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The Surftown Half Marathon has already become a big hit

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published September 14. 2012 4:00AM

In 2011, the inaugural Surftown Half Marathon in Misquamicut and Watch Hill boasted 891 finishers. Not bad for a first year race.

But this Sunday, race director Beth Shluger, expects 2,000 runners to compete in the race and its relay division, making it the region's largest race after just one year.

Shluger, who is the executive director of the Hartford Marathon Foundation, said she's not surprised.

"I anticipated this because its the most gorgeous course to run and I knew word would get out about it," she said. "This is exactly what I thought would happen."

The course begins at Misquamicut State Beach and runs along Atlantic Avenue, loops through and along the ocean in scenic Weekapaug, heads back along Atlantic Avenue, up to Route 1A down into Watch Hill, past the Ocean House and back to Misquamicut.

It's flat, fast and has just one hill leading up to the Ocean House.

Shluger said that in addition to the course, the race comes at a perfect time of the year for weather. It also features clam chowder, artisan breads, Cottrell beer, beach music along the course, striking surfboard finisher medals and technical t-shirts. In addition, all runners who show their race numbers receive free admission into the Misquamicut Fall Fest, which is going on all weekend at the beach.

Because of all this, she said expenses were greater than revenue last year.

"When we created this event we knew we had a treasure on our hands so we did things the right way," she said.

That's not a surprise coming from Shluger as the Hartford Marathon Foundation puts on approximately 30 well run events, including several in our region, each year.

Shluger said this year she is capping registration at 1,700 runners for the half marathon and 100 relay teams.

She said there is one spot about mile 4 in Weekapaug where the road gets narrow that she is a little concerned about but she thinks the field will be stretched out by then. She said she may have to modify the course next year to avoid that section, especially if the field increases again.

"We expect this race to keep growing," she said.

During our talk this week, I also got a chance to ask Shluger a question that I wanted to ask her since I ran last year's race: Why doesn't the course extend down Bay Street in Watch Hill past the harbor, shops and historic carousel which is one of the most picturesque portions of the village.

She said that when she designed the course, Westerly police felt businesses might not be in favor of all the runners going down Bay Street.

"When we design courses we take feedback from police," she said.

"My favorite place on Earth is the Olympia Tea Room (on Bay Street) so I'd love to go down there. There's not much open at that time so maybe we'll be able to do it in the future," she said.

The race begins at 7:30 a.m.

Online registration closed Tuesday but late registration will be held Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at The Knickerbocker Cafe, 35 Railroad Ave., Westerly and on race morning at Misquamicut from 6 to 7 a.m.

Speaking of big half marathons: race director John Bysiewicz says more than 1,000 people are expected to run in the annual Niantic Bay Half Marathon and 5K on Sunday, Sept. 23 at Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme.

The 5K race begins at 9 a.m. and the half a few minutes later. The two-loop scenic half marathon course runs through the park and nearby Giants Neck. The 5K is run within Rocky Neck.

The first 1,000 entrants receive technical running shirts. Runners can also pick up their packets at soundRUNNER in Old Saybrook on Sept. 21 and 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. More information is at www.nianticbayhalfmarathon.com.

On the schedule: The 32nd annual Lisbon Fall Festival 3.2-mile race will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday. For more information go to www.lisbonfallfestival.org.

Joe Wojtas is The Day's running columnist

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