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UF-bound teen shows fine form

Published June 14, 2007


Last weekend's 5K race at Al Lopez Park in Tampa was a battle to the finish in the women's division.

The principals were Jacki Wachtel of Tarpon Springs and recent Lakewood High graduate Ali Crabb. Wachtel is a consistent winner in local races, usually finishing second only to Christa Benton.

But Saturday, Wachtel, who stands 6 feet, had to contend all the way with Crabb, who is just under 5 feet. Crabb ran a step or two behind Wachtel until the 2-mile mark when she moved up on her shoulder.

"At that point, where there were a few spectators yelling encouragement to both of us, Jacki made a small move to extend her lead and I just tried to stay with her, " Crabb said.

Despite Crabb's 5:46 third mile, Wachtel held her lead to the finish, winning in 17:37 to Crabb's 17:42. In a mixed field of 276, they finished third and fifth, respectively.

"I'm glad she (Wachtel) was there because she pushed me and helped me get a (personal record) for 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), " Crabb said. "My goal Saturday was to average in the 5:45 to 5:50 range and I managed to run 5:42. That changes my outlook toward this fall at the University Florida where I'm not sure just where I'll fit in on the cross country team. Now I'm a little more optimistic."

Crabb is coming off a big senior year in high school where she won the Pinellas County Athletic Conference cross country championship and placed sixth at state.

Last month she won the 3, 200 meters at state after finishing fifth in the 1, 600 an hour earlier.

The valedictorian of Lakewood's magnet program, Crabb attributes her improvement to joining the Forerunners Club, training under coach Joe Burgasser and running workouts with other serious runners.

"I'm running 5Ks almost two minutes faster than I was last year at this time, " Crabb noted. "The club and Coach Burgasser have been very good for me."

Burgasser, nationally ranked in his age division by Running Times, was at the Al Lopez Park race coaching and easily winning his 65-69 age division. He said, early on, he wrote a training program for Crabb designed to complement Lakewood coach Royston Dillon's high school program.

"We've worked on leg speed, endurance, injury prevention and confidence aimed toward her high school cross country season then track, " Burgasser said. "I would characterize her Spring into Summer 5K as a coming of age road race since it was almost a minute faster than her previous best. ...Ali is a dedicated and trusting athlete who immensely enjoys all her challenges."

CRABB NOTES: She won the Golden South Invitational 3, 000-meter event in 10:34 by 14 seconds in Orlando on June 2.

- This weekend she'll run her final high school events at the prestigious Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. She'll run the 5K, 2 mile and mile on three consecutive days. She said her focus is on the 5K.

- She'll report to Gainesville on June 26 for cross country training and to start the Summer B academic session. She plans to major in biology.

MORE SPRING INTO SUMMER: Forerunners teammate Kristine Cox finished third woman in 19:34 and fifth overall. The men's winner was predictable - Lee Stephens of Tampa in 17:01. He was followed by Orlando's Jesse Randall (17:12) and Tampa's Chris Petrock in 17:40.

COMING UP: Locally, there is a Picnic Island Adventure race on tap Friday night at 6:45. For details, call (813) 232-5200.

On Saturday in Duluth, Minn., St. Petersburg's Christa Benton will run her third marathon in six months, Grandma's. Her goal is to finish under 2:47, which would qualify her for the 2008 Olympic Trials in Boston. Last year's women's winning time at Grandma's was 2:37:33 by Svetlana Nekhorosh of Ukraine. Mega prize money ensures a strong international field among both women and men.

Benton also is expected to defend her club's beach series of races at Pier 60 in Clearwater starting June 28 at 6:45 p.m.

- On Sunday, there is an 8 a.m. Father's Day 5K at John Chesnut Park in the East Lake area. Call (727) 736-822.

- The 28th Kiwanis Mease Midnight Run 10K gets underway at 12:15 a.m. on the Fourth of July from the Causeway Plaza in Dunedin. It is preceded by a 5K on Tuesday at 11:25 p.m. and mile event at 11 on July 3. The online registration address is For more details, call (727) 535-2257.

[Last modified June 13, 2007, 22:24:01]

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