Myrtle Beach Marathon

Myrtle Beach Marathon founders giving up control of race to Raleigh-based company

Five organizers gather before the first Myrtle Beach Marathon in 1998. From left is Shaun Walsh, Mark Schecker, Nancy O'Connor (kneeling), Tom Gardiner and Steve Brakefield.
Five organizers gather before the first Myrtle Beach Marathon in 1998. From left is Shaun Walsh, Mark Schecker, Nancy O'Connor (kneeling), Tom Gardiner and Steve Brakefield. file photo

After 20 years of organizing the Myrtle Beach Marathon, the duties of president Shaun Walsh and his fellow race board members evolved into what seemed like 26.2 responsibilities that became a marathon of their own.

So doing what they believe is in the best interest of themselves and the race, the founders of the marathon are dissolving its board of directors and giving up control of the race they conceptualized in October 1996.

Capstone Event Group, a company that operates running events out of Raleigh, N.C., is taking over operation of the race and its affiliated events.

“It’s been a good ride. The bell tolls at different times for people, and fortunately for the board members I think the bell tolled at the same time for all of us,” said Walsh, who said he resigned last Friday. “We felt it was time to step back and let somebody else take it over. We’ve been doing it 20 years and feel we’ve taken the event as far as we could.”

Capstone Event Group has been in business more than five years and will operate 20 events across 10 states in 2016. The company predominantly runs half marathons, and the Myrtle Beach event will be its second 26.2-mile race, joining the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh.

“To have an event with that kind of longevity, consistency and success year after year, it’s a responsibility to take over and one we take seriously,” said John Kane, 30, founder and chief executive officer of Capstone Event Group. “Our plans and goals are to stay true to its roots – there’s a reason so many people come to the event right now – and determine how we can improve the experience here and there.”

The Myrtle Beach Marathon features three days of events including a runner’s expo, 1-mile Ripley’s Family Fun Run, 5-kilometer race, and a half marathon and marathon relay encapsulated within the running of the marathon.

According to Walsh, there were nearly 6,000 combined participants in the marathon day races this past year, and an additional 1,100 in a preceding 5-kilometer run. The 20th marathon will be March 4.

Walsh was one of six people that started the marathon, including four who continued as board members for 20 years before resigning last week.

The four were race president and co-director Walsh, vice president and medical director Dr. Mark Schecker, treasurer and transportation director Steve Brakefield, and secretary and volunteer coordinator Lynn Welden. The other two founders were Nancy O’Connor and the late Tom Gardiner, and former Myrtle Beach Police captain Faith Gildea was also a board member for several years.

They received devoted volunteer assistance over the years from several others who oversaw important components of the race weekend: Marsha Lawson with the Family Fun Run, Murray Honnick with the 5k, John Nolan with the expo, Jim Troxell with awards, Paul Olsen with advertising, and Bill Stanton with marketing and media placement.

Mike Shank of Festival Promotions has been involved with the race since it outset as well and was its paid executive director for the past several years.

The board members, who were solely volunteers before beginning to receive a stipend four years ago, will remain consultants when sought.

“It’s difficult to do that for so long,” said Schecker, who has a practice specializing in allergies, asthma and immunology and is also on staff at Grand Strand Medical Center. “I think we realized given the nature of the competitive racing environment it requires people who are capable of devoting a full-time schedule to it. We all have full-time jobs and do it part-time. When we first started it wasn’t as competitive and there weren’t as many races out there.”

Capstone Event Group recently changed its name from Race 13.1 to reflect the broader scope of its events. The company has six full-time employees, including president and chief organizing officer Charlie Mercer, 36, who joined Kane with the company’s second event. Capstone expects to expand to between 23 and 26 races in 2017. The company created all of its current events with the exception of the two marathons.

“It’s really fascinating the endurance sports, especially at the amateur level,” Kane said. “They’ve been around so long, but between 2010 and 2014 half marathons increased in participation 40 percent. When you step back and think about how people live today, there are more people interested in living healthy lifestyles than ever before, but people seem to be busier than they’ve ever been. [A half marathon] is long enough and a great accomplishment to achieve, but it doesn’t have to take over your life training for it. … [But] marathons are still something so many people aspire to.”

Kane said he is impressed with several elements of the Myrtle Beach event, including the speed of the course that can allow for personal bests, its on-course and post-race entertainment, and the community support it receives.

“The commitment to this event by all the community stakeholders we’ve been able to spend time with in the past month or so is unparalleled in any city we’ve run an event in,” Kane said. “To see how much people care and invest in this event all the way through excites us to be able to be a part of working with all those folks.”

Kane said his company plans to market the Myrtle Beach race at its other events, target specific markets for digital marketing and add to the experience of runners and spectators with additions such as a JumboTron at the finish line that will live stream footage from drones on the course.

“We’re not going to change the core of any of those events but add to them,” Kane said. “It has a foundation and core aspects to be one of the larger marathon/half marathon events in the country.”

After years of being solely a philanthropic event, the marathon will be operated for-profit but will retain its philanthropic element.

The race has been a consistent contributor to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Red Cross and Horry County Schools, while donating to several other charities as well.

The former board members aren’t entirely disassociating themselves from the event. “We’ll continue to help where we can and ensure everything flows as smoothly as possible,” said Walsh, a financial advisor at Edward Jones. “It is bittersweet because it was our nut of an idea and we developed it, and I think in many respects it helped the city see how good offseason sports tourism is.

“… The friends and the camaraderie of it all is just great, and there’s nothing cooler than when the gun finally goes off that Saturday morning and everybody starts moving we’re like, ‘We did that.’ 

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin