The half-marathon Sunday came down to a foot race between out-of-towners, but that didn't make it any less interesting to the fans cheering the close finishes _ particularly in the women's division.
Shannon Hovey of Connecticut won in 1 hour, 22 minutes, 55 seconds, but only by a step over Utah's Sarah Kramer, who pressed Hovey all the way down the stretch.
"I knew Sarah was right on my heels," Hovey, 32, said. "I'm just glad I had enough stamina to finish strong."
Hovey ran for the first time since October after severely straining her leg in the Chicago Marathon and was not only pleased with the victory, but with the way her body held up.
"I ran the first mile today in 5:59 and that gave me the confidence to go all out," she said.
The first to break the tape in the half-marathon was 37-year-old Mark Bell of Sudbury, Mass., who finished in 1:18:24, pulling away in the final mile from Chad Wilkinson, 29, of West Palm Beach. Wilkinson finished nine seconds behind.
"Chad really set the pace for the race, and I was lucky to beat him," Bell said. "I felt when I got to that curve at Bayshore and Inman and I had taken the lead that I had a good shot at winning."
MASTERS MAKE NOISE: The 40-and-over set proved this weekend that getting a little older doesn't mean getting slower.
In Sunday's marathon, Lisa Valentine, 42, placed second among women in 2:57:15, just a day after placing seventh among women in the 15K at 58:02.
Kramer is 43. And Oregon's Rosa Gutierrez, 40, won Saturday's 15K.
On the men's side, Rich Golden, 44, of Englewood placed third overall in the half-marathon at 1:19:06, and Palm Harbor's Jeffrey Delie, 47, was seventh overall in the marathon, finishing in 2:45:55.
DOING ALL THREE: There were 68 brave _ some might say insane _ people who competed in all three events (5K, 15K and marathon) on Saturday and Sunday.
There were 79 others who ran the 5K, 15K and half-marathon.
The winner of the combined 5K, 15K and marathon ordeal was Jason C. Elliott, 33, of Aspen, Colo., who ran the 5K in 20:53, the 15K in 1:04:58 and the marathon in 3:09:54. Elliott's combined time was 4:35:45.
The winner of the 5K, 15K and half-marathon effort was Tampa's Fred Dorsey, 47, who ran the 5K in 18:44, the 15K in 56:45 and the half-marathon in 1:25:23. His combined time was 2:40:52.
NUMBERS UP: This year there were about 15,000 participants in the 5K, 15K and marathon combined, about 3,500 ahead of last year's total.
The main difference appears to be the date.
Last year the event was held on the first weekend after the new year because of a scheduling conflict with the Tampa Convention Center, home to the Health Expo that runs in conjunction with the races.
Next year's races are scheduled for Feb. 5-6.
LOVING THE COURSE: On a bright, cool day, everybody raved about the conditions and the marathon course, including the winners, Clermont's Bea Marie Altieri and Kenya's David Maritim.
The one thing both winners wouldn't mind seeing, however, is a faster field.
"I would like to run this course when I could be in really good shape and compete against more talent," Maritim said. "I loved the course, it is nice and flat and well-organized.
"I think some really fast times could be run here. I would like to see how fast I could run it under the right conditions."
Altieri suggested more prize money would bring faster runners, who by just being in the field would make everybody better.
"Knowing that great runners are competing makes it more exciting, makes it a bigger event," Altieri said. "I know I wouldn't win prize money if the great runners were there, but that's okay.
"Having the talent makes you run faster. It just raises everybody's level."
Race director Susan Harmeling said plans are in the works to raise prize money for the marathon and draw more participation overall.
_ SCOTT PURKS, JIM REESE