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Marathoners are ready, rain or shine, hot or cold
By DAVE THEALL
Published December 11, 2004
MADEIRA BEACH - Do long-distance runners prefer competing under clear skies and sun or in rainy and cold conditions?
Like everything else, it depends on to whom you talk.
Last year's winner of the Gulf Beaches Halfathon (13.1 miles), Steve Mandel of Tampa, said he likes running in the rain and that the adverse conditions help him. Women's winner Mary Ann Protz of St. Petersburg ran away from a strong field, capturing fourth overall in the mixed field.
And Kyle Petty? That's right Kyle Petty. The third-generation NASCAR driver is entered in Sunday's half-marathon, aiming for a time in the 1:45 to 1:55 range.
"I'm running it as a training run for the Jan. 30 Las Vegas Marathon where Michael Waltrip has pledged a million dollars in support of the Victory Junction Gang Camp," said Petty of the camp for children with chronic illnesses in North Carolina. "Naturally, I should run 26.2 miles to support Michael."
Race director Chris Lauber has assigned the 44-year-old Petty No. 45, his race car number.
The forecast calls for temperatures in the high 40s Sunday morning at the start of the third annual event that meanders to Largo's Taylor Park. By most standards, that's ideal. Protz said she'll be ready whatever the conditions.
"I like to run in the rain but sunny weather is okay too," Protz said. "I'm more concerned with my tender knee and how that holds up running for the fourth weekend in a row. I'd like to start running even miles in the 6:40 to 6:45 range and see how I feel. But I don't expect to run as fast as I did last year."
Protz, 48, ran with Forerunners teammate Lisa Valentine for the first few miles last year then pulled away for the women's title in 1:25:51, averaging 6:33 per mile.
"I plan to run as I feel and not shoot for a PR," Protz said, referring to a personal record. "My goal is to be satisfied with my performance, to do my best. If your goal is to win you're in for a lot of disappointments."
Valentine said she plans to go out at about the same pace as her friend and training partner, Protz.
"I'm healthy and feel good but I've only run two short races since Boston," said Valentine, referring to April's Boston Marathon where the Forerunners women finished first as a team. "I think I'll be able to handle a faster pace than last year during that heavy rain. I prefer milder weather and expect to run a faster pace this time but not in the 1:26 range that I think Mary Ann is capable of running."
Mandel said he won't defend his title, and former Gasparilla and Hops Marathon winner Tony Teats of Oldsmar is not registered.
That points to Keith Sawayda of Clearwater as the early favorite, at least among area runners. He won January's Max Bayne 13.1-miler in a fast time, 1:15:16, on a faster course. More recently, he won the Times Turkey Trot 5K in 16:27. Sawayda said his aim is to break 1 hour, 17 minutes Sunday. That would be a gutsy performance in the face of predicted northerly winds of 10 mph that would hit runners along the Pinellas Trail portion of the course.
Ian Payne of Tierra Verde, winner of February's Gulf Beaches Marathon, should be among the leaders. Payne hopes to run in the 1:18 range. How high that places him among the finishers may rest on unknown factors. Namely, the caliber of the runners coming in from Canada, Britain and Chile, plus 28 states. Among the estimated 750 to 800 runners, several have been assigned seeded numbers. They include Protz, No. 1; Valentine, No. 2; Sawayda, No. 4 and national masters champion Joe Burgasser, No. 6. All finishers receive starfish gold medals.
"This race keeps growing by 25 percent each year," Lauber said. "The course will be well-marked with orange cones. We'll try to provide them with everything for a good experience, including water stops and split times along the way. I'm happy that they'll have good weather this year, not a downpour like last December."