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CLUB OR COURSE, WEISS IN CHARGE

Leadership.

Michael Weiss, president of the Clearwater-based West Florida Y Runners Club, took his role to a higher level Sunday at the Max Bayne Half-Marathon at Fort De Soto Park.

Weiss, 44, in his final tuneup for the 111th Boston Marathon on April 16, took the early lead in the 13.1-mile race and had a steady pace to run unchallenged to the finish. His time of one hour, 20 minutes, 52 seconds was more than five minutes better than the runnerup, Alejandro Pinedo of Altamonte Springs.

"There was one runner in front of me early in the race but he peeled off near the 3-mile mark since he was running the concurrent 5K event," said Weiss, a Clearwater gastroenterologist. "I continued to try to run an even pace and keep my form; with no one pushing me I just ran a comfortable pace."

Weiss' training approach was somewhat unorthodox. He spent the week of the event skiing with family in Colorado, arriving home the day before the event.

At Boston, Weiss will try to erase a bad memory and seek a higher goal.

Last year he went there favoring a injury yet hopeful he could hold up for 26.2 miles and improve on his time of 2:47:22 run at the 2005 Chicago Marathon, good for 241st in a field of over 20.000.

It wasn't to be. A few minutes after streaking out of the starting blocks in Hopkinton, he was limping back to the village center with a hip injury and looking for a ride to Boston.

"That was a terrible feeling," said Weiss, who ran Boston in 2:52 in 2002. "I can remember the puzzled expressions on people's faces wondering what happened to me."

Weiss didn't start running until seven years ago when he began to notice a series of physician colleagues being struck with heart attacks. He got the message and began moderate jogging, which led to longer running, then friendly competition.

"There are things in life you can control and others you can't," Weiss said referring to physical fitness. "If you do something about the things you can control you not only enhance your chances for longevity but also the quality of your life span."

- Weiss will host the West Florida club's annual awards dinner Saturday night in Largo at Jorge's Seafood Grille from 6-10 p.m. For reservations, call Mary Grace Ritter at 791-6403.

BOSTON PACING NOTE: St. Petersburg's Christa Benton, who also will wear a West Florida Running Club singlet at Boston in two weeks, would benefit if she could team up with Weiss as they both have the same 2:47 goal. She is aiming for that 6:23- per-mile pace to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials.

But they will be assigned to different starting pens with difficulty finding each other on the narrow 20-foot wide street leading out of Hopkinton. The course is slightly favorably pitched for the first few miles but that seductively lures novices to a pace they can't maintain and often leads to a miserable final 5 miles after peaking at Boston College.

Benton won the Gulf Beaches Half Marathon in 1:21:57 in December and debuted at 26.2 miles at Disney a month later in 2:57:25.

- Karol Withrow, 41, of Safety Harbor not only won the women's division at the Max Bayne race, but claimed third overall. The former University of North Carolina track standout clocked 1:26:05, well ahead of runnerup Rachel Winter (1:28:25) of Bradenton.

RYKA IRON GIRL: Melanie Peters of St. Petersburg moved up one place from last year to claim first at the all-women's 10K in Clearwater on Sunday. Only Grace Van de Grift, a 14-year-old phenom from Valrico, could stay with her during the early going over Clearwater Memorial Bridge, but the teenager was only running the 5K event so the brisk pace was tolerable.

Peters won in 37:36, averaging 6:03 per mile, while Van de Grift won her event in 20:02.

Peters said the Iron Girl race was special for several reasons.

"I've know a couple of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer lately," she said, referring to the fact the national series of events serves as a cancer fund-raiser. "The cause is more important to me than winning."

Kailand Cosgrove, the Times' 2006 high school cross country runner of the year, finished second in 41:25 followed by two 48-year-old veterans: Elaine Nicholson (42:10) and Judy Maguire (42:15). Clearwater's Sharon Beltrandelrio (42:24) and Leslie Beauchamp (44:18) of St. Petersburg rounded out the Pinellas sweep of the top six.

Beth Turner Pierpont and Jordan Pierpont of Charlotte won the mother-daughter team title with a combined time of 1:42:45.

Tracy Parker of Odessa finished second in the 5K for the second straight year, finishing in 20:20 on the challenging course with a strong headwind on the return trip to Coachman Park. Last year Christy Phillips of St. Petersburg won the 5K in 19:28.

Dunedin's Karolina Skourti finished fourth (21:36), Karina Gardano (22:16) of St. Petersburg, sixth; and Alicia Aldridge, 14, of Palm Harbor eighth in 22:45.

Meka Taulbee, 33, of Dunedin was burdened somewhat but still finished with a smile. In addition to pushing her 22-month old son in a Jogger, she was carrying another "passenger." She is six months pregnant with another boy.

"It gets a little tougher on the hills," Taulbee said, "but it's all for a good cause. I've known a few women who have died of cancer."

For further results, go to www.irongirl.com.

WALL SPRINGS PARK 5K: In Palm Harbor, Matt Welch of New Port Richey won in 20:51 with Jennifer Sullivan of Safety Harbor taking the women's title in 22:39. In the kids mile, Kily McDonald (9:45) of Palm Harbor and (9:45) Dunedin's Hannah Langevin (9:58) were the big winners.

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