TAMPA — With the reintroduction of prize money for top finishers at the Gasparilla Distance Classic half-marathon, the 11th annual race drew elite runners from across the country, some of whom smashed course records by several minutes Sunday.
But before the 6 a.m. 13.1-mile race, there was an even bigger benchmark on the mind of 9-year-old Will Stone.
Stone, a nationally recognized triathlete from Largo and a fourth-grader at Oakhurst Elementary, began training for the race in November, hoping to beat the world record for 9-year-olds (1 hour, 41 minutes, 45 seconds, set in 1984) he found on the Association of Road Racing Statisticians' website.
On a humid morning, just more than 37 minutes after professional distance runner Ryan Vail of Portland, Ore., won the half-marathon in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 6 seconds to break the men's course record by 5 minutes, 44 seconds, Stone got the world record he sought, crossing the finish in 1:41:07.
Stone's wide grin was proof he knew what he had accomplished. He grabbed his medal and raced to the sidewalk to find his mother, who confirmed it.
"I beat the world record," Stone said, "and it feels so good."
Stone was the topic of conversation among nearby finishers, who were surprised to see a boy so young finish so soon. Several came over to shake Stone's hand. He posed for a photo with another. "You'll be an Olympian one day," a passerby called out to him.
For the first 10 miles, Stone ran alongside his father, William Stone, a St. Petersburg police officer. But with a bit more than 3 miles to go, the younger Stone took off and finished more than a minute ahead of his dad (1:43:46).
Olympians led the pack much of the way, something that made the race more exciting for the 9-year-old.
"When elite runners passed, I showed Will. I said, 'There's Olympians right there,' " the elder Stone said. "He totally wants to be an Olympian one day. Hopefully he will."
Sunday's race was the first time since 1999 that prize money was awarded to the top finishers. The top five men and women split $30,000, with first-place finishers Vail, 27, and Lindsey Scherf, 27, of Fayetteville, N.C., taking home $8,000 each. Scherf's time of 1:13:08 broke the women's course record from 2011 (1:20:06) by nearly seven minutes.
The top five local finishers shared an additional $10,000 in prize money, with winners Jon Mott, 27, of Babson Park, and Sara Petrick, 27, of Tampa, taking home $2,000 each. Mott and Petrick were winners of Saturday's 15-kilometer race.
Two-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, 35, led most of the way. Vail said he had Abdirahman in his sights all race and made his passing move with about six minutes to go. The Somalian-American finished 13 seconds behind.
"I definitely made an effort to go out conservative, because it was so warm," Vail said. "I've messed up before in the heat like this, and really paid the price over the second half of the race. So I just didn't want to have that experience today."