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Alone in front, Ronnie Holassie defends marathon title at Gasparilla Distance Classic but thoughts drift to his son

TAMPA — Cold wind and rain took its toll on Ronnie Holassie on Sunday, but not enough to deny the defending Gasparilla Marathon champion.

"I just wanted to run under 2:30, and that is what I did," said Holassie, who finished in 2 hours, 27 minutes, 56 seconds, about five minutes slower than his time in 2008. "But it was pretty tough out there."

When the race began at 6 a.m., the air was cool, the wind light. But about halfway through, a squall line blew in off the Gulf of Mexico, dropping the temperature and bringing with it wind and rain.

But Holassie, who competed in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics for his native Trinidad and Tobago but now lives in Miramar, had other things on his mind. He was thinking about his 17-month-old son, Jeremiah, who was released from the hospital Saturday afternoon, just five days after major surgery.

"I haven't been able to sleep or train all week," he said. "I have been on my feet the whole time, standing by his hospital bed. He is so small. … That was all I could think about it."

Holassie, who placed fourth in 2007 and 12 hours later was hospitalized with a kidney stone, led from the start. The 37-year-old ran shoulder to shoulder with half-marathon winner Richie Cunningham, and when the course split, he found himself on his own.

"It was pretty lonely out there," Holassie said. "But it is also good when I turned around and started running back to see how far back everybody else was."

Holassie wasn't sure he would make the start. He didn't get to Tampa until 6 p.m. Saturday and had a friend pick up his race bib.

"I didn't want to leave while my son was still in the hospital," he said. "But once I knew he was going home, I decided to come up, go out and run with confidence."

Holassie injured his Achilles' tendon three weeks ago, which cost him 10 days of training. Then he got the flu. Then Jeremiah had surgery to relieve pressure on his brain because his skull wasn't forming properly.

It wasn't Holassie's best marathon performance. But it was good enough take home the $3,000 first prize and a $1,500 bonus for coming in under 2:30 at the Gasparilla Distance Classic.

Chad Byler, 25, of Rochester, N.Y., was second in 2:41:43. Ryan Althaus, 25, of Louisville, Ky., finished third 2:44:36.

Top area finishers included Joshua Prevatt, 24, of Brandon in 2:51:42 (eighth overall) and Louis Rufo, 26, of Lutz in 2:54:36 (10th).

In the women's ranks, Nina Kraft, 40, of Germany finished first with a time of 2:47:40.

"I had a good pace … a little windy, but not too bad," said Kraft, who lives and trains in Clermont. "Where I come from, the weather is usually a lot worse."

Kraft came to the United States a year ago after spending a decade competing as a professional triathlete in Europe. She competes in everything from Olympic distance (roughly 32 miles) to Ironman (140.6) and plans to compete in St. Petersburg's St. Anthony's Triathlon next month.

"The wind was tough on the way up," she said. "But then on the way back, it was with me. So I don't think it really mattered with my time."

Like Tampa's Terri Rejimbal, 40, in the women's half-marathon, Kraft took the masters and overall honors in her marathon.

St. Petersburg's Melanie Peters, 25, was second in 3:00:19. Her 2008 winning performance of 2:46:45 earned her a spot in the Olympic trials. Rounding out the women's top five: Shannon Miller, 24, of Jacksonville (3:04:10); Conni Grace, 46, of Ancramdale, N.Y., (3:10:20); and Madeleine Zolfo, 44, of Treasure Island (3:14:02).

Alone in front, Ronnie Holassie defends marathon title at Gasparilla Distance Classic but thoughts drift to his son 03/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 7:20am]
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