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Festival full of sights, sounds and sweat // THE RACE

Near-perfect weather conditions attracted a large turnout for the 17th annual Beach to Bayou Run on Saturday morning.

There were 709 registered participants in the three separate events, which serve as a fund raiser for the Family YMCA of North Pinellas the Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital. The 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) race drew a field of 172, the 5K attracted 414 and the 1-mile walk/run had 123 participants.

David Cruz of Seminole and Antonio Perez of Clearwater waged a controlled back-and-forth struggle for first place in the 5K event. Cruz regained the lead on Gulf Street just past Tarpon Springs High School. But while he was cruising toward the finish line with 200 meters to go, Perez sprinted to close the gap to a mere second.

Cruz, 30, won in 16 minutes, 23 seconds with Perez second in 16:24.

Greg Fiess of Clearwater placed third (16:51), Lisa Vaill of Brooksville, fourth (17:00), and 43-year-old Steve Mikles of Clearwater fifth (17:07).

Cruz said he thought he had the race won when he surged ahead with less than a half-mile to go.

"After he (Perez) took the lead when I stopped for water," Cruz said, "I took the lead back for good. But he almost caught me at the end. That was a gutsy finishing kick for him."

Vaill, who ran in the Olympic Trials Marathon in Columbia, S.C., last February, said she ran the shorter race for a tempo run as a change from the high mileage training she has been doing in Brooksville.

"I liked this course," she said. "It was flat, scenic and different for me."

Vaill's twin sister, Teresa, 33, race-walked the 5K in a swift 22:29. She is favored to win the Olympic Trials race-walk event in June in Atlanta and move on to the Olympic Games in July. She won the national championship in the event in 1994 and 1995, setting an American record last year.

Susan Hackett, 45, of Palm Harbor was first of women over 40 in a time of 23:15.

Whereas the 5K was a dogfight for first place, men's 10K winner Robert Coobery of Palm Harbor kept waiting for a challenger to close on him, which never happened. He won in 37:46, nine seconds ahead of Chris Zucker, 48, of St. Petersburg.

"I was surprised to win," said Coobery, 39, a systems analyst at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. "I thought someone would come up on me at 3, 4 or 5 miles, but they didn't. Either they didn't have it, or they weren't here. Either way, I'll take the win. I only run recreationally at lunchtime.

"I really like the T-shirt this year. The natural design (featuring the Anclote Key lighthouse) complements the race scene very nicely."

Safety Harbor artist Ken Hogle painted the design, which also was used in lithograph posters.

Peter Scott, 53, of Clearwater placed third (38:25). And just like the 5K race, a "Lisa," Kothe in this case, finished fourth overall and was the first woman. She clocked a swift 38:29, beating former Beach to Bayou winner Sara Weaver of Naples, who clocked 40:08.

Janice Scott, 45, of Clearwater was first of women over 40 in at 43:28.

Runners, family members and friends meandered through the Tarpon Springs Art & Crafts Festival at Craig Park after the awards ceremony. The festival will be open again today from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $1 for adults.

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