Roscoe Griffin of Myrtle Beach has his heart set on running around the world. But will his heart allow him to do it?
Running for Griffin is a catch-22.
His father died of a heart attack at the age of 39, when Griffin was 14 years old, so he has a family history of heart issues.
He has had several heart-related medical episodes while running, but he believes his cardiovascular health has been strengthened by his running and has allowed him to survive them.
So the 68-year-old continues to run, and completed the half marathon portion of the 21st Myrtle Beach Marathon in two hours and 13 minutes on Saturday.
Griffin, the Kingston Plantation director of telecommunications, suffered a “mild” heart attack in 2003 at the age of 53, six months after his first marathon while running the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. Since then he said he has run 22,363 miles, which puts him less than 2,600 miles of running the equivalent of the circumference of the world. “That’s my secret goal,” he said.
The heart attack was just the beginning of Griffin’s heart problems. He finished that Atlanta race, then immediately went to the hospital, where doctors performed a six-bypass surgery. “The doctor said, ‘Usually when we find out somebody needs six bypasses they’re already dead.’ So I was fortunate,” said Griffin, who figured being in shape may have saved his life. “I got back to Myrtle Beach and thought, ‘I’ve got to start running again. I’ve got to keep it up.’ ”
Since the heart attack, Griffin has had a stroke while running on a treadmill and collapsed during a run because of ventricular tachycardia – a rapid heartbeat in the lower heart chamber that can keep the heart from pumping blood. A defibrillator was implanted to shock his heart back into a regular beat if the rapidness returns. The defibrillator activated in races twice over the next three years, and he has since had another surgery to replace it.
In addition, he had surgery to insert three stents, had a fourth stent added in October, and has had two ablation surgeries to remove heart tissue, the most recent being in December.
The recentness of his last procedure is one reason Griffin ran the half rather than the full marathon Saturday.
“Every time I’ve had something bad happen it has been when I was exerting myself, you know, pushing myself,” Griffin said. “I’ve questioned myself lately. I’m getting slower and it’s getting harder, and I’m 68 now so my body’s getting slower. But I’m still driven to run, so I have to keep reminding myself why I started running. I started running for health. Do I need to run a marathon to be healthy? No I don’t.
“. . . I feel like I need to cooperate with [his doctors] a little bit and not just be suicidal about it.”
Griffin, who ran in the Boston Marathon in 2006, 2010 and 2011, said he began running because a doctor told him he needed to exercise more and he wanted to be around to see his two children grow up. He now has three children and six grandchildren.
“I had two young children at the time, and I knew when he said I needed to do some cardiovascular exercise, I didn’t need a bunch of encouragement to do it . . . so I started running,” said Griffin, a past president of the Grand Strand Running Club. “My kids were my motivation at first, and I did it for them, then I got hooked on it.”
The 21st Myrtle Beach Marathon featured more than 4,450 registered runners combined in the four races Saturday: marathon, half marathon, relay and 5-kilometer, which was moved from Friday of race week to Saturday for the first time.
The breakdown, according officials with Capstone Event Group, which operates the race, was 1,263 registrants in the full marathon, 2,224 in the half, 332 in the four-person teams relay and 635 in the 5K. An additional 240 took part in Friday’s Grande Dunes Family Fun Run at the Grande Dunes marina.
Participation numbers have been decreasing since the race featured a near-record high of approximately 7,000 Saturday runners in 2014. But race director Harrison Schenck believes will stabilize and could begin increasing again.
“It has kind of leveled off,” Schenck said. “The numbers were so high industry-wide five years ago, it accelerated way past what might have been sustainable. The good events are separating themselves so we expect it to be the same or get larger [in the coming years].”
Cook serves up win
Tanner Cook is happy to be back at the half marathon distance.
The 23-year-old sportswriter from Johnson City, Tenn., has won “at least” 10 half marathons, but he attempted a move up to a full marathon in his last race in Richmond, Va., but dropped out at mile 20.
In his return to the 13.1-mile distance Saturday, Cook added to his victories with a time of 1:13:01.
“I just wanted to try it and see what would happen. I hit a wall at about mile 18 and it just sputtered and I dropped out. I felt terrible,” Cook said. “This is my first race since that race, so it’s a good way to come back and boost my confidence.”
Cook ran collegiately at King University in Bristol, Tenn., and was a two-time individual qualifier for the Division II 10k cross country national championship.
“I’m out of college so it’s just for fun now,” Cook said. “I get to come do fun races like this every now and again. It’s fun to come run quick courses like this, even though it was a little windy today, and get another race environment.”
Jennifer Zwick, of Raleigh, N.C., won the women’s half marathon division and was the third overall finisher in 1:20:21.
The 83-team marathon relay was won by a four-person team from Boone, N.C., in just under three hours, and the 5K races were won by Daniel Blouin of Quebec, Canada, in 15:59.7 (men) and Becky Dougherty of Mount Pleasant in 20:06.4.
Seventeen down, 33 to go.
A group of four women from Lafayette, La., marked off the 17th state Saturday in their quest to run half marathons in all 50 states.
The four women are Toria Burrell, Veronica Williams, Mandolia Jean Batiste and April Briscoe.
They have been running together for 13 years and began their mission about four years ago. They are trying to knock off about four states per year, and have also run races in Canada and Jamaica.
“We’re doing it just to see different sceneries and visit the states,” Williams said. “We call them run-cations. We get to run and we get to see a different place at the same time.”
They enjoyed the Myrtle Beach course, but judged it to be the second windiest race they have run.
“The wind would pick you up,” Williams said. “It was like you were running and not moving. You’d turn a corner and it would come from any direction.”
A healthy bunch
The race medical staff had a relatively quiet day Saturday, as no runners had serious medical issues, according to Dr. Jarratt Lark, an emergency physician at Grand Strand Medical Center who has been a race medical director since the marathon’s inception.
“It was a very successful race today from a medical perspective,” Lark said. “I was really worried with the high winds we were having we’d have a lot of dehydration and hypothermia.
“The temperatures were great. It started out cool and warmed up but it wasn’t too hot. The wind was just a concern. Runners don’t realize how much fluid they’re losing in the wind. Their sweat is evaporating before their clothes get wet.”
Lark said the field hospital set up in the Myrtle Beach Pelicans clubhouse treated a few dozen patients, primarily for minor hypothermia, dehydration and cramping.
“It was definitely one of our better years from a medical perspective,” Lark said. “Despite the flu season, which might have impacted people’s training, everyone seemed to take the proper precautions . . . and the first aid stations did a great job of tracking and finding any runners that were having problems.”
Lark said he knew of just one runner transferred to a hospital with an injury from a fall.