Martha Sorensen was a little worried about her preparation for Sunday's 15th installment of the St. Anthony's Triathlon. The panic set in when she emerged from the water at Straub Park buried in one of the last packs.
The second-guessing easily could have followed. Sorensen, known on the professional tour for her strong running, had run only an hour a week leading up to the season-opening triathlon, which covered more than 30 miles swimming, biking and running along the Pinellas County coastline.
The cross-country coach at Smith College in Massachusetts instead concentrated on the swim and bike legs in practice. She made the transition to her bike smoothly and began her comeback, fixated on improving her 19th-place finish at St. Anthony's a year ago.
That's when she started making up ground. She finished the 24.8-mile bike leg in the top five.
"I made a couple surges," Sorensen, 31, said. "I just stayed calm. I didn't expect to do that."
She continued her torrid pace on the 6.2-mile running course and finished third in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 37 seconds. It was her best place in five trips to St. Petersburg. She also won $2,000 of the $30,000 purse.
DRAFT DODGERS: After using a draft-legal format for professionals for the first time last year, the event went back to its original draft-illegal status. Most of the competitors welcomed the reversal, including the top two men's finishers, Alec Rukosuev and Wes Hobson.
"Some guys who have drafted me, today are four minutes behind," said Rukosuev, 31, who lives in Apopka. "No drafting for sure is better."
Hobson said he doesn't like the practice because "some guys suck my wheel."
"It's better to bike by yourself," Hobson, 31, said. "I am against drafting and I'm very happy there was no drafting. I hope it stays like that."
Rukosuev and Hobson are friends who have an ongoing dollar bet for every race they compete in together. Hobson, who can afford to lose a buck after taking home $2,500, said the bet money is "more important than the prize money." Rukosuev claimed $5,000 for the victory.
TRIATHLON ON TRIAL: Jack Helinger isn't afraid to try things. When the St. Petersburg attorney isn't working on cases, you can bet he is training for a triathlon. Helinger, who said he competes in four to six triathlons a year, has raced in all 15 St. Anthony's Triathlons dating to the inaugural one in 1984 at Fort De
Soto Park. Helinger, 47, has competed in four age groups and hopes to continue the streak.
"I'm proud of it," Helinger said. "I gear toward it every year. It's the best event anywhere."
This year, Helinger competed with his brothers Charlie, who has raced for 13 years, and Jim, who has been in the sport for five years. Jack finished 54th in the 45-49 division, Charlie 54th in the 40-44 and Jim 46th in the 50-54.
GLORY DAYS: Daniel Mencher crossed the finish line at 2:08.32 and immediately was taken to the first-aid tent to be treated for dehydration. The Lakewood senior flopped on a bed, soaked, with an intravenous needle sticking out of his right arm.
He wasn't in any immediate danger; rather, he was in his glory. Mencher, a standout cross-country runner, had just completed his third St. Anthony's Triathlon.
"I went off course on the swim," Mencher said. "I still took 17 minutes off my time from last year."
LOCAL FLAVOR: St. Petersburg High standout distance runner Nate Hansen teamed with fellow Green Devils Robert Decker and Kevin McKanna in the relay division. Hansen ran the 6.2-mile leg in :35.30. Michael Hofstetter of Largo was the first local male to finish, taking 48th place in 2:03.40. Karen McLarty of DeLandtook first in the female 40-44 age division in 2:21.00. Saturday, her daughter, Sara, won the Meek and Mighty Mini Triathlon. Seminole resident Jim Ward, who at 80 remains the oldest to finish an Ironman, ran in his third triathlon after a stroke in December. His time was 3:40.32. Alison Hayden, 26, of Tampa made her professional debut. She finished 11th in the professional women division in 2:15.36. Ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end John Cannon, 37, finished third in the 15-39 Clydesdale age division in 2:13.28.
_ ERIC VICIAN