For the Wesleyan Christian Academy cross country and track runners who comprise a relay team in the Myrtle Beach Marathon, the best part about the race is the opportunity it presents to beat up on relatively old people.
The junior, freshman and three sophomores who gave the school from High Point, N.C., a second consecutive Myrtle Beach relay title did so in even more dominating fashion this year.
The teenagers finished in a time of 2:47:15, which was approximately 12 minutes faster than the high school team’s time last year and was 10 minutes ahead of the runners-up among the 100-plus relay teams.
“It’s fun to beat adults,” said junior Will Wright, who also relished a day off school Friday to travel to Myrtle Beach.
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Wesleyan boys cross country and track coach Dusty Lucas participated in the Myrtle Beach Marathon relay in the early 2000s before it was discontinued for a few years.
“When I saw it came back I was coaching at Wesleyan and asked our guys if they’d be interested in doing it,” Lucas said. “This is kind of in between seasons … so this is a good tool for them to train during the winter to look forward to something before track season starts.”
A WCA girls team also participated and finished fourth in the women’s relay division.
For the second consecutive year, the relay team from the Greenville area that dubs itself “Naked Aggression” finished second in the men’s relay competition and third overall in the relay behind a co-ed team.
The five-member team, whose youngest runner is 38-year-old Clint Pearce, finished in 3:14:07.
Jeff Poole of Greer is the team captain and named it years ago after watching a National Geographic show that stated a lion chases a gazelle “with naked aggression.”
The group has participated most of the years the relay has been offered since 2003 and they make the trip a guy’s long weekend, though they promptly retired to their rooms following dinner Friday night. “We got ready to make the podium [Friday] night,” Pearce said.
There is competition within the team and consequences for posting the slowest time in the relay.
“We make fun of the slowest runner all year,” Pearce said. “The slowest runner rides back home on the roof rack, except the slowest runner was our driver this year so we’ll have to figure that out.”
A sixth runner representing team naked, Nate Hughes, the brother of Carolina Forest High girls basketball coach Stacy Hughes, participated in the half marathon but didn’t finish because of shin splints.
“We’re not nearly the specimens it may sound like we are,” Pearce said.
Four for 50
Denise Morgan of Raleigh, N.C., got through the running of her first marathon in celebration of her upcoming 50 birthday with a little help from her tutu-sporting friends who accompanied her every step of the way through their legs of the relay.
Carey Moore ran the first two legs of the relay, then the other three friends joined Morgan during their legs, and all five met a short distance from the finish line and crossed together.
They trained for the marathon as they ran it, the friends taking turns joining Morgan for training runs. Relay member Laura Brandt organized the training schedule and came up with the idea of running in tutus – Denise’s was pink and the other four were green – which helped them spot each other at the relay intervals.
“We did it to be fun and colorful because 50 is fun,” said Morgan, a monogram business owner. “I checked [a marathon] off the bucket list.”
Morgan and her team named “Denise is Turning 50” finished in about 5:30.
Morgan’s husband, Tim, is a longtime shorter-distance runner but the couple’s three daughters ages 21, 19 and 16 don’t run competitively. “I wanted them to see that their mom could run,” Morgan said. “I’m running hoping I’ll inspire them to run.”
A special message
Cristie Ledford of Columbia ran the half marathon with a proud proclamation on her race bib, though she’s not exactly sure how it got there.
She was diagnosed with cervical cancer about six years ago and has been cancer-free for the past five years.
She registered for the race on active.com and assumes she may have answered a question about being a cancer survivor. Where her name would have been on her bib was the word “Survivor.” Race president Shaun Walsh said organizers only include what is requested by the runners on the race bibs.
“I didn’t ask for it. I don’t know how it came up. I don’t recall,” Ledford said. “I probably would have preferred my name, but I’m okay with it. I’m proud to be a survivor. I’m grateful every day.”
As she has four previous years in Myrtle Beach, Ledford ran the half marathon with her mother, Amy Day of Wilmington, N.C.
Day is 66 and Ledford will soon be 46, and they took up running simultaneously at the ages of 60 and 40. “This is our celebration,” Day said. “I was turning 60 and she was a survivor and we decided running a half marathon would be just an awesome way to celebrate.”
They read magazine articles on how to train for distance runs and trained together at the beginning. Day has now run in 18 half marathons and Ledford is close behind with 13.
Ledford sometimes runs ahead of her mother on her own pace, but Saturday they ran together, finishing the 13.1 miles in 3:20.
“We always say we just want to finish and have a few people behind us, and get our medal,” Day said. “And we did that, so we accomplished our goal.”
Byers legacy lingers
When family patriarch Charles Mick Byers, a World War II veteran, died the evening before the 2013 marathon at the age of 91, his son and daughter and their spouses did what he would have expected them to do. They ran the half marathon as planned.
After all, one of his maxims was if you start something, finish it. “We just took that saying and ran with it,” said daughter Dianne Byers Burkholder, acknowledging the pun.
The Myrtle Beach family of runners, consisting of Dianne and husband Nevin Burkholder, and Bradley Byers and wife Betty, continue running in Myrtle Beach Marathon races in Charles Byers’ honor wearing Team Byers running shirts in memoriam with the phrase “Just finish, it doesn’t matter how old you are.”
After running the half marathon for several years, family members, who are natives of Pennsylvania, ran the relay this year. Nevin ran two legs and the team finished in a little more than six hours. “We run for him now,” Nevin said.
Cranking it up
About 20 people participated in the marathon’s hand-cycling crank chair division that began the race five minutes before the runners at 6:25 a.m.
Among them was a team of seven athletes from the Baltimore area representing the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a facility for the treatment of spinal cord injuries.
Saturday’s race was the first this year for Team Kennedy Krieger, which took part in marathons in Baltimore, Cleveland and Los Angeles last year. Institute directors and therapists choose the race locations for the participants.
The group wanted to compete farther south in New Orleans last weekend. “We wanted to do New Orleans, where it would have been warmer, but they don’t allow the chairs,” said Andre McDonald, 51, who participated in his fourth marathon as part of the team and finished fourth in 1:51:08. “But it’s better than up north. We don’t have snow tires.”
The Kennedy Krieger Institute, through the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, promotes recovery and fitness after injury in a number of sports. For McDonald, marathon participation was a natural.
“A lot of us still have that competitive edge even though our lives have changed,” McDonald said. “It’s about the same for me. I used to bike race so I’m just getting back into it.”
Hot to fox-trot
Christine Long of Pennsylvania wasn’t hard to spot Saturday.
She ran the half marathon as the unofficial mascot of the Sly Fox Track Club, which is the running club of the Sly Fox Brewery, in a largely orange outfit that included fox ears, a fox tail, fox earrings and a running skirt with a beer bottle motif. The name on her race bib was Frisky Vixen.
She was the most visible of a group of 17 runners from the club and ran the half marathon in 2:26.
“I don’t get paid for this and I have no endorsements,” Long said. “I get paid in friendship, camaraderie and large group shenanigans.”
Bumps and bruises
For the second consecutive year, the race medical staff had a relatively easy day as there were no medical emergencies or major injuries on marathon day through late Saturday afternoon.
Race medical director Dr. Mark Schecker said only one runner required IV therapy and there was one emergency room referral for a laceration that required suturing, though the patient was able to drive to the ER.
Schecker said his staff saw about 20 people, mostly for bumps and bruises, contusions, cramping and excessive fatigue. “Nothing that required a whole lot of intensive care,” Schecker said. “I think the weather conditions had a lot to do with that.”
The temperature at the start of the race was approximately 40 degrees and it increased into the mid-50s later in the morning with only light wind.
“I think we had a perfect day with the weather,” Schecker said. “Statistically you’re going to get the fewest amount of injuries in a marathon in this weather. Warmer days tend to give you more injuries.”
Sound of silence
Due to a miscommunication regarding who would provide the sound system for the finish line, there was no music or announcing for the first 1:45 of the race.
Local radio personality Wally B, who was handling finish line announcer duties, had his own equipment in his car and transported it to the finish via golf carts by 8:15 a.m., in time to turn up the volume for all of the marathon finishers and most of the other runners.
“We like to have music for the first couple hours just for the spectators,” Wally B said. “So we weren’t very late for the finishers but we were later than we wanted to be.”
Poole, of Team Naked Aggression, said the race moving to March this year and off a February weekend that sometimes coincided with Valentines Day was a positive development.
“It's a life saver and a wife saver,” he said. “But we actually had to plan something with our wives on Valentines Day this year.”
11-year-old meets goal
Paden Hill just wanted to run faster than 2 hours and 15 minutes in the half marathon Saturday in the 19th Myrtle Beach Marathon.
That was no problem for the 11-year old from Oakboro, N.C. In fact, Hill finished in just under 2 hours as he came in 420th with a time of 1:58:40 and he also beat out his father Larry Hill, who finished 523rd (2:05:05).
“I’m really happy I ran under 2 hours. My dad should be finishing any time now,” Hill joked. “I thought it went well.”
The Hills run with the group affiliated with Vac & Dash, headed by store owner Peter Asciutto. Vac & Dash is a store in Albemarle, N.C. that sells the unique combination of vacuum cleaners and running apparel.
They have a running club, and they organize groups to run events across the east coast. But the Myrtle Beach Marathon is its biggest.
“Peter is great. He organizes it all,” Paden Hill said. “We do a lot of running and they really encourage all of us and we all help each other.”
Hill has run in the 5k of the Myrtle Beach Marathon before, but Saturday was his first-ever half marathon. He can't wait to come back.
“It’s really fun,” he said. “I want to do it again.”
In the meantime, Hill has his Vac & Dash family to lean on.
“It’s like a big family,” he said.
Staff writer Max McKinnon contributed to this story.