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Visiting triathlete didn't plan on so much solitude in winning Gasparilla Distance Classic half-marathon

Richie Cunningham of Massachusetts broke away early in the half-marathon and was never challenged.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR | Times

Richie Cunningham of Massachusetts broke away early in the half-marathon and was never challenged.

TAMPA — Richie Cunningham unexpectedly ran alone Sunday for the final 10 miles of the Gasparilla Distance Classic half-marathon.

Still, Cunningham kept looking around, never totally comfortable with a cushion that grew to more than 100 yards.

No one was able to run down the 35-year-old triathlete from Brookline, Mass., who won his half-marathon (13.1 miles) debut in 1 hour, 14 minutes, 18 seconds.

"I came down to Florida for some training and thought I should give this race a whirl," he said. "It was nice to come out on top."

Initially, Cunningham thought his toughest competition would come from Ronnie Holassie. Then Holassie veered off course.

"That's when I knew (Holassie) was running the marathon instead of the half-marathon," Cunningham said.

He splintered the lead pack at the Brorein Street bridge. After that, he was alone.

His lead over Cincinnati's Mike Greiwe (1:15:13) did shrink near the end as fatigue became evident on Cunningham's face, and he began to carry his arms low while fighting the wind.

"It was good training, especially in the conditions, which were brutal," he said. "I was just glad I already had the lead."

Terri Rejimbal of Tampa won the women's half-marathon. Rejimbal, 40, who also won the master's division, finished in 1:23:11, more than two minutes faster than Janette Benitez (1:25:48) of Mexico.

"It was tough, but it could have been much tougher," Rejimbal said. "The temperature was great, and it was nice to have the tailwind on the way back."

Rejimbal, who recently ran the Disney Marathon as part of the Florida's Finest team, set a personal record Sunday for the half-marathon.

"I am glad that we ran the race (Sunday) instead of (Satur­day)," she said. "I like a little adversity. If it is too easy, it is not as much fun."

Rejimbal said she prefers 10Ks (6.2 miles) but is learning to like the longer distance. "I was running pretty fast from 2001 to 2003, but I would always end up with chronic overuse injuries," she said. "Now I am older, wiser. I am much smarter, I know when to cut back."

Visiting triathlete didn't plan on so much solitude in winning Gasparilla Distance Classic half-marathon 03/01/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 1, 2009 9:37pm]
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