Jeff Delie and Corinne Morales wait until daylight and 21 miles or more in to catch the early leaders.
By JOHN SCHWARB
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2001
TAMPA -- At 6 a.m., the sun was nowhere to be found over downtown, and through the darkness that lingered for the next hour and half, neither were Jeff Delie or Corinne Morales.
But though the two had never won a marathon, they were experienced enough to know that the second annual Hops Marathon by the Bay would not be decided until the darkness disappeared. And when it did, both were in a position to strike.
Delie caught the men's leader at the 21-mile mark of the 26.2-mile race, and Morales secured the lead of her race 2 miles later. Both held on for victories.
"I couldn't be more pleased," Delie, 45, said. "I was hoping that I could win overall masters, but to be able to catch up with the leader, it was very inspirational."
The Palm Harbor resident started at a reasonable pace, letting St. Augustine's Todd Neville run six-minute miles early.
Only Neville couldn't hold it. Delie passed him and cruised home in 2 hours, 44 minutes, 54 seconds. Neville ended up third in 2:51:31, more than two minutes behind Tampa's David Joyce (2:49:23).
"By 15 (miles into the race), someone said I was a minute and 40 (seconds behind), then further on I was a minute, then I knew I was closing in on him," Delie said. "I changed from a timed race to a head-to-head race.
"Once I passed him it was just a matter of staying relaxed and making sure I didn't do something stupid."
Delie has been one the top runners in the area for years, winning at all sorts of distances except the marathon. He finished second in January at the Gulf Beaches Marathon in Clearwater and claimed masters titles in 1998 and 1999 at the Disney Marathon in Orlando, but had never won an overall title.
A year ago he ran the Hops Marathon course with his wife but not as an official participant, as he was healing from a collarbone broken in a bicycle crash.
Morales of Universal City, Texas, did not run in the event a year ago but came to Tampa in search of a warm-weather marathon. She got it, and proved very comfortable on what became a warm December day.
Through much of the race Melissa Currie of Grand Rapids, Mich., held the lead, though Morales had no idea as she fought through traffic that included the men's marathoners, half-marathoners (for the first 13.1 miles) and marathon relay runners.
"I like being up front from the beginning just like she was, but she was so small I didn't even know where she was," Morales said. "Even at the turnarounds I never spotted her. Everyone kept telling me 'You're right behind her,' and I kept thinking 'Well, where is she?'
Not until the straightaway on Bayshore Boulevard after Ballast Point did Morales spot Currie, and she made her move.
"Once I passed her, I don't think she tried to stay with me," Morales said. "Holding her pace being up front, it takes its toll after a while. I surged when I passed."
After the pass Morales extended her lead and won in 3:10:46, 2 minutes, 1 second ahead of Currie. Bethany Heslam of North Port claimed third in 3:13:03.
Morales, 39, did not start running marathons until after the birth of her third child 10 years ago. She completed 20 marathons before Sunday, but only at her last one, a personal-best 3:02 two months ago in Corning, N.Y., had she run off true marathon training. For the Hops she had also trained specifically for the event, and it paid off in her second-best time.
"I'd love to break three hours, and I'm hoping to do that soon," Morales said. "Maybe next year."
Delie's wife, Mary, won the women's masters division for the second straight year, in 3:18:02. A total of 1,800 were estimated to have competed in the main event.
Some 2,400 ran in the event's first half-marathon, and three bay area women claimed the top spots. Laure Blume of Pinellas Park won in 1:23:05, 57 seconds ahead of St. Petersburg's Christy Phillips, the 2000 champion. Tierra Verde's Lisa Valentine took third and the masters title in 1:27:36.
On the men's side, Byrne Decker of Yarmouth, Maine, won in 1:13:50. Richard Golden of Englewood won the masters title in 1:20:42.