For the past 10 years, Palm Harbor's Jeff Delie has been among the top 10 runners in the Tampa Bay area.
Though his times in races 5 kilometers to 26.2 miles aren't what they used to be, the 46-year-old always manages a high finish. In Saturday's Unicorn Gallop 5K in Largo, Delie let about 15 younger competitors streak ahead for the first half mile before their quick pace and his laid-back approach started to turn the tide.
He won the Masters division in 17:18.
"I just settled into a pace I was comfortable with, aiming for a first mile of 5:30," said Delie, who flies a jet for MarineMax of Clearwater.
"Nearing Mile 1, I heard 5:18 called for the leaders, so I wasn't too far out of the picture when I reached that point in 5:31 -- just about on target," he said. "It wasn't as if Tony Teats or (Much) Mazano were there far ahead of the field."
Delie patiently reeled in most of the field until the third mile, in which there were only three runners ahead of him -- Mickey Hooke (16:32) of Bradenton, Dave O'Meara (16:55) of Sarasota and Paul Hough (17:01) of Tampa.
"I was definitely closing on Hough," Delie said. "If the race was a little longer, I think I would have caught him."
Three of the top four runners are in their 40s, and O'Meara is 39. Hooke and Hough are 42 and 45, respectively.
That age pattern also prevailed in the women's race. Judy Maguire, 44, won in 18:18. She was followed by last month's Gulf Beaches Marathon winner, Lisa Valentine, 18:44.
"I can't explain the dominance of older runners here," Delie said. "But it's true. At the recent Max Bayne Half-Marathon, the first nine women were in their 40s."
The Unicorn's third-place female, Belleair's Liane Rae, 30, offered an explanation.
"Women don't reach their prime until their early and mid 30s," said Rae, a former college standout and a winner in St. Petersburg's Race For The Cure. "That peak is reached after they've had their children and are able to shift their priorities and start focusing on their own goals, and that carries over into their 40s. As for why men often peak in their 40s, I can't speak for them."
UNICORN NOTES: Delie is a good example of masters dominance.
Not only did he win the 2001 Hops Marathon outright in 2 hours, 44 minutes at age 45, he finished first (1:18:06) in January's Max Bayne Half Marathon. Delie's best marathon performance is 2:34, which he produced twice at Disney in his late 30s.
His training is focused on the Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn., in June.
"Mary (his wife) and I like to do different spring marathons," Delie said. "There are a lot of great marathons out there other than Boston. We did Pittsburgh last year and Big Sur in California in 2001."
Similarly, Rae, an ex-Portland State track standout, is marathon focused this year.
Somewhat disappointed in her first two attempts at the Olympic distance of 26.2 miles, Rae plans to train intensely this summer for the October Portland (Ore.) Marathon.
"I ran my first marathon, Hops in December of 2000, in 3:16, and the following April in Boston ran the same time," said Rae, who missed most of last year due to pregnancy.
Jack, her third son, was born in August. Rae's husband, Chris, was the attending physician. The family is leaving the area in two weeks to relocate to Portland, where Rae again will hook up with her college coach. She will be able to long-distance train in weather conditions more favorable than humid Florida.
"One drawback about focusing on marathons is that I love to race, and marathon training often gets in the way of doing shorter races," Rae said.
Women's winner Maguire has her sights set on breaking 39 minutes in the Armadillo 10K on March 22 in Oldsmar.
She won the Strawberry Classic last month in 39:37. An Oldsmar victory would be her third straight.
Tampa's Don Ardell hardly showed the fatigue of the fall's rigorous campaigning for mayor. He lost the election last week but prevailed in the Unicorn. The 64-year-old finished first in the 50-and-over division in a swift 18:53. Ardell was 21st in a field of 322.
RACE REPORT: Bob Villacres, a Coast Guard helicopter pilot, zeroed in on the Baywalk finish line at the Race For The Kids 5K on March 1. He never looked back, posting a victory in 17:31.
Villacres was coming off a successful showing in the USATF national cross country championships in Houston, where he represented the Navy. He took third on the team in a muddy 6K run.
St. Petersburg's Brian Prushinski was the Kids 5K runner-up in 17:51. He was followed by Anthony Villari, St. Pete Beach, 18:10.
In the women's run, Rachel Winter, a winter resident from England, prevailed in a field of 277 with a time of 18:25. Tierra Verde's Lisa Valentine, fresh off a Gulf Beaches Marathon win, was second (18:56) and followed by Patricia Farese (20:19) of St. Pete Beach.
Bill Riley, 66, a snowbird from Cape Cod, Mass., placed among the top eight in 19:43. Running Times ranks Riley No. 2 nationally in the 65-69 group.
Clearwater's Keith Batten captured the title (15:52) of the Run For The Pies 5K in Tampa on March 2. In November, he won the Times Turkey Trot 5K in 15:38.
Jacki Waller of New Port Richey took the women's Run For The Pies crown in 18:27.
Seminole's Brian Scott clocked in about 54 minutes in the USATF's 15K national championship, part of the Gate River Run, in Jacksonville on March 8.
Tampa twins Matt and (19:13) and Brandon (19:37) Spicer, 12, finished 1-2 in Sunday's Friendship 5K in St. Petersburg.