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Perfect pace set up Trot triumphs

Patience and perseverance plus talent and training.

These all helped Kevin Lyons achieve a long-term goal last Thursday morning - winning the Times Turkey Trot.

Lyons, 21, is a senior at Harvard by way of Clearwater Central Catholic and is a resident of Palm Harbor.

Whereas in past years elite runners would sometimes use the preliminary 5K event as a warmup for the 10K, Lyons had designs on a two-race sweep from the outset. As the opening race played out, Lyons opened a comfortable lead on the chase pack and eased onto the track at Clearwater High with a 40-second lead, cruising to the win in 15 minutes, 42 seconds.

"That (race) didn't take too much out of me because I didn't have to rely on a strong finishing kick. Furthermore, the weather was cool, not hot as it often has been at this race," Lyons said. "But I was prepared to sprint at the end of the 5K if I had to."

In the main event, Nathan Holden (Clearwater/University North Florida) took it hard from the outset and had about a 40-second lead at the 2-mile mark.

That's where Lyons remembered the words of caution from his father, Gary, just before the race: Run your own race, be patient and save your kick until the end.

"What was fortunate was that when Nathan took off only Lee Stephens went with him," said Lyons, a former state track champion in the 3,200 meters. "Usually there's a pack up ahead. I figured Nathan would come back to me but I didn't know what to expect from Stephens."

Lyons said Stephens kept throwing in surges between the 2.5- and 3.5-mile points that didn't affect his strategy. He didn't react.

Gradually, Lyons moved up, passing Stephens, last year's runnerup, at about Mile 4 and set his sights on Holden.

"What was encouraging for me was seeing Nathan glancing over his should occasionally," Lyons said. "That told me he was concerned and gave me more confidence. When we hit Druid Street at about Mile 5, I was finally able to catch up with him. We had a brief exchange - 'nice race' - but no chatting because we were both hurting."

Lyons widened the gap without resorting to a sprint. His margin was only eight seconds winning in 32:42.

Lyons, who ran in the No. 2 position on the Harvard cross country team as a junior, opted to run on his own this fall, training for January's Disney Marathon and concentrating on his studies as a economics major. His career goal is to return to Raymond James Financial, where he worked the past two summers as an analyst in the real estate banking program.

Disney will be his third marathon. He won the Wakefield (Mass.) Marathon in 2005 in 2:42 and wilted in the heat at Boston in April at the 30K mark while on pace for a 2:29 marathon. At Disney, his goal is 2:35, aiming for the family marathon record.

His father, a Clearwater attorney, holds that record of 2:38 set at Boston while he was an undergraduate at nearby Brandeis University.

NOTABLES: St. Petersburg's Christa Benton defended her women's title in 35:56, good for ninth overall, in the fastest women's time since Mary Level-Menton clocked 34:42 in 1997. Menton, 43, a nine-time Trot winner, finished third just behind Laura Drake of St. Petersburg.

- Benton, 22, after winning, could have shouted: "I'm going to Walt Disney World!" since she'll be making her marathon debut there on Jan. 7. She graduates from USF in December with a degree in music education.

Entering December, Benton has compiled a sterling record for the year, winning all of her races except one. In April at the SunTrust Miles for Moffitt 5-miler, she finished second to Beth Old of St. Petersburg.

- Drake, a three-time Gasparilla winner between 1991 and 2001, accomplished a twin-win feat similar to Lyons' sweep. In 2001, she toed the starting line for the Gasparilla, also winning the women's 5K in 17:28.

- The best women's dual runner this year was Kailand Cosgrove, a sophomore at Tarpon Springs High. She finished second in the 5K and sixth in the 10K, fresh off a third-place finish at the recent state meet.

- Palm Harbor's Jeff Delie won his third age-group title in record-breaking time. Delie, 50, representing the host West Florida Y Runners Club, won the 50-and-over title in 36:26, good for ninth man among the field of 2,397 overall. (The 5K had 9,658 registered and the mile 9,658 for a record total of 15,872.) The previous record (37:05) was held by Ian Jackson of St. Petersburg.

- Coach Joe Burgasser left his 5K public address announcer position to toe the 10K starting line. At 68, he finished first over 60 and fourth, 50-and-over, in 40:12, good for 47th male.

- Former 40-49 record holder Jim Keppeler, 58, earned a top 100 coffee cup, finishing 100th in 42:43. His female counterpart was Christine Arbask, 48, of St. Petersburg, 100th in 48:56. The top 100 finishers in the 5K and 10K are listed at www.coolrunning.com.

REUNION ATMOSPHERE: The annual Turkey Trot is a family affair and provides an opportunity for veteran road warriors to renew friendships.

Willie Roth sported his 1980 Trot T-shirt and congratulated an old friend, John Matthews, 49, also of St. Petersburg, on his 96th-place finish in the 5K, good for a souvenir cup. In a larger sense, everyone who participated were winners, especially the hundreds of volunteers who donated their time and skills.

SATURDAY: The Ride & Run with the Stars will include a 5K at 8:30 a.m. at Fort DeSoto Park. Call (727) 582-6301. At John Chesnut Park in East Lake, the Lakefront Classic 5K starts at 8 a.m. Call 772-9622.

- The Dec. 9 Lightning Reindeer Run 5K from the St. Pete Times Forum has a stellar field. It includes Cox, Delie, Dror Vaknin, Jacki Wachtel and age-group standouts Burgasser and Don Ardell, both 68. The event hotline is (813) 301-6590.

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