race day. Marshall's game with Miami (Ohio) in Huntington starts at 7 p.m. that day. ... Participation in the 5K and 10K walks needs to be increased, Palmer said. There were only 104 walkers last year. ... For every runner and walker in this year's event, the race committee will donate a dollar to the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps service people who suffered injuries on or after Sept. 11, 2001. ... Runners and walkers have the option of buying $40 half-zip pullovers. ... Both races, as well as the 10K and 5K walks, begin at the Capitol on Kanawha Boulevard at 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 31 and finish, as always, at Laidley Field.Reach Mike Whiteford at email@example.com.