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Honeymoon is over; Gasparilla is here

Laura Drake loves the annual race so much, she cut short her honeymoon to compete Saturday.

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


How much does Laura Drake enjoy running in the Gasparilla Distance Classic? She cut short her honeymoon in Utah by a few days so she could get to Tampa in time to compete.

Drake flew to her home in Atlanta on Thursday and drove to Tampa for Saturday's event.

Oh, and she's going to run the signature 15K and the 5K races.

This woman really likes Gasparilla.

Drake, 32, the two-time defending women's 15K champion, lived in the bay area for the first 30 years of her life, but since moving to Atlanta, she has made a point of returning for this race -- even if it means making sacrifices.

She and husband Mike Gullett, 37, an avid cyclist, chose a ski trip in Park City, Utah, for their honeymoon. It probably would have extended a few more days, but Gasparilla beckoned.

"I don't know where my fitness will be after the stress of this wedding, but I'm going to give it a shot," Drake said last week, two days before the wedding.

Tying-the-knot stress aside, Drake expects to be in good form. An endurance triathlete who specializes in the Ironman distance, Drake moved to Atlanta for training purposes. The hills about an hour outside the city provide an optimum locale for her workouts.

In November she won the Atlanta Marathon in a course-record 2 hours, 54 minutes, and she has won a handful of Atlanta-area 10K races recently.

"There's been no snow and ice this winter, so I've been able to get to the mountains and do my thing," Drake said. "I'd like to win the 15K and have it be three in a row, but I don't know who will be there."

After the top-seeded Drake are No. 2-seed Judy Maguire, who finished third last year, No. 3 Christy Phillips, who won the inaugural Hops Marathon in December, No. 4 Lisa Valentine, No. 5 Bethany Morse and No. 6 Kim Bumbul.

The men's winner at Hops, Tony Teats, also is running Gasparilla. Two-time defending men's champion Russ Gerbers, a star runner for South Florida whose 2000 winning time of 46:37 surpassed his 1999 mark by 11 seconds, pulled out last week because of a conflict with USF's outdoor track schedule.

Last year's runner-up, Muchapiwa Mazano of Tampa, will be the No. 1 seed, followed by 2000 third-place finisher Scott Winnier, Matthew Whaley, Dror Vaknin and Lee Stephens.

If anyone's thinking the ski trip might cause Drake to slip out of top condition, they're probably mistaken. In fact, if the weather cooperates, Drake thinks she has a chance to break her mark of 52:59 set last year, the fastest time in the post-prize money era at Gasparilla, besting her 1999 time by 1:34.

"I always run for 45 minutes to an hour before hitting the slopes," Drake said. "I'll get in some running at altitude and three days of skiing. We ski five hours straight, no stopping. It's hard work, great training and a lot of fun."

And a little dangerous, perhaps?

"I'll be okay. I'll be very, very careful (on the slopes)," Drake said.

After Gasparilla, Drake is focusing on Ironmans for the rest of the year. Her husband has "really helped me with my cycling," and she's looking to build on the best year of her career in 2000, which included a second-place finish against a world-class field at Ironman Canada. April 8 is her first big race of 2001, the Australia Ironman.

"My training has been going real well and I've been racing well. I'm looking forward to this year," Drake said.

This could be the largest Gasparilla in the event's 24-year history. More than 11,000 people preregistered, and 4,000 more -- depending on the weather -- could register today and Saturday morning. The record is 14,980 in 1990.

Gasparilla Distance Classic

WHEN: Saturday. The 15K race begins at 8:15 a.m. (wheelchair start, 8 a.m.). The 5K race is at 10:30.

REGISTRATION: Late registration ($30 for each race) and T-shirt/packet/ChampionChip pickup is 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today at the Tampa Convention Center, or at 6 a.m. Saturday. Call (813) 229-7866.

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