A race before the actual race starts

Published May 31, 2007

What does a hardcore runner do when he or she finds a race has been canceled unexpectedly?

In the case of St. Petersburg's Albert Wieringa, who drove north to Safety Harbor on a recent Saturday morning to run the Sprints 5K, he promptly jumped back in his car and drove east to Tampa for the Secret Service 5K in the Channelside area.

Wieringa said he was able to pull off the switch because the Safety Harbor race was scheduled for 7:30 a.m. and the Tampa race wasn't until 8.

Despite a strong headwind on the return route of the out-and-back course in Tampa, Wieringa accelerated in the third and final mile to capture first place in his 60-64 age division in 19:33. Despite coming off a slow recovery from a hamstring injury in March's Bay to Bay 12K, Wieringa also dominated the three age division below him, 55-59, 50-54 and 45-49.

"I'm slowing getting stronger since my injury," said Wieringa, a native of the Netherlands who did not start running until he was 56. "I was pleased with my race in Tampa because it was only my second one since Bay to Bay. I felt so good about it I went to Saint Leo on Sunday and ran a tough 14-mile training run with my friends, David Delong and Rich McCrea. I needed that workout to help get ready for the Parkersburg (West Va.) Half-Marathon in August."

Wieringa is using the plane tickets he bought for April's Boston Marathon to fly to the West Virginia race. His injury prevented him from going to the Boston's 111th running where he was a valid candidate for an age-group Triple Crown victory. That is, he won among his peers at Chicago (3:00:41) in October and followed with another age-group win at Disney (2:58:00) in January.

His main target, however, is a successful race in his native country in October, the Amsterdam Marathon, where he ran a swift 2:57:58 in 2005.

Asked if he might have qualified for the Netherlands Olympic marathon team if he had been a serious runner in his 20s and 30s, Wieringa backed off.

"You never know," he said modestly.

UP FRONT AT THE SECRET SERVICE: Only six seconds separated Winter Haven's John Blackburn (17:33) and runnerup Eric Chaykosky of New Port Richey. Carlton Ward of Tampa took third in 18:48.

In age-group highlights, Dean Sweetapple of St. Petersburg was first, 50-54, in 20:46. Britt Martinez of Valrico won (20:46) the women's division over Clearwater's Dianna Parady (22:00) and Wesley Chapel's Linda Rush (22:26). Tampa's Lynn Gray (24:03) was first 55-59 and also bettered the times of the 45-49 and 50-54 winners.

DUNEDIN'S HOG HUSTLE 5K: Christa Benton returned to the friendly road race scene where seven complete right-hand turns on the course bring runners from the start on the west side of Knology Park to the north-side finish line.

The only person preventing Benton from breaking the finish-line tape was former Clearwater High and USF standout Keith Batten. Batten's time was 16:39. Benton was next, winning the women's title in 18:01, battling smoky conditions from nearby fires.

"I like the atmosphere here," said Benton, who had not raced since Boston where she posted 3:01:57 under adverse conditions. "My focus now is Grandma's Marathon (Minnesota) on June 16 where I've been invited. I've heard good things about it from a number of people."

Batten was followed by Josh Johnson (18:21) of Largo and masters division runner Victor Yeager (18:22) of Dunedin.

Pinellas runners also swept places 6-12, headed by Wieringa (19:17), Jim Hummel (19:32), Vince Vercamen (19:52), P.J. McDonald (20:02) Brad May (20:13) and 60-64 runnerup Duncan Cameron (20:25) of Palm Harbor.

In the women's race, Jacki Wachtel of Tarpon Springs narrowed the gap between herself and Benton with a swift 18:26 effort. Kim Miles of Clearwater took third in 19:48 followed by Chris Simpson of St. Petersburg in 21:24.

Stephanie Giffing of Dunedin finished sixth in 21:42 followed by Beth Wonicker-Cook (22:41), Amanda Bogart (22:44) of Palm Harbor and Allison Foster (22:49) of Dunedin.

MACDILL CREDIT UNION: Blackburn, 18, also won Saturday's 5K race in Tampa in 17:51. Carlos Wild of St. Petersburg took fourth in 19:20, just one place ahead of women's winner Rose Miller of Wesley Chapel, 19:27.

COLLEGE TRACK: Coach Bob Braman takes his Florida State men's team to Sacramento next week to defend its NCAA title. The Florida men's and women's teams also qualified. The Gator women finished third at last weekend's East Regional in Gainesville, headed by its winning 4x100-meter relay team.