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Distance right for winners

Cindy Pomeroy and Eddie Hensley win the Gulf Beaches Halfathon.

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2002

LARGO -- Cindy Pomeroy searched running Web sites for races outside Connecticut, hoping to find something a little less wintry than home. Florida, she figured, would fit the bill.

Well, Saturday morning's mid-40s temperatures were not exactly tropical, but the 13.1-mile distance of the inaugural Florida Gulf Beaches Halfathon suited Pomeroy perfectly. So did crossing the finish line first.

The 41-year-old mother from Windsor Locks, Conn., claimed the women's title in Largo's Taylor Park, finishing the flat but breezy course in 1 hour, 28 minutes, 11 seconds.

"A whole bunch of us were in a pack for the first seven miles, drafting with the wind," Pomeroy said. "Then I was able to pull away and set my own pace and it seemed to work for me."

Pomeroy beat Tierra Verde's Lisa Valentine (1:29:46) to continue her success in half marathons. Pomeroy, who has a family and a full-time job, has not run a marathon in 12 years, opting for the less-strenuous training needed for shorter races. The formula has worked. She won a half-marathon in February in New Orleans.

"The half is a nice distance for me," Pomeroy said. "And to be able to win overall female is still wonderful."

Ridge Manor's Eddie Hensley, 43, echoed that sentiment after winning the men's title in 1:18:01. He said he could not remember the last time he won a race and did not come to the Halfathon expecting a title.

He found a comfortable pace of just under six-minute miles with four other runners shortly after the start from Madeira Beach, and 6 miles in he began to pull away with Apopka's Gary Cohen as they approached the Pinellas Trail.

"I knew we were coming on the trail, so I said 'I'm going to push it through here a little bit to see how much he has,' " Hensley said. "I was surprised he didn't come back on me."

Cohen finished second, 52 seconds behind.

Roughly 550 entered the Halfathon, the new sister event to the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon, scheduled for February. Many competitors said the event fell in a good spot on the calendar, with the Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, Hops Marathon and Gulf Beaches Marathon coming up in the next two months.

"I'm just building up miles," said Valentine, happy to break 1:30 after returning from an Achilles' injury. "When I went to register for Gulf Beaches I saw the half and thought I might as well register."

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