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Runners gear up for Gasparilla race

The time has come, the pirates say, to put on your running shoes.

The increasingly popular Gasparilla Distance Classic will be run at 8 a.m. Saturday along Tampa's streets.

The 15th distance classic, which attracted 11,738 people last year, includes 15K and 5K courses. It has been ranked as one of the country's Top 10 road races by Runner's World and Running Times magazines. The 15K for wheelchair participants begins at 8 a.m., 15K runners begin at 8:15 a.m. and 5K runners at 10:30 a.m.

Participants can register today from noon to 9 p.m., or Saturday before the race at the "Not for Runners Only" Expo, Tampa Convention Center, Ballrooms B and C, 333 S Franklin St., Tampa. Race day registration will be held for the 15K from 7 to 8 a.m., and the 5K from 8:15 to 10:15 a.m. There will be no wheelchair entries allowed today or Saturday.

The "Not for Runners Only" Expo includes freebies, appearances by world-class runners,

W-101 radio personalities and dealers selling the latest in running shoes, apparel and Gasparilla commemorative items. Runners also will be able to collect their runner packets and T-shirts at this free event.

Norwegian John Halvorsen will pursue a third consecutive Gasparilla Distance Classic title. Halvorsen completed last year's race by running the fastest 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) of the year in the country (43 minutes, 14 seconds).

Ed Eyestone, the first American since 1982 to win Atlanta's prestigious Peachtree Road Race, and Judi St. Hilaire, ranked 10th in the world, have also committed to the event. Hilaire will be the highest-rated American woman running in the event.

Many world-class runners will bypass Gasparilla, including Joseph Keino, Thomas Osana, Steve Kogo and Julius Korir. Most will either be competing in cross-country events in Europe or tied up with the Olympic Trials.

Awards will be presented to the top 10 overall male and female finishers in the 15K and 5K, and to the top three male and female masters and wheelchair division awards in the 15K.

Special awards include the WFLA-TV 8 Corporate Cup Championship and 15K Individual Cup Competition. The Competition includes the Sports Unlimited Tampa Bay Cup, John Hancock Insurance Company Masters Cup and Nike Florida Cup.

The Gasparilla Distance Classic Association gives most of its proceeds to charity, with donations totaling nearly $500,000 during its 14-year history. Recipients have included the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay, Girls Inc. of Pinellas and the Tampa Bay All-Comer Track Meets, which are held monthly at Pepin Rood Stadium.

The 15K race will be broadcast live at 8 a.m. on WFLA-TV Ch. 8.

Complete individual results will be available from 6 p.m. Saturday through midnight Feb. 21 by calling (900) 740-3939. This 24-hour service costs $2 per minute.

AT A GLANCE

The 15th Running of the Gasparilla Distance Classic begins at 8 a.m.Saturday in Tampa. Races include a 15K race for men, women andwheelchair competitors, and a 5K for runners only. Registration istoday from noon to 9 p.m., and Saturday before the race at the "Notfor Runners Only" Expo, Tampa Convention Center, Ballrooms B andC, 333 S Franklin St., Tampa. Race day registration for the 15K will be from 7 to 8 a.m., and for the 5K from 8:15 to 10:15 a.m. Wheelchaircompetitors must have registered before today. Registration fee is $20 for each event, and only checks and exact change will be accepted.

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