The patriotic spirit of the Myrtle Beach Marathon returned Saturday in the midst of the approximate 5,000 runners in the marathon, half marathon and relay races.
Melvin Coleman of Greenville, N.C., has become recognizable in his 10 appearances in the 20-year event for the 3x5-foot American flag that accompanies him. He runs the flagpole down his back and holds it in place with gauze and tape, allowing the flag to flap overhead.
Coleman had a lot to overcome in order to display his proud spirit Saturday, when he ran his 77th overall marathon, though first since having brain surgery in July.
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For about six years, Coleman, 47, had been suffering from trigeminal neuralgia, a condition that causes severe pain and is caused by contact between an artery or vein and the trigeminal nerve at the base of the brain. It caused him to miss last year’s Myrtle Beach race and many others.
The surgery separated and tied the blood vessels and nerve apart, leaving Coleman with a loss of hearing in his left ear and numbness on the left side of his face that may alleviate over time.
Coleman chose Myrtle Beach for his return to running because of the inspirational support he has consistently received from fellow runners and spectators along the race route. A few spectators hopped onto the course to give him a hug Saturday.
“That’s when you know they appreciate it,” said Coleman, a four-year Marine from 1988-92 who recently retired from his full-time job after 20 years as a lineman at Pitt-Greenville airport. “I knew coming back I would need some kind support to get myself through this one, and I’ve been out here so many times and gotten so much support from people, this one was the obvious choice. No matter how my day goes, they’re going to support me regardless.”
I knew coming back I would need some kind support to get myself through this one, and I’ve been out here so many times and gotten so much support from people, this one was the obvious choice.
Coleman said the weight of the flag doesn’t bother him and wind is his greatest antagonist. “It doesn’t slow the time down, it’s just a little awkward because wherever the wind is going that’s where the flag is going,” he said.
On four previous occasions in Myrtle Beach, Coleman has cut his run short and completed just the half marathon. But he set out to run the full marathon Saturday and finished in about five hours and 20 minutes.
“When I got to Mile 11 it was freezing with the wind blowing off the beach and between the buildings. It crossed my mind to run just the half,” Coleman said. “But I didn’t come here to run a half. I would have felt empty. It made it worth my while to go the whole distance.”
Don Halke ran with a message for those behind him in the half marathon.
In addition to the fluffy pink and white bunny ears atop his head, Halke had a pink shirt that read on the back: “1 heart attack, 2 stents, 4 bypasses, 1 pacemaker. So why are you behind me?”
He has had all of those medical episodes and procedures since the heart attack in 2009, with the most recent being the installation of a pacemaker in February 2016. It has all earned Halke the nickname Cardiac Cripple.
A couple friends presented him with the shirt last year. “They were trying to inspire me to get back to running,” said Halke, 57, of Newport, Pa. “When they first put the pacemaker in I couldn’t even walk. It took a lot of adjusting to get to where I could run.”
Halke has run 111 full marathons around the world, including three in Myrtle Beach, the most recent two years ago. He used to be more competitive in races. Now he’s more about the bunny ears.
“I like to have fun when I’m running,” Halke said. “I’m not fast anymore. Post heart attack changed everything. Now I’m grateful to get out to run.
“I thought the bunny ears would match with the pink shirt and make people laugh. We try to be inspirational. You try to inspire people to keep going.”
Why would Dave Hardwick of Boulder, Colo, at the age of 77, travel to the Carolinas to run two half marathons within a week of each other?
“It’s mainly good mental health,” Hardwick said. “It feels good. I’m not injured. It keeps me from being cranky. It’s really good for my sunny personality. Plus, I’ve got four or five 70-plus-year-old guys I run with in Boulder.”
Hardwick finished Saturday’s half marathon in 2:18. “That’s probably as good as I can do now,” said Hardwick, who ran a half marathon in Ellerbee, N.C., last week. “I try to get in under 2:20.”
Hardwick took up running at the age of 52, and he still runs longer distances.
Last March he ran a 25-mile road race, and he ran the 2015 Myrtle Beach Marathon on his 75th birthday in 5 hours to win his age group. “I was the only one in it,” he confessed.
There were runners older than Hardwick in the half marathon.
German native and Morganton, N.C., resident Eberhard Will is 80 and finished the 13.1 miles in about 2:38.
“I’m still healthy. I don’t want to be a couch potato,” said Will, who fell during the race last year but persevered and finished in about three hours.
He played soccer into his 50s and started running in 2008 to remain active, and he has participated in sprint triathlons.
“I’ve got a full [marathon] on my bucket list but I don’t know if I can do that,” he said.
Halloween in March
A trio from New Jersey views the Myrtle Beach Marathon as an opportunity to don costumes and entertain their fellow runners, as well as themselves.
Rich Post, wife Diana and brother Mike Kostial wore full-length costumes of Mario Brothers characters Mario, Princess Peach and Luigi, respectively, and ran the race together.
The trio ran as mimes last year.
They don’t know what their costumes will be until they arrive in Myrtle Beach and go shopping at the Imaginations Creative Costumes store. “We usually go to the store and find our inspiration there. We walk around and start brainstorming,” said Kostial of Somerville, N.J.
“I found out [Friday] night I was going to be a princess,” Diana Post said. “We’ll have to see what happens next year.”
They run several events each year but dress up only for Myrtle Beach. “We just want to have fun. It’s the first race of the year for us,” Rich Post said.
Time isn’t a concern in Myrtle Beach, as the trio’s run is interrupted by other runners asking for pictures along the course. “We take so many selfies with people. We just make everyone smile,” Diana Post said. “And we stop at every mile marker and take a picture.”
A mere tune-up
The Bradner and Lyles families of High Point, N.C., use the Myrtle Beach Marathon as a training run.
Tim Lyles, wife Paula Lyles and Brian Bradner are scheduled to travel to South Africa in June to participate in the Comrades Marathon, which is actually about a 54-mile race – or more than twice the distance of a regulation marathon.
Paula Lyles is a South Africa native, and she and her husband ran the hilly race last year but were unable to finish in the allotted 12 hours.
The families have a marathon in Raleigh, N.C., planned in three weeks, then plan to run 30- to 40-mile practice runs around their neighborhood.
Bradner and his wife Courtney began running two years ago to join the Lyles in their preparation for the Comrades race and have lost about 100 pounds combined since. “We just started doing a little bit, a little bit, a little bit, and now it’s like races all the time,” said Bradner, who ran a personal-best 3:57 Saturday.
The race medical staff treated approximately 50 runners for minor injuries and issues, but there were no serious injuries.
Race medical director Christine McGinley, a family practice doctor at Little River Medical Center, said runners were treated for things such as cramps, joint pain, blisters, abrasions and dehydration, though no runners needed to be transported to a hospital.
McGinley said the number of runners treated was up from the past couple years. “Because it was cold I don’t think runners were thinking about hydrating on the course so we saw a lot of cramping and things like that,” McGinley said.
The race medical staff included 46 volunteer doctors and nurses from Grand Strand Regional Medical Center led by Dr. Jarratt Lark working the medical center set up in the Myrtle Beach Pelicans clubhouse near the finish line, and another 22 doctors and nurses from Little River Medical Center at medical stations on the course.
Readying for Boston
Misty White Dion of Myrtle Beach ran just the half marathon Saturday as a pacer for the 1:45 time as she prepares for what she hopes is a successful return to the Boston Marathon on April 17.
Dion first ran the Boston Marathon in 2013, then was hit by a car as a pedestrian in October 2013 and wasn’t expected to return to competitive running because of the severity of her injuries. She has several plates and screws in her body, including in her pelvis.
She recovered and qualified for last year’s Boston Marathon, but was tripped around mile 7 and was unable to finish the race.
She qualified for this April’s race in the 2015 Chicago Marathon with a personal-best time of about 3:20, and plans to take a relaxed approach to the race in Beantown.
“My mentality is what my girlfriends and I call just kicking it. That’s basically just enjoying the race,” Dion said. “I can just run and enjoy it. I can drink a beer at Boston College at Mile 20 with the frat guys standing out there, I can kiss the Wellesley girls at Mile 13 because Wellesley College always has the girls out there trying to get a kiss [on the cheek].
“Last year I went in with a competitive attitude. But I’m famous for saying I’m just kicking it and then racing my little brains out, because the pressure is off.”
Dion will be a 3:40 pacer for a marathon in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., in three weeks and that time would qualify her for the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Dion said she has been experiencing pain in a knee since December and hopes it will hold up for the Boston Marathon.
A few of her fellow Grand Strand Running Club members have also qualified to run in Boston.