For the first time in his more than 60 marathon races, Pedro Meraz can call himself a champion.
Meraz, 38, of Wesley Chapel, Fla., won the 20th Myrtle Beach Marathon on Saturday in a time of two hours, 45 minutes and 30 seconds.
While more than 19 minutes off the course record, his time was the best among the more than 1,500 runners who tackled the full 26.2-mile distance Saturday on Myrtle Beach streets and was within 3 minutes of his personal best.
“I’ve won other small races, I’ve won a half marathon before, but never a marathon,” Meraz said. “It’s a lot harder than winning a 5K or another small race. For the marathon it’s easy to give up. If you quit you’re done.”
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Meraz, a massage therapist, entered the Myrtle Beach Marathon once before six years ago but had an abdominal injury and was forced to jog and walk the half marathon.
Though he didn’t begin running earnestly until he was 28, he has made up for lost time by averaging more than six marathons a year over the past decade.
Erin Miller of Columbia had her sights on a record Saturday. She had to settle for her first win in 10 career marathons.
“I didn’t even think about winning. I really didn’t,” said Miller, a professor of Reading and Elementary Education at UNC Charlotte.
The 40-year-old was hoping to set the South Carolina state record for a women’s Masters runner (40 and over), which is listed by the South Carolina Road Running Records Center as 2:55:34 and was run by Kristi Arledge of Simpsonville in Myrtle Beach in 2011.
Miller finished in 2:58:33. She said she broke the state women’s Masters half marathon record in the Myrtle Beach mini in October. “So I wanted to go for the state record in the marathon as well, but I’ll have to keep trying. I’ll give it another shot.” Miller said.
Miller picked up running 10 years ago, became competitive about seven years ago, and chose Myrtle Beach as the site of her first marathon six years ago. She has run the half marathon in Myrtle Beach several times since.
Saturday’s race was Miller’s first marathon in 16 months.
“I needed a South Carolina marathon so I was trying to figure out the right marathon, the right course,” she said. “I tried to run in Charleston six weeks ago and the weather wasn’t great so I dropped out and decided to save it for Myrtle Beach.”
Men’s half marathon
This year, it was Daniel Matena who was feeling the kick.
Matena pulled away from friend, fellow Charlotte Running Club member and 2016 Myrtle Beach half marathon champion Mike Mitchell about 10 miles into the race and claimed the half title in a time of 1:11:10. Mitchell finished less than a minute behind.
“We both go back and forth a lot,” Matena said. “Because we train together we have very similar abilities, but even though we train together we’re still competitive and still want to beat each other. But we want to work together and run as fast as we can together. So if someone is feeling better that day, that person will run away. And it was me today.”
Matena, a 33-year-old Australia native who is a salesman of Implus running accessory products, has finished in the top three in the race for four consecutive years and ran his fastest Myrtle Beach time Saturday.
While some of the 500 members of the Charlotte Running Club run marathons, Matena runs about a dozen races a year from 5K to half marathons.
“We love running this race and I’m sure we’ll be back next year,” Matena said.
Women’s half marathon
Mary Aiken Barrow of Raleigh, N.C., wishes large families for her two good friends and running companions Kimberlie Meeker and Erin Dillon.
The fellow 30-somethings have each won the Myrtle Beach women’s half marathon once over the past three years, but had to skip this year’s race because both gave birth within the past couple weeks. In their absence, Barrow, a family law attorney at the Tharrington Smith law firm, claimed the 2017 women’s title in a time of 1:21:46.
The winning times of Meeker in 2014 and Dillon last year were both a tad under 1:20.
“So that’s the only reason I was able to win because they weren’t here,” said Barrow, 33. “I’m like, ‘Can you all have some more babies please so I can get some more wins.’ ”
The three friends are all members of the Runologie running store team, and Dillon and Barrow are still instructed by their high school coach.
They have competed in Myrtle Beach in four of the past five years. “It’s a good race and the flat course helps. We really enjoy it,” Barrow said. “It works out well particularly the timing before Boston.”
While Barrow prefers the half marathon and shorter distances, Meeker and Dillon more frequently run full marathons and generally use the Myrtle Beach half marathon as a training run.