Leading the way | New Jersey woman first female overall winner at Myrtle Beach Marathon

ryoung@thesunnews.comFebruary 20, 2011 

Kathleen Castles is not a professional runner, she wants to make that clear. She is a doctor in the mental health field, an adjunct college professor and, three days a week, a high school track and cross country coach.

She still gets nervous enough before big races that she couldn't sleep Friday night. And even though she proved her abilities several years ago by qualifying for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, no, she most certainly didn't expect to accomplish all that she did Saturday morning.

Castles, a 39-year-old from New Providence, N.J., became the first woman in the 13 runnings of the Myrtle Beach Marathon to finish as the overall winner. In so doing, she broke the women's course record by nearly eight minutes, and with a time of 2 hours, 40 minutes and 11 seconds, qualified for the 2012 Olympic trials.

"I still can't believe it," she said after collecting her emotions and sharing the news over the phone with her daughter and friends. "Words can't even describe how happy I am. I've put in so much time training, and words can't even describe it. I'm just euphoric."

Running only her third marathon ever, Castles finished more than three and a half minutes ahead of the first man to cross the line - Billy Shue, a 27-year-old from Charlotte, who crossed in 2:43:47 - and well eclipsed the previous women's course record of 2:47:59 set in 2002 by Wisconsin's Wendi Ray.

"All along the course, people are saying, 'Go girl, go girl,'" Castles would recall afterward. "The cop, I've got to go find that cop. The whole time he was like, 'This is amazing!'"

She remembers starting to feel a little dizzy or "dissociated" sometime around the ninth mile, but she worked through it. And when a police officer along the course told her she was in second place, well, she just didn't believe it.

She heard others yell "girl power" along the way and recalls eventually passing Shue around the 18th or or 19th mile.

"We were pretty close up until about I would say mile 20, and she gradually pulled away," Shue said. "She ran an outstanding race, and I had to totally tip my cap to her."

And he wasn't the only one.

"I don't know who's more excited - me or her," Myrtle Beach Marathon president Shaun Walsh said. "... To have a woman run that sort of time - which is, you know, you're getting close to international class - that's exciting for us. It's just an added buzz to the event."

A buzz that Castles, again, did not wholly expect.

An accomplished 5K runner in New Jersey, she ran her first marathon in Philadelphia in 2007 after being coaxed into making a run at the Olympic trials. She ran a 2:45 in her 26.2-mile debut to advance to the 2008 trials in Boston, where she finished 36th amongst an elite field.

But Castles hadn't run another marathon since then before deciding to train for this one and try again for the Olympic trials. To qualify this time, a woman would have to run a 2:46:00 on a certified marathon course, which Myrtle Beach's course is.

Castles started training in November and would run 100 miles a week around what is always a busy schedule. She works 40 hours a week in the mental health field for the Veterans Affairs in New Jersey, teaches a couple of classes a semester at Fairleigh Dickinson University and coaches at a nearby high school.

"She's amazing," said her husband, Alberto Fonseca. "People [who] get these times, they prepare for years. She just started in November."

And now Castles is headed back to the Olympic trials next January in Houston. She won't start training again until Otober. In the meanwhile, she can savor her accomplishments from Saturday.

"I'm just so thrilled to go back there again. It's just the most prestigious thing to make it to the Olympic trials," she said. "Aside from making it to the actual Olympics, that's the thing you want to do. ...

"I thought I would be older, and I'd be slower. But I think with the marathon, you get stronger and stronger with each one."

Castles gleamed with emotion as she phoned her 20-year-old daughter, Stephanie Fonseca, and other supporters soon after crossing the finish line Saturday morning.

"I don't know what to say, it's just everything is released from you - this pressure of wanting to do this and to qualify," Castles said. "... It's anxiousness for the last 16 weeks because you know you want this so bad."

She had come to Myrtle Beach chasing a goal that only the nation's elite runners achieve, and she left with that and more.

Reach RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.

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