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Title and diploma in one fell swoop

Published Feb. 4, 2008

Is there a connection between being in a hurry and running a fast time in a 10K race?

Based on Christa Benton's experience at the recent Say No to Drugs race in Clearwater, the answer is a resounding "yes."

Benton, 22, of St. Petersburg was anxious to run one of the few races she finished second in last year, which had an 8 a.m. start, but she also had a higher goal that morning - graduating at 9 a.m. from the University of South Florida.

Benton said she knew she couldn't make it to USF's Sun Dome by 9 but with her mother waiting for her at the finish line with the car ready to go, she thought she could still get there in time to graduate and shake hands with president Judy Genshaft. Benton successfully accomplished her mission.

Normally a fast starter, Benton flew over the new Clearwater Memorial Bridge in a swift five minutes, 20 seconds with only four men in front of her, one of them running the concurrent 5K race.

"I meant to start fast," said Benton, who entered with a personal-best 35:37 for the distance set in a track meet at Stanford when she was a USF sophomore. "I didn't feel any particular effect from attacking the bridge at the outset. I guess the key to my fitness for this race is the hard training I've been doing getting ready for Disney."

Benton went on to win in 35:32, averaging 5:43 per mile. She finished fourth overall behind only Temple Terrace's Lee Stephens (32:32), Sun City Center's Rikki Hacker (32:44) and Winter Park's Austin Mercadante (35:08).

Benton said the graduation ceremony wasn't particularly important to her but it was to her family. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in music education.

As for her training for Disney on Jan. 7, the primarily 5K/10K runner has been following a progressive plan since early fall, mapped out by her former high school coach, Lance Lipham of Keswick Christian. The buildup ended Saturday with a 23-mile training run accompanied by Lipham on his bicycle.

"I'm excited about Disney," Benton said. "I know it's going to be a challenge running an even pace, but I'll try to do it. And I know the last 3 miles will be tough. But I'm ready knowing I have the support of a lot of friends who have told me they know I'll do well. I thrive on that positive support."

TWIN WINNERS AT HOLIDAY CLASSIC: Larry and Jackie Yost of Treasure Island won their 75-79 age divisions on Dec. 16 in Clearwater. He won the 10K in 55:55 and Jackie was first (41:34) in the 5K. The veteran members of the St. Pete Mad Dogs Triathlon Club hosted their annual training run Christmas morning in St. Pete Beach.

JACKSONVILLE MARATHON: John Voorhis of St. Petersburg ran his 150th marathon Dec. 17 in Jacksonville, finishing in 3:49:33. His wife, Jill, took third in her 45-49 age division in 3:38:44. Both already qualified for the 2007 Boston Marathon. Joe Burgasser of the Forerunners won the men's 65-69 group in 3:14:18 and first overall based on age-graded scoring. Bill Castleman of Seminole qualified for Boston in that same age group, running 4:12:14.

Lisa Vaill won the women's masters division in 3:01:09, followed by Kristine Cox of the Forerunners in 3:08:44, good for first, 40-44.

REGGAE HALF MARATHON: Pam McCann of Treasure Island finished fifth out of 86 women in her 40-49 age division at the 13.1-miler in Negril, Jamaica, on Dec. 2. Her time was 1:48:40.

RECORDS: The American record for 20K (12.4 miles) fell in October in Hungary when Ryan Hall crossed in 57:54 at the World Championships. The women's world 20K record was set by Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands when she won the women's division of the same race in Hungary. She lowered it to 1:03:21. Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie eclipsed three world marks in 2006: the 20K in 55:28, the half-marathon in 58:55 and the 25K in 1:11:37. Compatriot Meseret Defar ran 12.5 laps (5K) around the track in 14:24 to set a women's world record.

RUNNERS OF THE YEAR: Gebrselassie, who also won (2:05:56) the Berlin Marathon during the calendar year that Running Times used for the rankings, only finished 10th. Martin Lei of Kenya took first based on his Atlanta Peachtree 10K win, among others. Kiplagat was named the world's No. 1 woman for 2006. The top Americans were Meb Keflezighi and Katie McGregor. Keflezighi won the Gate River Run 15K in Jacksonville in March and McGregor was third among women behind Blake Russell and Jen Rhines.