It had the makings of a dramatic story.
A St. Petersburg distance runner, having placed fourth, third and second in three beach races at Clearwater Beach's Pier 60 this summer, runs the final event in the series and wins.
But it didn't happen.
Amy McClenathan, who has improved dramatically this year after pairing up with Forerunners teammate Christy Phillips for regular 4:30 a.m. runs, had other priorities: namely, her four children, ages 6, 8, 10 and 11, who had a swim meet Friday night that took priority.
And then there would have been the problem of finding a way to beat Clearwater's indefatigable Judy Maguire, 40, who had won the previous four races in the 5K series. In their three matches this summer, Maguire prevailed by margins of 68, 60 and 31 seconds in consecutive races.
But it has been that degree of gradual improvement McClenathan has been seeking at the shorter distances since she achieved a personal record of 3 hours, 12 minutes, 26 seconds in her 12th marathon at Boston in April.
"Running with Christy almost every morning has been the difference for me," said McClenathan, 39, who swam for Clearwater High School 22 years ago, advancing to district, regional and finally state competition. "She makes a science of training with hard days and easy days. Trying to keep up with her has made the difference."
One goal, to break 19 minutes for 5 kilometers, was achieved early last month at Hunter's Green in Tampa when she ran 18:59 for second place among women behind Phillips. In that race, Phillips, 37, a teacher and coach at Jefferson High School, achieved her own personal record with an 18:12 effort.
McClenathan then realized the thrill of victory at Al Lopez Park in the Summer Sundown Sprint series when she led from start to finish in a personal-record 18:34.
Her focus has now turned to the Aug. 21 Women's Distance Festival 5K at Largo's Central Park, where the competition will be keen. Last year she finished 15th in 20:53.
"I'm just looking for a time in the 18:30 range there," said McClenathan, who turns 40 on Nov. 16, just before the Times Turkey Trot. "Turning 40 has been a motivating factor. Also, I'm looking forward to the Nov. 11 Columbus Marathon."
NOTES: Dan McClenathan, Amy's husband, also is an avid runner and marathoner. Their four children also run regularly.
Amy will find the competition at the Women's Festival 5K stiffer than she has encountered so far this summer. Last year's winner, Jacki Waller (18:12) of New Port Richey, is expected to return along with the "usual suspects," reported race director Denise Skinner of the West Florida Y Runners Club (WFYRC).
The suspects include last year's second- and third-place finishers, Maguire and Laure Blume of Pinellas Park. Other standouts figuring to push the pace include 1998 high school cross country champion Christa Benton, who competes for Keswick Christian; Mary Hanlon, 45, of St. Petersburg, one of the top masters competitors in the state; Phillips, who finished fifth last year; and Lisa Kothe of Clearwater and Elaine Nicholson of St. Petersburg.
The 8 a.m. women-only race will be preceded by an open 3K at 7:30. Runners may register at Feet First in St. Petersburg, Chainwheel Drive in Clearwater, or at the Largo Bayhead Complex on Seminole Boulevard.
The beach scene shifts to Sand Key Park for the second Summer Sundown Series race at 7:15 p.m. Friday. For information, call RacePlace magazine at (813) 874-7223.
NATIONAL SCENE: Keith Brantly of Fort Lauderdale, a winner at Gasparilla and a former WFYRC member, has been named to the U.S. marathon team that will compete at the World Championships in Seville, Spain, Aug. 28. The other four members of the U.S. team are Rod DeHaven, Eddy Hellebuyck, Jon Hume and Steve Swift.
The women's marathon, which will be held on the 29th, will have a U.S. team of Cindy Keeler, 41, of Lake Worth, Mary-Lynn Currier, Cindy James, Maria Trujillo, and 1996 Olympian Linda Somers Smith.
The 2000 Olympic Trials women's marathon has 157 qualifiers, with 1999 Disney Marathon winner Marina Jones of California the oldest at 47. The men's marathon, scheduled for Pittsburgh on May 7, has 75 qualifiers to date. The women's B standard is 2:50; the men's 2:22. The A standard _ all expenses paid _ is 2:42 for women and 2:20 for men.
The 2000 Disney Marathon and half-marathon fields are full.
APPOINTMENT: Running USA, a partner of USA Track & Field with a mission of elevating the sport of road racing in the nation, has hired Tom Begley of St. Petersburg as a sports marketing consultant and event producer. According to Running USA, Begley has a broad consulting background in new business start-ups, program design and implementation.
"Tom brings a wealth of sports marketing , promotion and management talent to Running USA," said Steve Edwards of Treasure Island, Running USA's chief executive officer.
TRAINING: Training programs for the Oct. 16 SouthTrust Running Festival begin on Aug. 19 at 6:30 p.m. from the St. Petersburg Family YMCA. Call Greg at 895-YMCA for details.
Training programs for the Nov. 25 Times Turkey Trot begin on Sept. 18 at 8 a.m. at John Chesnut Park and Taylor Park. For details, call Marc Skinner at 581-2676, or e-mail him at marcwineij.net.