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Winner nearly untested at Halfathon

Published December 16, 2007


When Steve Mandel of Temple Terrace hit the first mile of last week's Holiday Halfathon (13.1 miles) in a swift time of 5 minutes, 30 seconds, he knew it was time to make a pacing adjustment.

That pace would have resulted in a finish time of 1 hour, 12 minutes, which he realistically knew wasn't in the cards. Mandel won the scenic event that finishes along the Pinellas Trail and then into Taylor Park in 2003 in 1:16:48, so at age 42 he didn't think he was capable of improving by nearly five minutes.

"I guess I went after the early leaders until Mile 1 when I caught up with them," said Mandel, an early member of USF's cross-country team. "I'm not in shape to maintain a 5:30 pace, so at that point I just backed off and tried to settle into an even pace."

Mandel said he never looked back to check his lead. Conventional wisdom is that such a move sometimes serves to encourage the competition into hanging tough and making a late surge.

But no one challenged Mandel.

His winning time is the second fastest on the course to Keith Sawayda's 1:15:41 in 2004 at age 41.

Rick Straughen of Shelby Township, Mich., finished second in 1:19:25, with Chris Petrock of Tampa the third man in 1:22:01.

St. Petersburg's Christa Benton was the third finisher, winning the women's division for the second consecutive year. Her time of 1:21:48 improved on her 2006 course record of 1:21:57. She improved despite having to stop several times to stretch.

"I went out fast, as usual, and had to slow down eventually," said Benton, who's in intense training for next month's Disney Marathon.

Rachel Chambers of Sarasota was a distant second (1:26:58), with Rachel Winter of St. Pete Beach third in 1:28:29.

AGE GROUP HIGHLIGHTS: The first finishers over 40, not counting Mandel, were Mike Mollod of Sarasota, 43, in 1:22:24 and Clearwater's Lisa Kothe, 47, in 1:35:46. Mollod was last year's overall winner of the Halfathon but has been slowed by an ankle injury.

Albert Wieringa of St. Petersburg was the first 50 and over (grand masters) finisher despite his age of 61. His winning time of 1:26:52 was more than two minutes slower than his time last year in this event. "It might have something to do with the increase in miles I've run the past two weeks," he said. "That takes its toll in a loss of speed."

Still, he held off runnerup Ian Jackson (1:29:36) of St. Petersburg and Duncan Cameron (1:30:57), who turned 65 recently.

Cameron's third-place grand masters finish elevated coach Joe Burgasser of the Forerunners to first place, 65-69, in 1:34:43. Burgasser was coming off a twin win, having raced the day before at the Tampa Bay Lightning Reindeer Run 5K, posting a time of 20:04, good for 22nd out of 614.

Annette Frisch of St. Petersburg was the women's 65-69 winner in 1:57:46.

Special Pride of Pinellas awards were presented to Benton and Dennis Byron of Palm Harbor, in memory of the late Ralph Perry, a co-founder of the St. Pete Mad Dogs Triathlon Club.

MORE REINDEER RUN: Melanie Peters, a recent member of the St. Pete Forerunners, ran wild in the downtown Tampa 5K, winning in 18 minutes over runnerup Dana Parrot (18:34) of Tampa. Peters finished eighth overall in the mixed field of 614. Carol Glasscock, president of the St. Pete Road Runners Club, finished fourth in 19:27, 22 seconds ahead of Grace Vandergrift, 14, of Valrico.

Former Trot winner Dror Vaknin led a strong field to a fast finish in 15:51. Brian Scott was the first Pinellas finisher in 17:09, just three places ahead of Peters.

[Last modified December 15, 2007, 21:43:54]

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