TAMPA — A week ago, Elkanah Kibet felt his calf tighten while training for the Publix Gasparilla Classic half-marathon. At first, Kibet tried to ignore the injury, hoping the pain would away.
Instead, it became sorer.
Kibet, 32, had massages, even acupuncture. Nothing worked.
He held off running Friday, something he has never done leading up to a race. He went on a light training session Saturday.
By Sunday, Kibet was unsure he would participate. He arrived early enough for a pre-race massage. The pain subsided.
"I've never really had an injury before," Kibet said. "I just prayed and prayed. It felt good at the start, so I just told myself that I'll keeping running until it hurts, then I'll think about dropping out. My calf was fine, so I ran."
Kibet did not just run the race — he won it.
Better still, he did so against an impressive field, battling through a series of surges and tactical moves to win in one hour, three minutes, 38 seconds.
Kibet had a slight lead over Parker Stinson, 25, as they headed down the homestretch. In the final 400 meters, Kibet had enough to hold on.
The hard-charging Stinson finished just behind in 1:03.41.
The difference: three seconds.
It was quite an improvement for Kibet, who finished fourth in last year's race.
"I didn't think I could win," Kibet said. "I was hoping I could finish second. It was a miracle."
At the start, the Kenya native was among the leaders in a competitive field that included Haron Lagat, who set a personal half-marathon record (1:01.01) in Houston and former U.S. Marathon champion Tyler Pennel.
Because of the competition, there was a good chance the course record of 1:03.38 set last year by Christo Landry could be broken.
Stinson was sure of it. In January, he won the Naples Daily News Half-Marathon in 1:03.34, more than three minutes ahead of his closest competitor. But that victory came with ideal conditions.
On Sunday, the temperature was in the mid-60s by the time the race started — and was climbing.
"It was like a summer day," Stinson said. "It was brutal."
While the heat and the humidity were factors for some elite runners, they proved beneficial for Kibet.
"I think the warm weather helped keep my calf loose," Kibet said. "I live and train in Colorado and it was so cold this week, the coldest it has been all year. So I didn't have to worry about it tightening up as I normally would."
About 8 to 10 miles into the race, the lead pack started dwindling.
It was down to a race between Kibet and Stinson.
They waited for each other to make a move. Both were trying to save energy in case someone else was planning to unleash a kick down the stretch.
Stinson surged and surged. Each time, Kibet caught up.
In the end, Kibet found another gear.
"I knew Parker would get out front at the start of the race, so I had to stay with him to not get too far behind" Kibet said. "He made a real big move around the 12th mile. I closed the gap, and he made another move. I waited and I went for it at the end.
"It all worked out, more so than I could have imagined."