Kathleen Castles hadn't run a marathon since 2008 until she decided to train for Myrtle Beach's. But anybody who saw her performance Saturday in the 14th Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon would be hard-pressed to believe it.
Castles became the first woman to cross the finish line first in the race, covering the 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 40 minutes, 11 seconds, and besting her closest male competitor by more than three minutes.
"I still can't believe it," she said after the race. "...I'm just euphoric."
She's now headed to the Olympic trials in Houston to compete for a spot on the U.S. team.
But for most of the thousands who hit the streets Saturday, the marathon wasn't about winning - for many it wasn't even about running - it was about meeting a goal.
Ralph Walter finished in 1,737th place, but he finished, and that's what's important. "Finishing was our big goal," said Walter, of Portsmouth, Ohio.
Walter, who suffered a heart attack last year, and his long-time friend Ken Brown, of Huntington Beach, W.Va., who is recovering from prostate cancer, were the last people to cross the marathon's finish line, more than five hours after Castles.
The pair in their 60s walked for much of the 26.2 miles and finished the race about eight hours after they started.
Walter said he suspected Brown, who ran marathons years ago, could have run much more of the course and finished long before him, "but he's keeping me company back here."
But Brown disagreed.
"This is a good pace for both of us," he said.
And along the 26 miles the pair saw many others who were a part of the marathon.
"You're doing great!" and "Good job!" rang out from Kathy Young at the mile six water station, despite the pace of the marathoners.
Young, a member of the Myrtle Beach Chapter of the Harley Owners Group, has helped at the group's water station for the last five years.
"This way I'm part of it but I didn't have to run," she said, laughing.
She said she likes cheering on the runners, though it means getting to the station at 5 a.m.
"They need to hear the encouragement," she said.
Casey Koerner, the group's director, said that though manning a marathon water station might not seem like a typical biker activity, the members enjoy doing it.
"We always have a good time," he said. "We're all a part of the community and this is a way for us to do something for the community."
Besides the cheers, applause, water and other sustenance the marathoners got at official water stations, there was also something else to keep them going on Saturday: prayer.
The new marathon route took the course directly in front of Real Life Church on 65th Avenue North and congregation members, including the praise band, were there to keep the marathoners going.
"Holy water," quipped 81-year-old Avanell Jewell as she handed water to the runners.
Lynn Antoniades said the church's young group had manned a water station for the last five years, but she said the whole congregation got into the event this year.
For the first time, the church's pastor, Frank Policastro, handed out water and blessings to the runners.
"It's great," he said. "It's a great event for the city."
Laverne Miller, a youth group leader, took off work to be a part of the event.
She said it was the best way to spend her 56th birthday.
"It's so inspiring," she said. "Running is hard and to have someone encourage you along the way. ... They need it."
Her son, 16-year-old D.J. Miller, said he is now thinking about running the marathon after watching it as a part of the youth group for the last four years.
But on Saturday the only running he was doing was back and forth to the water table, grabbing cups.
It's fun helping," he said. "And we're spreading the word of God."
Contact GINA VASSELLI at 443-2434.