CLEARWATER — Jacki Wachtel kept waiting for the top contenders to challenge her.
The past two women's champions of the Tampa Bay Times 10K Turkey Trot were nowhere to be found. It wasn't until this discovery that Wachtel realized she had a legitimate chance to get a win that had eluded her.
Wachtel, of New Port Richey, won in 38 minutes, 29 seconds Thursday morning, beating Adrienne Curtis of Lutz, who finished in 39:07.
"I didn't even realize I was in first for the longest time," Wachtel said. "After the first mile or two, I kept looking around to see if there were other women near me. After about the fourth mile, a biker came up and asked for my name. I figured then I must be at least near the lead and have a shot at this."
Two-time defending champion Sara Petrick did not enter the race. Neither did Christa Stephens, a five-time champion from 2005-09.
Wachtel, 33, a former standout at River Ridge High and the current cross country coach at Pasco-Hernando Community College, has won plenty of races. But she had never finished first in the 10K Turkey Trot.
Many thought she had too many miles in her legs for another important victory. Plus, she was competing a year after giving birth to her son, Eli. She went into labor less than 24 hours after running in last year's 5K Wingding.
Wachtel tested her endurance this year by running in all three races: the 1-mile Gobbler, along with the 5K and 10K. She finished second in the 5K.
"I kind of wish I had saved some energy from the first two races, especially after knowing I had a shot to win the 10K," Wachtel said. "I might have had a better time, but I still had plenty left in me.
"It was such a great feeling to win that 10K because I've been running this race for so long."
The men's 10K also had a first-time champion. Jon Mott, a former standout at Northeast High and Webber International, won in 32:51, outlasting Hank Campbell (33:33).
Mott, 25, who was recovering from a cold, did not know if he would compete until Thursday morning.
"I was real sick," Mott said. "I hadn't been running at all. I felt fine (Thursday) morning, but I thought it would be tough because I wasn't able to get in a lot of training for this race."
Mott and Campbell were part of a lead pack that went off at a blistering pace, completing the first mile in under 5 minutes. After the first 3 miles, the race had been whittled to front-runners Mott and Campbell. They stayed within striking range of each other until Mott pulled away with a comfortable lead into the backstretch.
"There were a couple of runners who tried to go out really fast, which isn't always the brightest thing to do," Mott said. "Hank and I stayed with them and broke free after the first mile. We kept a really fast pace, and I was just able to have enough to win."
In the 5K, Ryan Ripley of Tampa was men's champion in 15:07, and Briana Whaley of Clearwater won the women's race in 17:09. The 1-mile winners were Daniel Wehunt of Tampa and Alyssa Stevens of Naperville, Ill.
A record 17,753 runners hustled out on a chilly morning to participate in the 34th annual event. That's up from 16,519 who registered last year, race director Skip Rogers said.