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Wunderlich, Whitlock win beach race at Pass-a-Grille

Last Friday night's Suncoast Runners Club race at Pass-a-Grille Beach produced a runaway winner in the women's division and a close encounter among the men.

Mary Whitlock of Palm Harbor, who delivers the mail when she's not running, led from wire to wire in the 5-miler.

Forerunners teammates Ray Wunderlich and Tom Swiersz ran pretty evenly for the first 4{ miles. At that point, Wunderlich picked up the pace and Swiersz didn't have an answer. The winning time was 27 minutes, 9 seconds. Swiersz clocked 27:21.

Almost 2 minutes back were Steve Wilcox (29:10), Walt Sieg (29:19), and Chris Lipscomb.

Bettina Brutsch, 26, a physical therapist at St. Anthony's Hospital, took second in the women's division in 34 minutes flat, 40 seconds behind Whitlock.

"I never saw her in the race," said Brutsch, who came here from her native Switzerland last April. "It was the first time I'd ever run on the beach and I had no idea how to run on sand. I really wasn't trying to win, but I made an effort."

Brutsch, who was a track runner in Switzerland, made her road-racing debut in the Bay-to-Bay late last month, winning the women's 5K division in 19:06. Her specialty events were the 800 (a best of 2:12) and the 400-meter hurdles (:60). She was ranked in the top 10 in the 800 and top five in the hurdles, but never earned a place on a national team.

"I'm enjoying distance running here now and don't imagine I could ever go back to the track," Brutsch said. "For one thing, I'd want to be faster than I was and I don't think that's likely."

But going from 15-20-mile weeks in Switzerland to 35-40 weeks in St. Petersburg with her new club, the Forerunners, augurs well for the smooth-striding road rookie.

Coach Joe Burgasser sees a lot of potential but hesitates to predict how far she'll go.

"Bettina, with her exclusive track background, has near-perfect form," he said. "She's very smooth and very powerful. Since she's just started to pick up her mileage, it's hard to predict how fast she can do 5K's and longer. Right now she's serious about her training yet enjoys it, especially the camaraderie of the group."

Brutsch's future in the bay area is highly contingent on a physical therapist license examination in Orlando on July 21.

"If I don't pass that test, I lose my contract and have to go back," said Brutsch. "I can't work any longer and I think I'll lose my visa."

Beach race notes: Cathie Schmidt of Pinellas Park, who turned 40 in March, was fourth among women in 34:18. She was followed by Beth Farmer and the newest master on the scene, Linda Mason, both from Clearwater. Brutsch said she was considering running the Summer Sunset Series 5K at the Carillon Center Wednesday night, and also the anchor leg of the Top Gun Triathlon at MacDill on June 26.

Gary Peters of Clearwater, who sprained an ankle posting a 2:21 marathon time at Las Vegas last year, started his running comeback on the beach. Fifteen pounds heavier after a year of competitive swimming, he finished 20th in 32:29. Last month, Peters, 33, swam in the National Masters Championships in Santa Clara, Calif., and placed second in his age group in the mile. His time of 16:45 was only 15 seconds slower than his best time at the University of Nebraska. Chris Zucker, 46, of St. Petersburg won the masters division at Pass-a-Grille in 31:17.

Other news: Wunderlich won the Sheriff's Memorial 5K at Ybor City on June 4 in 15:17. USF's Jon Dennis, who won the NCAA 5,000-meter track championship for a second time last month at New Orleans, will be at the Meadow Pointe Classic 5K in Tampa on Saturday. He's expected to help officiate, however, and not compete, said USF coach Bob Braman. The race starts at 8 a.m. Meadow Pointe community is east of I-75 on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Call 974-2125 for further details.

Peter Maher of St. Petersburg will run in the World Championships marathon in Stuttgart, Germany, on Aug. 22. He'll represent Canada. The U.S. team will be Mark Plaatjes, Chad Bennion and Brad Hudson. Plaatjes, originally from South Africa, was sixth at Boston in 2:12:29. Barbara Jarnagin, who has won the Kiwanis Midnight Run 3K in Dunedin the past three years, will not participate this year. She's expecting in January. Two other Clearwater runners of note are pregnant _ Leanne Larison and Eileen Peters.