Running royalty takes win at Charleston Marathon

Zola Budd Pieterse, the South African who gained fame in 1984, won Saturday’s fourth annual Charleston Marathon for women. The 47-year-old finished in 2:59:42 and smashed the existing South Carolina age group record for women age 45-49.

Zola Budd Pieterse, a two-time world record holder in the women’s 5K, not only won the fourth annual Charleston Marathon on Saturday, but the 47-year-old smashed the state age group record for females, age 45-49, with her time of 2 hours, 59 minutes and 42 seconds.

The time came despite a strong headwind that sapped many runners on the 26.2-mile and 13.1-mile courses that run up the spine of the Charleston peninsula from downtown Charleston to North Charleston on Saturday morning.

Despite Pieterse’s achievements in track, she is more widely known as the barefooted South African 17-year-old who collided with Mary Decker in the 3,000 meter race in the 1984 Olympics. Their saga was the subject of last year’s ESPN Nine for IX series film, “Runner.”

For years, Pieterse has been living in the Myrtle Beach area, where is a regular on the Grand Strand race scene and is a volunteer coach for Coastal Carolina University.

She rarely ventures to the Charleston area to races, but said Saturday that she chose to run Charleston in preparation for her return to the Two Oceans Marathon, a 35-mile ultramarathon in Cape Town, South Africa, which goes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean and back, in early April.

As a sign of how brutal the windy, chilly conditions were during Saturday’s marathon and half marathon, Pieterse was a no show at the marathon awards ceremony.

“It was so cold that we went straight back to the hotel,” says Pieterse.

According to local National Weather Service office, the conditions between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday included a 15- to 20-mile-per-hour West Northwest wind and a temperature of 38 to 40 degrees. That put the wind chills at just below freezing.

The men’s winner, Ethan Coffey of Knoxville, Tenn., ran his race with the conditions in mind.

“I went out slow. I didn’t start running under 6 minutes (per mile pace) until after the first 10K and didn’t pass the first-place runner until Mile 18,” said Coffey, who lived in Charleston from 2005 to 2009 when he worked at the Nuclear Power School. He now works as an engineer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The 30-year-old finished in 2:34:08.

Like Pieterse, Coffey is training for an ultramarathon, of sorts.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, Coffey wanted to do something special to help and decided to run a “double Boston” this year — starting at the finish line and running to the start, then running the race back. His goal is to run the 52.4 miles in under a cumulative six hours.

The feat is an effort to raise money for the “Be Strong Stay Strong Fund.” The money will be earmarked to help Nicole and Michael Gross, who were former swimmers at the University of Tennesee, and Erika Brannock. All three of them were injured while waiting to cheer on their mother, who was running the marathon. Coffey is documenting his efforts on a blog,

Meanwhile, the Charleston Marathon and Half Marathon topped a City of Charleston-imposed registration cap of 5,000 for the first time in four years. Organizers are expected to ask the city to raise the cap and let the event grow.

The unofficial finisher numbers for the race were 2,880 in the half, 1,205 in the marathon and 800 in the 5K, which was held entirely in North Charleston and not subject to a cap.

OVERALL: Male - Ethan Coffey, 30, Knoxville, Tenn., 2:34:08; Brian Johnson, 38, Mount Pleasant, 2:42:45; Matthew DeVillers, 25, Menomee Falls, Wis., 2:46:22. Female - Zola Budd Pieterse, 47, Myrtle Beach, 2:59:42; Jaime Schmidt, 31, Lancaster, N.H., 3:10:01; Holly Jimenez, 33, Alpharetta, Ga., 3:14:42.

OVERALL: Male - Tom Clifford, 30, Wilmington, N.C. 1:12:06; Phillip Ciccarello, 30, Charlotte, 1:18:44; Ryan Moore, 27, Kingston, Ontario, 1:18:45. Female - Mina Demarco, 29, Blacksburg, Va., 1:22:37; Alex Cadicamo, 25, New York, 1:23:05; Alexa Caldwell, 24, Asheville, N.C., 1:24:34.

OVERALL: Male - Jonathan Eggert, 29, Cayce, 16:47; Tay Filer, 44, Hampstead, N.C., 17:28; Ryan Medvid, 23, Charleston, 18:07. Female - Lisa Pieterse, 18, Myrtle Beach, 20:30; Jessica Ramsey, 23, North Charleston, 20:51; Amy Bartholomew, 39, Cumming, Ga., 21:54.