Jessica Crate isn't your typical runner. She actually hopes somebody will break her Gasparilla Half Marathon record Sunday.
"I think it would be great," said the 28-year-old coach, nutritionist and sports marketer. "There is a great field this year, and that would just give me something to work for next time."
Crate's record of 1 hour, 20 minutes, 6 seconds set in 2011 will surely fall this year. A $40,000 purse will bring more than a dozen world-class male and female runners this year for the 13.1 mile race.
"I'm really excited about the increased competition," said Crate, an accomplished triathlete. "I think it is fantastic to have so many elite athletes this year."
The top five male and female finishers will split $30,000. The half-marathon winners, male and female, will walk away with checks for $8,000. But staying true to tradition, race organizers have also set aside $10,000 for the top local runners.
In its early days, Gasparilla drew some of the world's best endurance athletes, including running icons such as Bill Rodgers. But in 1998, the race stopped paying out large purses. The race still rewarded local talent, but the big names stopped coming.
But this year will be different. This year's men's field includes Olympian Abdi Abdirahman. The Somali-American ran for the United States at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. The 35-year-old ran 1:00:29 in New York in 2007, more than nine minutes faster than the current men's record of 1:09:50 set by Jonathon Mott in 2013.
"I know there will be a lot of elite runners there," said Mott, who is the local favorite in today's 15K. "I'll be happy just to be one of the top local finishers."
The elite runners in Tampa for the half-marathon can use it as an opportunity to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. For the men, they must cover the course in 1:05 or faster. The women's qualifying time is 1:15 or better. The elite men and women who have confirmed participation in this year's half should have no problem hitting those marks.
Adbirahman, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2000, is a specialist in the 10,000 meters, but his 2:08:00 marathon time shows that he can excel at longer distances as well.
A local favorite in this year's field is Rolf Steier, a former Berkeley Prep and Stanford star who has been training in Oslo, Norway, while working on his Ph.D.
Other notables in the men's field include Colorado's Fernando Cabada who is coming off a 1:02:00 performance at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Houston and his fellow Boulder resident Tyler McCandless, who ran a 1:03:25 at the same race. Mott of Babson Park also ran in Houston, logging a personal of 1:05:47, four minutes faster than his record-setting 2013 Gasparilla Half Marathon time.
The women's field will be equally exciting. Several runners who have run times faster than Crate's record will be at the starting line.
Leading the pack will be three-time Olympic team qualifier Jen Rhines who has a personal best half-marathon time of 1:11:14. Wendy Thomas, who finished fourth in Houston, with a 1:12:29 and Mattie Suver, who finished sixth with a 1:13:06, are also expected to run. Tampa's Terri Rejimbal, who won last year's race with a time of 1:23:23, is also running again this year.