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Benton casts eye on Disney event

Christa Benton is peaking toward a major challenge.

After running a women's course-record time at Sunday's Gulf Beaches Half Marathon, the five-time state high school champion will meet with her coach, Lance Lipham of Keswick Christian School, and plan her schedule leading up to Jan. 7 when she debuts at the Disney Marathon.

Benton, 22, won the women's division comfortably on Sunday in one hour, 21 minutes, 57 seconds, finishing second overall to Mike Mollad of Sarasota. Her time established a women's record for the course, eclipsing Christy Phillips' 1:22:26 set last year.

Benton, who has won the past two Times Turkey Trots, is hesitant to predict how fast she'll run at Disney.

"I like the longer distances," Benton said after a 6-mile warmdown run at Taylor Park after cruising to the finish unchallenged. "I have no idea what a realistic goal for me would be for Disney. I know the importance of pacing, but will rely on Coach Lipham to guide me to a realistic goal. I'm confident God will be with me giving me the strength to do my very best."

Lipham said it's too early for Benton to start thinking about goals but there are three out there. One is an easy Boston qualifying time of 3:40. Another is three hours. A third is the 2008 Olympic Trials B standard of 2:48. That equates to a 6:25-per-mile pace.

Russell Acker, 36, of Lakewood Ranch ran with Benton during the first 6 miles of the half marathon from Redington Beach.

"We were clipping off the miles and then she took off," Acker said. "I had to let her go; I couldn't keep up with her. She's awesome."

NOTES: Duncan Cameron, 64, of Palm Harbor, edged Chuck Roose of Wesley Chapel for first place, 50-and-over, with a personal-record time of 1:29:38.

- The top 40-plus woman was Lisa Kothe of Clearwater in 1:34:03. Barbara Eckes of Oldsmar was first in the grandmasters (50-plus) division in 1:47:25.

- The men's course record of 1:15:41, set by Clearwater's Keith Sawayda in 2004, still stands.

- Sunday's winner, Mollad, will be looking for a time in the low 2:40-range at the Disney Marathon. He clocked 2:42:54 there in January. Mary Ann Protz finished third woman in 2006 in 3:00:40.

- Third-place grandmasters finisher John Voorhis of St. Petersburg used the race to tune up for this weekend's Jacksonville Marathon. It will be his 150th at the standard distance of 26.2 miles.

- Clearwater's Terry Repp also ran a race Friday in Cape Coral. At the State Senior Games, she won her 50-54 age division in 24:13.

- Half Marathon director Chris Lauber upped the finish line amenities by arranging for Macaroni Grill to cater a buffet luncheon.

OTHER RACES: Noora Alidina, 50, of Palm Harbor, ran away with the overall first-place award at Saturday-Sunday's Ancient Oaks Ultra (101.5 miles) in Titusville among a field of 29 invited contestants. Alidina said the stillness along the rugged trail run was highlighted by watching the space shuttle launching. After the event, she did not have time to linger. She drove home to take her son to an afternoon soccer game.

- Saturday's Tampa Bay Lightning Reindeer Run 5K from the Times Forum drew a strong field of 556, the fastest of whom were Lee Stephens of Temple Terrace and St. Petersburg's Melanie Peters. He clocked a swift 15:54 and she won in 17:53.

Second- and third-place men were Brian St. Onge of Tampa in 16:27 and 16:35, respectively, and Jacki Wachtel (19:01) and Grace Van De Grift, 13, of Valrico in 19:10.

- Wachtel, just coming back from an injury, won the women's division of the Lakefront Classic 5K in Palm Harbor on Dec. 2 in 19:10, well ahead of runnerup (21:57) Carol Bancroft, 47, of Safety Harbor.

Tyler Greathouse, 15, of Palm Harbor, was the overall winner in 17:16, followed by Sergy Walchiv, also of Palm Harbor, in 17:23.

- At the Dec. 2 Run With the Stars 5K at Fort De Soto Park, the age gap between the winner and runnerup was wide. Still, Jason Clayborn, 22, beat 60-year-old Albert Wieringa by only 10 seconds in 18:27. Wieringa finished first, 60-64, at the recent Chicago Marathon and seventh on Sunday in Largo.

Christine Gentile of St. Petersburg was the first of 71 women (19:28) at the Stars race followed by Palm Harbor's Kit Van Allan in 20:11.

- At Clermont, Eric Leon of Oldsmar won (1:45:26) his 25-29 age division in the Gem of the Hills Half Marathon. Jim Hummel of Tarpon Springs settled for second of 17, ages 45-49, in 1:31:43.

- A few thousand joyful runners, joggers and walkers participated in Wednesday night's Boley's Jingle Bell Run from the Pier.

ON THE HORIZON: The 18th annual Holiday Classic 10K/5K is set for Saturday at 8 a.m. starting at the entrance to the Memorial Causeway Bridge to Clearwater Beach. The onsite entry fee is $20. The post-race breakfast at the Fort Harrison Hotel includes pancakes. Prize money totals $1,000.

Brooksville's John Emerson and St. Petersburg's Maria Ghizzoni were last year's 10K winners. Louis Rufo and 12-year-old Mallory White of Lakeland are expected to defend their 5K titles.

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