Jonathon Mott's tank is full, and he's hoping for an easy cruise to victory down Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard in Saturday's Gasparilla Distance Classic.
"I feel good about this one," said the former star St. Petersburg's Northeast High star. "I've got a little extra gas. I think I can get out front and hold it."
Mott, 27, finished second in last year's 15K, Gasparilla's trademark race, then came back the next day on a whim and won the half-marathon.
"This is my race," the Babson Park resident said of the 15K (9.3 miles). "My main competition won't be there this year."
Mott was talking about friend and former teammate Austin Richmond, who won last year in 47 minutes, 27 seconds. But he has moved west to train with the Boulder Track Club in Colorado. Richmond, 28, said Saturday's race is Mott's to win.
"He's in the best shape of his life," he said. "I think he has got this one."
Mott and Richmond were teammates at Webber International University in Polk County. The small, private school has produced its share of elite distance runners in recent years, including 2012 Gasparilla 15K champion Jeremy Criscione.
Mott, who didn't start running cross country until his junior year of high school, competed in Houston's USA Half Marathon on Jan. 19, finishing 41st among 70 runners.
"I ran a 1:05:47," Mott said. "It was a (personal record) for me, so I feel really strong going into this weekend's races."
Mott did say races — plural. He said he plans again to run Saturday and Sunday. Sunday's $2,000 first-place prize appeals to the struggling runner who recently graduated with a master's degree in sports management.
"I've cut back on my mileage, so I really do feel healthy," he said. "Before Houston, I was up to more than 110 miles a week."
Despite his late start, Mott did well enough in high school to earn a college scholarship. He started as a middle distance man. His personal record in the 800 meters was 1:59. He ran a 16:34 in cross country and a 10:20 in the 3,200.
His real education came at Webber, where he earned NAIA All-America honors.
Mott said his running career took off last year, when he realized anybody who could run a 15K and a half-marathon 24 hours apart might be good enough for the Olympic trials.
"I have more confidence now than I have ever had," said Mott, who logged more than 4,000 miles in 2013. "This could be my year."
Other men's runners to watch Saturday include James Osborne of Lutz, a Jesuit graduate who ran at Duke; Michael Poole of Tampa; Kevin Collmar of Tampa; and Eric Kaschalk of Tampa.
In the women's field, look for Paige Howard of Tampa; Sara Petrick of Tampa; Kristen Tenaglia of Seminole; Heather Butcher of Northport; and Adrienne Curtis of Lutz.