TAMPA — For four years, Gainesville native Phillip Wise was a spectator at the Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K, watching others run as a diversion from his career as a 1,500-meter star at USF.
Having graduated a year ago, Wise decided to enter the 5K for the first time this year. Wise, 22, crossed the finish line in 15 minutes, 15 seconds to win by 23 seconds Saturday over Chris Yanichko of Grove City, Ohio.
Wise pulled into the lead a quarter-mile into the race and held his advantage throughout, setting a personal record for a road course in the process.
"I realized I was probably going to be running by myself the rest of the race, so I just tried to hold the pace," Wise said. "I was racing against the clock."
The women's 5K also lacked finish-line drama. Kaitlin Donner of Melbourne led from start to finish, winning in 17:42. Katherine McMeekin, 22, of Palm Harbor, took second in 17:58.
Donner, 23, races in triathlons professionally and used the 5K to train for her sprint triathlon season, which begins in two weeks.
"We try to get a good base of all three disciplines of the triathlon in the offseason," Donner said. "I did a half-marathon in November, so just kind of a series of races getting faster and faster as we get closer to the (triathlon) season."
Rough buildup: Women's 15K champion Briana Whaley of Clearwater said she had no mental preparation for the race.
Three weeks ago, her daughter Elliana contracted a virus that caused an inflammation of her digestive tract, making it difficult for her to eat. Elliana went to the hospital and spent eight days there before being released late Monday.
"It was just some bizarre, weird thing," Whaley said. "She lost a lot of weight because she wasn't eating or drinking."
Whaley slept each night on an air mattress on the floor of Elliana's hospital room. Because Elliana couldn't eat, Whaley skipped meals, too, eating only one meal late at night after her daughter had fallen asleep.
"I had no mental preparation for (the race) at all," Whaley said.
Elliana returned to school Friday and was at the race. Saturday also was Elliana's ninth birthday.
"I guess (the win) was a good birthday gift," Whaley said.
ODDS AND ENDS: More than 19,000 participated in Saturday's races. The 5K alone had more than 13,000. … Runners were greeted by a stiff headwind over the first half of the races, and unseasonably high humidity contributed to slower times. … Today, the half-marathon starts at 6 a.m., and the 8K at 9.