MYRTLE BEACH In a handful of previous appearances here at the Dasani Half Marathon, Jay Upchurch’s best finish had been a second-place showing in 2008, and as he neared the finish line again Saturday morning he figured he was on his way to matching that feat.
Instead, he caught both himself and fellow runner Daniel Spaulding a bit by surprise over the final moments of the race.
The two had run tightly ahead of the rest of the pack over the last couple miles with Spaulding earning himself the most modest of gaps heading down the final stretch, but Upchurch had saved just enough energy for a final burst to surge into first place mere steps in front of the finish line on his way to an exhausting victory.
“Me and the guy ran almost the whole race together, and then coming into the orange barricades he put a little gap into me and I thought he was just going to run away with it,” said Upchurch, a 34-year-old from Charleston. “I was able to kind of find that extra gear right there at the end, and that just felt incredible to actually get the win here after so many years.”
Upchurch clocked an official time of 1 hour, 10 minutes and 34 seconds while Spaulding, a 26-year-old from the Pittsburgh, Pa., area, finished in 1:10:35. Heather Hunt, a 38-year-old Sumter resident, was the first woman across the line in 1:18:08.
“At the end, it was just a sprint and he just had a little more than I did,” Spaulding said. “It was a good race, though. He did excellent.”
Upchurch said he’s run 13-14 half marathons with one other win back in Charleston. As for Saturday’s victory, he recalled Spaulding pulling ahead of him around mile 8 before he closed in with about two miles remaining to set up the close finish.
“It’s probably the most exciting race I’ve ever had,” he said.
Spaulding put his hands on his head as if in disbelief after being passed at the end, but speaking about the race moments later, he was not displeased. It was his first time running this half marathon, and part of the motivation was to escape the weather in Pennsylvania. All things considered, it was a successful outing.
“I’m still really pleased with the effort because living in Pittsburgh it’s tough to do much speed work this time of year, so I wasn’t too sure how much my legs would have,” he said. “It was tough to lose like that, but I was still really happy with the effort I was able to have.”
As for Hunt, she was making her first trip of any kind to Myrtle Beach after moving to Sumter in July. With a husband in the Army, she has moved around quite a bit in recent years and had put her running career on hold for her family.
“I ran the Olympic Trials in ’08, and after that I fell off the map,” she said. “I had four kids and I’m just getting back to it again.”
As she recalled, she started building a lead around the second mile Saturday and kept going from there, showing little rust from her time away from the sport.
“I feel blessed and thankful,” she said.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.