TAMPA — Jeremy Criscione hoped to win his second straight Gasparilla Distance Classic on Saturday and beat last year's time.
The former University of Florida runner scored an easy victory, but a stiff headwind and stifling heat (high 80s) kept him from his second goal.
"It was rough out there," said Criscione, who covered the 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) in 46 minutes, 55 seconds, 33 seconds slower than 2011. "But what can you do? Every race is different."
Criscione, 24, stayed with the pack for the first mile then established a lead.
"I am just coming off the Olympic marathon trials, and I really didn't know how I would do," said Criscione, who finished 59th in Houston on Jan. 14. "But I realized pretty quickly that everybody else was going a little too slow, so I decided to take off on my own."
Criscione averaged about 5 minutes per mile but at one point dropped to 4:55, which gave him at least 100 yards on his nearest competitor.
"You are always worrying about somebody catching you," the Bartow resident said. "But I was feeling pretty good, so I just kept on pushing it. I knew I had a good lead. I knew I just had to hold it."
Criscione's training partner Jay Lumpkins kept him in his sights for most of the race.
"I knew he was running without a watch," said Lumpkins, 26, also from Polk County. "I wasn't sure he could keep up the pace. But he did it."
Lumpkins, who ran for Clemson, finished second, 31 seconds behind.
Criscione's victory netted $2,000 because he lives in one of the seven counties eligible for the local prize purse. Lumpkins earned $1,500.
"I'm really happy for him," Lumpkins said. "We run together a lot, and it makes us both better. He helps keep me motivated."
Criscione and Lumpkins were followed by three other Polk County residents. Austin Richmond, 26, of Babson Park finished third (1:16 behind Criscione) followed by another Babson Park resident, Jonathan Mott, 25, (1:49) and Lakeland's Scott Mackley, 25, (1:59).
Many of the Polk County runners have worked with the same coach over the years. Rick Moody, who once coached at Florida Southern, now runs the Hansons-Brooks South Olympic Development Program in Lakeland, which allows former collegiate athletes to train in a team setting.
"We were pretty lucky out there," said Moody, also an elementary school physical education teacher. "I think Jeremy was a little disappointed with his time, but he did what he had to do. It is hard to run fast when you are running alone."
Other top bay area runners included Tampa's Elias Gonzalez, 35, sixth in 49:22, and Tampa's Ryan Ripley, 27, seventh in 49:42. Pinellas County's top finishers included St. Petersburg's Nicholas Chase, 25, 15th in 55:51; Treasure Island's Hunter McCann, 15, 16th in 55:55; and Gulfport's Doug Carlan, 38, 18th in 57:07.
In the women's race, Sara Petrick, 25, of Apollo Beach took home the $2,000 first-place prize, finishing in 54:59.
"Mile 7 is always tough," said Petrick, who battled second-place finisher Briana Whaley of Clearwater. "But I am really familiar with this course. We used to run it pretty regularly."
Petrick, who ran at Florida, went to high school at Academy of the Holy Names, located on Bayshore Boulevard.
"It is great to finally win this race," she said.
"I have been thinking about it for years."
Whaley, 33, finished in 55:10 followed by Heather Butcher, 39, of North Port in 57:20.