There's more than one way to look at the competitive aspects of running.
For Kathy Gruber, an outstanding age-group competitor from Indian Rocks Beach who has been at it since 1988, her primary opponent is herself.
That's one reason the 45-year-old Honeywell employee wasn't particularly thrilled with her over-40 winning time of 20 minutes, 30 seconds at the 18th annual Unicorn Gallop 5K March 15 in Largo. She finished fifth among women in a mixed field of 330 participants.
"What I like most about the competition is trying to beat my PRs (personal records)," said Gruber, who trains under the guidance of Ed Fitzgerald of the Progressive Training Team. "But it's also important to get first."
Gruber took first at Gasparilla last year in the competition for the Barnett Bank Masters Cup for women runners over 40 from the bay area. The win earned her a trip to the Cherry Blossom Classic in Washington, D.C. This year she finished second in the 45-49 age division in 1:03:12.
Last month Gruber ran her 13th marathon, the Blue Angel in Pensacola, and came within 3 seconds of her PR, clocking 3:18:28 for first place in the masters division and ninth woman overall. That was 20 minutes faster than she ran the 100th Boston Marathon last April.
For her victory, she won a silver cup and a gift certificate for a pair of Etonic running shoes.
"I tried a new low-carbo diet leading up to the Blue Angel and it didn't work," she said. "Overall, running is a healthy activity, which helps you build self-confidence."
Gruber attributes her progress to weekly track workouts at Clearwater High School, where she does repeat 400-meter runs in the 1:25 to 1:30 range; the training schedules mapped out by Progressive head coach Dror Vaknin, and cross training.
"Cross training helps all your muscle groups," said Gruber, adding that the 5 to 7 pounds she has lost since last year also has helped her performances.
She will compete in the Escape From Fort DeSoto Triathlon on April 12 and St. Anthony's Olympic-distances triathlon along the St. Petersburg bayfront on April 27.
MORE BLUE ANGEL: Dottie Foster of Largo, a Progressive teammate and member of the West Florida Y Runners Club, traveled to Pensacola with Gruber and came away with first place in the women's 50-59 age division with a time of 3:34. She turns 51 on Wednesday. Jim Doran of West Florida ran the marathon in 3:25.
MORE RESULTS: Keith Sawayda of Clearwater beat Ray Wunderlich of St. Petersburg by a scant 3 seconds in the Unicorn Gallop.
For Sawayda, who turns 34 on March 29, the intense competition was a welcome relief from racing alone frequently.
"Sometimes I run well behind someone like Muchapiwa Mazano and other times I run alone at the front," he said. "So win or lose, I like that kind of competition."
Sawayda and Wunderlich went through the first mile together in 4:58 and slowed a little the second mile running into a headwind. Fearing Wunderlich's superior stretch kick, Sawayda decided to try to ease ahead just after 2 miles. He created a narrow gap with a 4:58 final mile to barely hold off the former University of Florida harrier.
In the women's division, the familiar pattern of a 1-2-3 finish by Judy Maguire (17:34), Lisa Kothe (18:26) and Erin Russell (19:35) held up.
RACE HEADACHES: At 11:30 p.m. the night before the Unicorn Run, race director Paul Franklin got a call for directions that woke him up, then another one at 4:30 a.m. "The second one wasn't as bad," said Franklin good-naturedly. "At least I was planning to get up at 5 anyway."
Franklin, who coaches for the West Florida Y at Clearwater High on Tuesday evenings, offers the club's World Wide Web address: www.runwestflorida.com.
MORE RESULTS: Sawayda and East Lake High junior Sean McCabe ran 1-2 at the Dick Lacey Pentathlon last month at Clearwater High. It was McCabe's third consecutive runner-up finish. He's a 1:58 800-meter runner for the East Lake Eagles track team.
Lindsay Moffenbier, 12, of Tampa won the women's division (20:07) at the Manatee March 5K March 15 at Apollo Beach. Steve Wilson of St. Petersburg took the men's crown in 16 minutes flat after telling official Ric Dorrie he would run it in 16 flat. He was coming off an easy win (15:48) at the Run for the Pennant 5K the week before, where Erin Russell was the women's winner.
Lisa Kothe led the Sunshine Running Team's women's contingent to the team title at the Ujena Classic 10K two weeks ago as she finished first in 38:11. Her teammates were Roz Randall, Pat Cohen, Terri Kopper and Robyn Haywood. Sunshine men (Duncan Camerson, Craig Bowers, Ali Haider) took the men's team title also.
FINISH LINES: Gasparilla race director Susan Harmeling announced Monday that the 20th annual event raised a record $140,000 for its youth charities this year. "Not only is this amount a $20,000 increase over last year," Harmeling said, "but it also brings the association's total contribution figure to over $1-million."
The Valentine Beach Run at the Don CeSar raised $1,500 for Crime Stoppers.