Like many others, Mike Mitchell and Erin Dillon are using the 19th Myrtle Beach Dasani Half Marathon as a precursor for the Boston Marathon, which usually follows the event by six to eight weeks.
So when Mitchell, 31, of Mint Hill, N.C., and Dillon, 31, of Raleigh, N.C., each took first place in the half marathon Saturday, it was an unexpected bonus.
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It was the first win in multiple tries for Mitchell, and he set a personal record with a time of 1:11:07 as well. Mitchell had to fight for it, as he and Daniel Spaulding, 29, of Valencia, Penn., were neck and neck going into the final stretch. Mitchell edged Spaulding by 5.5 seconds to take the title and some momentum heading into the Boston Marathon on April 18.
“Getting the win, it was pretty fun,” Mitchell said. “It was a challenge out there. [Spaulding] was a worthy competitor and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be him or me. It was fun coming down the home stretch, not knowing if I was going to win it. So, I’m very appreciative and very happy with it.
“It’s a great race. My buddies and I have done this the past few years. It has become a tradition and we really look forward to it and we’re already looking forward to it again next year.”
Finishing not far behind Mitchell was one of his running buddies Daniel Matena, 32, of Charlotte, N.C. Matena ran a 1:12:22.6 and finished third.
Mitchell, Matena, David Brinkley — who finished 10th (01:18:23) — and Brian Baum (27th, 01:25:06) are all members of the Charlotte Running Club. The motto of the club, from its website, says the Charlotte Running Club “consists of passionate runners that strive to spread the love of running and to help each other grow.”
Mitchell said the club has helped him flourish.
“It’s a really good group of guys,” he said. “We all run together. We’re just a tight-knit, supportive group and take our training seriously so we can achieve our goals.”
After running the Boston Marathon, which he has participated in before, Mitchell plans to run the Grandfather Mountain Marathon in Boone, N.C., in July and the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon in November.
“I’m probably too passionate [about running]. It’s more than a hobby, probably more like an obsession,” Mitchell said. “Just the friendship I have with all my buddies I train with, and the challenges of pushing yourself farther than you’ve been before keep you coming back, trying to better yourself each race, each year.”
Meanwhile, Matena said the group has been consistently improving and has been noticing a boost in his performance.
“It makes it fun,” he said. “We keep each other accountable and keep each other from sandbagging.”
And Brinkley and Baum issued a challenge to Mitchell.
“He has to come back and defend his title,” Brinkley said.
“He’s coming back,” exclaimed Baum.
Dillon battles, wins in her third year competing at the Myrtle Beach Marathon
Dillon has competed in the half marathon twice before, in 2013 and 2014, but Saturday was her best.
However, she feels she could have done better.
“It was a good race, it’s always flat here so that’s nice,” said Dillon, who finished first with a time of 1:19:55.9. “The wind, when I turned onto the beach around 9-and-a-half [miles], picked up. So that shot me back about 10 seconds per mile. But at that point, I had a pretty strong run leading up to it. So, I just fought through that and when I made the turn for the last 2 miles I just knew I needed to pick it up.”
Still, Dillon bested second place finisher Rachel Krasich, 29, of Durham, N.C., by two minutes. She also beat out her friend Mary Aiken Barrow, 32, of Raleigh, who she came to the Grand Strand with.
Dillon said she plans to do much better when it comes time to compete in her fourth Boston Marathon.
“This is always timed well. I use it as a training race for Boston. It’s six weeks after so it’s perfect timing for that,” she said. “I always do this to see where I’m at.”
And for Dillon, running is more than just a sport.
“It helps me in all facets of my life,” she said. “And it keeps me disciplined and keeps me motivated.”