CLEARWATER BEACH - When Palm Harbor's Kevin Lyons toed the starting line Friday night for the final race of the Pier 60 Series, he realized winning wasn't going to be a walk in the park.
Keith Sawayda of Clearwater also was there aiming for his third consecutive win in the series. Sawayda had the best 5K time there so far this summer, 16 minutes, 58 seconds, in the third race.
And the race on the beach couldn't have been closer as they reached the midpoint together and headed back to the finish line shoulder to shoulder.
"We were still together at 2 miles when I decided to try to pull away," said Lyons, a senior at Harvard with a state high school 3,200-meter title to his credit when running for Clearwater Central Catholic. "Since I didn't want it to come down to a lean at the finish line, I tried to pull away a couple of times in the last mile. But each time he closed the gap on me."
With about 150 meters to go, Lyons reached down one final time with a burst of speed and maintained it through to the finish line.
Sawayda, 43, never backed off, finishing strong but five seconds back in 17:08.
"I kept throwing in surges but I just couldn't shake him," Lyons said of Sawayda. "I knew that if it came down to the final stretch I could outkick him. My kick is my forte. But I've been working long hours at Raymond James Financial this summer and not training as much as I'm used to."
- Lyons has been working in the investment banking department at Raymond James again this summer. An economics major at Harvard, he has been offered a position as an analyst in that department when he graduates.
A winning 2:42 marathon in Wakefield, Mass., two years ago prompted Lyons to train diligently for last year's Boston Marathon. He went through the halfway point in Wellesley in 1:13 but wilted in the heat and humidity at 30 kilometers on pace for a 2:29 marathon.
"I'm getting ready for Disney in January," Lyons said. "I want to re-qualify for Boston and do much better this time. There's also the family marathon record I'm after."
Kevin's father, Gary, a Clearwater attorney, has the family record of 2:38 at Boston, which he ran while a student at nearby Brandeis University.
MORE BEACH RACE: Brian McCown 17:54 and Brian Benjamin (18:15), two 17-year-olds from St. Petersburg, finished third and fourth, followed by the pre-eminent woman in the series, Christa Benton, the former USF all-American in cross country.
Benjamin was Dixie Hollins' top cross country runner last fall. He and his twin brother, Mark, are seniors who will compete again this fall. Benton took fifth overall in 18:21, a 5:55-per mile pace collecting a maximum 100 points in the series for her five wins.
Emma Waterhouse of England was a distant second behind Benton in 20:03, followed by Kit Van Allan (20:42) of Palm Harbor.
- There was a four-way tie for first for the five-race series among men. They ranged from Ryan Hoge of St. Pete Beach, who won all the 10-and-under races, to Jack Gough, 75, who equally dominated (25-26 minute range) his age division. Jon Feltman also swept his age division to accumulate a maximum 70 points.
Duncan Cameron, the fourth runner with 70 points, won overall by posting the best time in a race. In race No. 2 on June 30, Cameron won his 60-64 division with a 20:29 effort.
Howard Feingold of Clearwater was leading his age group, 35-39, with four wins and a best time of 18:33, leading up to the final race.
"He had a bicycle accident breaking his collarbone," reported race official Ric Dorrie of the sponsoring West Florida Y Runners Club.
- Gulf High coach Dean Lofton brought 20 runners down from Pasco County to run the final beach race. He said the race was being used as a time trial to determine the school's starting team for its opening cross country meet.
- Benton's next meet in the Twilight 5K on the USF campus in Tampa. It's set for 7 p.m. on Friday. Benton said she's looking forward to the cross country layout of the course and the fact it's a fund-raiser for the school's running teams.
"I'll also work the race as an official ...if they need me," said Benton, who graduates with a music degree in December.
Brianne Shoby, 18, a May graduate of Dixie, plans to go out for the cross country team at USF. She finished sixth out of 19 in her age division at the final beach race. Freshman Melissa Kotchman (Indian Rocks Christian) also will compete for a place on the Bulls team.
CHICAGO HALF MARATHON: Jacki Wachtel of Tarpon Springs tuned up for this fall's Chicago Marathon by finishing eighth of 3,827 women in the 13.1-miler on Aug. 13. Wachtel, who won November's Turkey Trot 5K among women, was second out of 996 in her age division with a time of 1:22:16.
She was the first of 23 Florida finishers in Chicago. Wachtel's aim is to break 3 hours for the full marathon. Last year she was timed in 3:03.
TRAINING PROGRAM: Clearwater's Parks and Recreation Department is offering a running program for adults and children starting on Aug. 28 running through Oct. 25. One goal is to train for the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day. The sessions will be held at Cliff Stevens Park, located at 901 Fairwood Ave.
The courses will be cross country instead of the road or the track.
Lisa Feldt, a top area runner having completed both a Boston Marathon and a full Ironman Triathlon, will conduct the sessions. She can be reached at 536-1782 or at email@example.com. Registration forms are available at all City of Clearwater recreation centers.
Information on the program is also available from the city's Athletic Department, 669-1361, or from Terry Repp at the Countryside Rec Center, 669-1914.
BOSTON UPDATE: The Boston Athletic Association has changed the starting time for April 16 to 10 a.m. for the first wave. The two-fold purpose is to ensure cooler temperatures for the field of 22,500 and to allow the towns between Hopkinton and downtown Boston to re-open their roads to traffic earlier in the day. The elite women and handicapped divisions will start earlier than 10.