Bradenton course a good fit for Benton

Published September 10, 2006

The appeal of a scenic cross-country course prompted St. Petersburg's Christa Benton to return to Bradenton for the 14th annual Labor Day Canes Classic 5K.

In more than one respect, the result was the same as last year.

Benton, a fifth-year senior at the University of South Florida, won (17:43) the women's division again and also finished fourth overall, as she did last year.

"I really like that course in Bradenton - G.T. Bray's Park - because it reminds me so much of the park I ran in cross country while I was at Keswick Christian School," Benton said. "It's a three-loop course, a little different with varied terrain along open tree trails. They had a good showing this time for a good cause, supporting Manatee High School cross-country teams."

Benton said she got into a "horse race" with one high school runner who barely out-kicked her at the end, but the outcome wasn't at all disappointing.

"I went there to race and I enjoy competing," Benton said. "The outcome with him didn't bother me at all. ...Those high school boys go out real quick but I was able to reel in most of them between the first and second miles."

Mickey Hooke, 45, from Bradenton, moved up to first (16:53) in the men's division this year with the absence of the Mott twins (Matt and Jon) from St. Petersburg. Last September, as seniors at Northeast High, they finished 1-2 just ahead of Hooke and Benton when she set the women's course record of 17:40.

USF TWILIGHT RUN: In a large field of 486, Benton returned to her Tampa campus to support her former Bulls teammates with their annual fund raiser. She ran away with the women's title in a relatively swift 18:09 considering the course was not on the hard-surfaced road but across the campus.

In the process, Benton ran away from runnerup Melanie Peters, 23, a new St. Petersburg resident by way of the University of Miami. She finished in 18:38 with Kelly McCary third in 19:25.

Benton finished 18th as most of the top Hillsborough high school runners showed up. There were 140 boys between the ages of 13 and 17 in the field.

Derek Wehunt, 15, of Odessa, won in 16:41 followed by Barker Burchfield, 17, of Tampa in 17:06. Wehunt, who runs for Sickles High, is ranked third in the state among Class 4A runners by flrunners.com.

Hooke prevailed in his 45-49 age division in 17:28.

Lakewood High's Ali Crabb proved she is ready for cross country season by winning her 13-17 age division in 20:13, 17 seconds ahead of Angie Hegge of Odessa. Last season Crabb finished third for the Spartans in the PCAC cross country championship meet.

Karen Alexeev (24:54) of Gulfport was another Pinellas age-group winner, almost 5 minutes ahead of Diane Spicer of the West Florida Y Runners club in the women's 50-54 age group.

RED MULE RUNNERS LABOR DAY 5K: Similar to the USF Twilight Run, a 15-year-old ran off with the first-place trophy.

Connor Revord of Tampa Jesuit ran a blistering 15:58 to win on the winding cross-country course at McKethan Lake Park in Brooksville. There were 80 boys in his 14-16 age division among a total field of 317 runners.

Former Admiral Farragut Blue Jacket John Biffar took fifth in 16:45.

St. Peterburg's Albert Wieringa disposed of five runners in his 55-59 age division by clocking a swift 18:44, good for 44th overall. The Dutch native turned 60 on Tuesday searching for new age-group awards and records.

Jacki Wachtel of Tarpon Springs won the women's title in 17:52, nearly 2 minutes ahead of Karen Collins of the Forerunners Club.

Susie Moncrief placed first, 70 and over, in 30:56.

NEW ENGLAND REPORT: Bill Riley of the Forerunners, a winter resident of St. Petersburg, won his 70-74 age bracket in the mega Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, late last month.

Forerunners coach Joe Burgasser and Riley finished 1-2 in the 2006 Masters Intermediate (January-April) rankings for men 65-69 released by Running Times in its October issue.

They prevailed in the age-graded rankings based on their stellar performances at the Bay to Bay 12K and Naples Half Marathon, respectively.

COMING UP: Benton has commited to run the RYKA Iron Girl 10K in Clearwater on Sept. 30. There's also a 5K on tap at 8 a.m. from Coachman Park. The events support the Ulman Cancer Fund. Pre-entered runners and walkers will have their first names printed on their bibs. For further details, call (727) 942-4767 or visit www.irongirl.com.

- West Florida Y member Benton will make her 26.2-mile debut on Jan. 7 in the Walt Disney World Marathon. The former NCAA all-American in cross country said she's training diligently under the guidance of her former prep coach, Lance Lipham of Keswick Christian.

St. Petersburg's Mary Ann Protz, who finished third (3:00:40) among women there in January at age 49, remains sidelined with injuries and will not be able to defend her bronze-medal position at Disney.

Compounding her hamstring injury is a recently discovered pelvic bone fracture that will keep her sidelined indefinitely, she said.

THIS WEEKEND: The Zoo Run 5K is Saturday at 8 a.m. at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. For details, call (813) 935-8552, ext. 235.