TAMPA — The route Wilson Chepkwony navigated through downtown Tampa, over Davis Island and along Bayshore Boulevard, to win Sunday's 10th and final Gasparilla Marathon was slightly less taxing than his journey to arrive in the bay area.
Starting Feb. 19, the Kenyan, 29, rode a bus 24 hours from his training site in Mexico to San Antonio, Texas, then immediately hopped a plane to Jacksonville, landing a few hours before the start of the 26.2 With Donna marathon, where he took fourth (2 hours, 17 minutes, 33 seconds).
Saturday, he boarded a Greyhound bus in Jacksonville, pulling into Tampa at about 5 p.m.
A nagging hamstring kept Chepkwony from breaking his personal best of 2:14. But he pulled away from the four-man lead pack between Miles 18 and 19 to finish in 2:24:48, beat a field of 2,048 runners by more than five minutes for his first win of the year and earn $2,000.
"I didn't want to push more," he said, pointing to his hamstring.
Second-place finisher Ronnie Holassi of Miramar also battled a tender hamstring throughout.
"Nobody tried to go out (when Chepkwony surged ahead)," said Holassi, who finished in 2:30:19. "I was just hanging on because of my sore hamstring from last week."
Holassi was unsure if he was fit enough to compete Sunday — "I've never felt this sore in a hamstring in my whole running career," he said — but after testing himself Saturday night decided to go ahead with the race.
"I think I signed up about five minutes before they closed registration," the 38-year-old said, laughing.
Holassi carried his 2-year-old son, Jeremiah, the final 50 meters of the race. Last year, while Holassi was competing in the Gasparilla Marathon, Jeremiah was in a hospital recovering from surgery to remove a bone in his skull because his plates hadn't fused properly.
"I really wanted him to be here because of last year," Holassi said. "It was a tough surgery."
Brandon's Joshua Prevatt, 25, was the fastest bay area runner, finishing in 2:42:16 to take seventh.
Women's champion Melissa Gacek, 33, was just happy to get outside in her shorts and racing top after spending the winter cooped up inside her St. Paul, Minn., home.
"I did all my training on a treadmill," said Gacek, who also won $2,000.
Gacek, who won in 2:53:20, took the lead right before the 13th mile and faced little resistance as she headed north on Bayshore.
"I was surprised because I felt like I was falling apart," she said.
Gasek, running her first marathon of the year and first Gasparilla Marathon, has been in Florida since Feb. 20 with her husband and daughter visiting parents, in-laws and theme parks.
"At least I paid for the vacation," she said, smiling.
Treasure Island's Madeleine Zolfo, 45, came in second in 2:59:06 and was the Masters champion by more than 16 minutes.
Amy McClenathan, 50, of St. Petersburg, won the women's Grand Masters division in 3:24:24.