Even though Milton Lyons expected the field for Saturday's third annual Citrus Summer Showdown 5K at Whispering Pines Park to be larger than in past years, he is overwhelmed by the event's growth.
At last count, 240 runners had registered.
"I only ordered 200 T-shirts," said Lyons, a race organizer. "There are going to be about 100 runners without one. It's too late to get any more."
Lyons expects more than 300 competitors, and he said the race will have an incredibly deep field. He went so far as to boldly proclaim the event as "one of the best 5Ks in Florida history."
Lyons, 20, a Florida Southern sophomore and 2002 Citrus graduate, conceived the idea for the race in 2001. He wanted a strong local run that helped better prepare the county's high school athletes for the fall cross-country season, and at the same time give the area's other top runners the kind of competition he said many craved.
After Colon Joiner, then president of the Citrus Road Runners Club, agreed to help coordinate the event, Lyons posted messages about the Showdown on www.flrunners.com, a website devoted to runners.
The event attracted statewide interest, and the first edition had 118 participants. That number grew to 193 last year. Lyons returned from a recent four-day trip to Orlando to find e-mails from 60 people inquiring about the race.
"I was like, "Uh-oh, it's getting big,' " Lyons said.
The field will include college runners from Central Florida, Florida, Florida Southern, Jacksonville University, Notre Dame and the University of Tampa not to mention participants from several high schools, some in South Florida.
The top locals include former Lecanto and Notre Dame standout Sean McManus, the 2001 Summer Showdown champion. McManus won a state cross-country title as a prep junior and was a two-time state champ in the 3,200. He was All-Big East in cross country at Notre Dame.
Former Citrus state champion Cory Presnick, a Florida junior, also is registered.
In the women's division, 16-year-old Texas prep star Tara Gruber is one to watch. She has clocked a 4:55 mile.
Lyons said the field is so strong that his brother, Tony, the 2002 Times All-Citrus/Hernando cross-country athlete of the year and a Florida Southern signee, will have a tough time cracking the top 10.
"It's a top-level competition," Milton Lyons said.
And one he hopes will continue to grow.
"If everything goes smooth, all this is going to get bigger," Lyons said. "And people will want to come back."
_ Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 860-7337 or online at niebuhrsptimes.com.
SHOWDOWN 5K GLANCE
WHERE: Whispering Pines Park (Picnic Pavilion) in Inverness.
COURSE: The race winds through a hilly trail beneath the trees deep within the park. Some of the event is on pavement, but most of the Showdown is run on dirt. At times, the sand can be soft.
WEATHER: At race time, the temperature is expected to be in the high 70s, but with high humidity and only a light wind. There is a 40 percent chance of rain.
INFORMATION: Call (352) 220-3824 or 795-1765, or go online to www.citrusroadrunners.org.
_ KEITH NIEBUHR