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As Ian Payne, winner of last Sunday's Gulf Beaches Marathon, approached the 21-mile mark, he saw the leader just ahead and was faced with a key decision.
It was whether to hang back tactically or make a bold move to the front.
"I could see he (the front-runner) was slowing down, so I decided to pass him authoritatively so he wouldn't go with me," Payne said. "After I passed him, I kept checking to see how much of a lead I had and saw no one behind me or even in front of me."
Payne, 36, a physical therapist who is the rehabilitation manager at St.Anthony's Health Care, beamed as he crossed the finish line with the first victory in his six-year competitive running career. He has had several second-place finishes at shorter distances.
In the inaugural Gulf Beaches Marathon five years ago, Payne clocked in at 3:40:01. Last Sunday's time (2:50:47) in his 11th marathon was a significant improvement and slightly faster than last season's winning 2:51:27.
Payne's performance was better than his April Boston Marathon, in which he placed 911th in 3:05:22, 15 minutes behind teammate and Tierra Verde neighbor Lisa Valentine.
Payne said a big part of his progress can be attributed to the coaching of Joe Burgasser from the Forerunners Club and training with the members. He joined the St.Petersburg organization last year.
"Joe's the first running coach I ever had," said Payne, whose only other coaching was in soccer in his native Manchester, England. "I didn't know how to train before; I just ran. Joe has played a significant role in my progress."
Valentine's 2:58:50 victory was impressive considering she was coming off an all-out marathon win last month at Hops in Tampa. A year ago, she won Gulf Beaches in a relatively slow 3:09:01. Her first win (3:02:21) there was in 2002.
Valentine's fastest marathon is a 2:47:47 victory in the 1999 Tucson, a 2000 Olympic Trials qualifier.
Her next marathon is April 19, Patriots Day, from the village of Hopkinton, Mass., to downtown Boston 26.2 miles away. The goal will be a repeat women's team victory bolstered by Mary Ann Protz, Kim Donaldson and Amy McClenathan.
GULF BEACHES NOTES: Bob Wagoner, 30, of Seminole had a good marathon time, 3:01:19. That placed him in the bronze-medal position, less than two minutes behind Burgasser, 65, who finished in 2:59:21.
Jon and Michelle Kiefer of Treasure Island prevailed in the grand masters coed bracket with a 3:22:32 performance. Their combined age is 105. They held off Karen Alexeev and Jack Eads, 3:26:54. The Kiefers will travel to Boston in April when he will run the classic for the 10th time and Michelle participates in her first after qualifying (3:49) in October's Venice Marathon in Italy.
There were 590 marathon finishers, 120 in the relay and 170 in the 10K, reports John Boyle of Alta Vista Sports, the event's official scorer. For complete results, go online to www.floridamarathon.com
STRAWBERRY CLASSIC: Lee Stephens of Land O'Lakes broke the course record in Temple Terrace with a 32:51 effort.
That surpassed the 33:45 produced by Clermont's George Altieri in 1999, the year his wife, Bea Marie, claimed the accompanying women's 10K title. The event record, however, is well under 30 minutes, set during the 1980s when the race awarded significant prize money and was scheduled just before the more lucrative ($70,000) Gasparilla Distance Classic.
Protz, 47, fresh off a 58:31 ninth-place finish in last month's Gasparilla 15K, ran a close second (39:08) to Laura Bowerman (38:48) of Temple Terrace.
Pinellas runners fared well in the masters divisions of the accompanying 5K. St.Petersburg's Terry Fluke won the men's masters title in 18:26, Debra Donald was tops among the 45-49 women, Dee Anna Farnell took the 50-54 crown, and Dottie Foster was first in the 55-59 class.
ST. PETE BEACH CLASSIC: Event director Wendy Johnson and the key individuals of the 40-member race committee met two weeks ago to critique the first running of the annual fixture.
Among a long list of officials, including the city's mayor, manager and police chief, Johnson said a number of former and current area race officials came through in critical areas. Those volunteers included Susan Harmeling, Gasparilla; Skip Rogers, Times Turkey Trot; John Voorhis, ex-president of the Suncoast Runners Club; and Dick Ruzicka, founder of the SouthTrust Running Festival 10-miler.
Next year's date has been tentatively set for Jan.16.
COMING UP: The Festival of States annual Harvey's 5K in downtown St.Petersburg has been moved to April 5 from its usual Tuesday slot because of the Devil Rays' home opener.[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]
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