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LARGO RACE GETS COMPETITORS READY

A small race in Largo last weekend served as preparation for a big race in Tampa this weekend for the men's and women's winners.

At the Caring Heart 5K, Jeff Weber, 24, a first-year science teacher and assistant track coach at Largo High, set out with a goal of 15:45 and won in a nearly precise 15:42. He's set to run his first long race Sunday in Tampa in the Gasparilla Half Marathon.

Kim Miles of Clearwater ran unchallenged, winning comfortably in 20:33. She'll compete in the Publix Super Markets Gasparilla 15K on Saturday. Last year she ran the scenic course in 1:08:40.

Weber, a former track and cross country standout at Hope College in Michigan, ran stride for stride with the Largo Packers' No. 1 harrier Gabe Ramos for 1.5 miles before pulling away the win by a wide margin. Ramos finished in 16:22. Teammate Thomas McGrath closed the gap over the last half-mile for third place in 16:30.

"That was the fastest 5K I've run since I moved here in August," said Weber, 6 feet 2 and 155 pounds. "I've never done a 15K before but I'm more anxious to step up to longer races such as the half marathon. My college track experience centered around the mile; I want to move up in distance."

Weber is moving up rapidly among Pinellas distance runners. At December's Say No to Drugs 10K, he finished a strong third behind Tyrone Bell of Lakeland and consistent area winner Lee Stephens of Tampa.

Miles ran unchallenged in the inaugural Caring Heart run despite having to cut back on her training in recent months to due a leg injury. Taylor Scott, 14, of St. Petersburg finished second in 25:16 in a field of 62.

The low-key race, held at the Palms of Largo, served as a benefit for the Caregiving Youth Project of Pinellas under the direction of Jeni Coticchio, executive director of the Caregivers Support Network, which runs the project.

Largo Mayor Pat Girard was there for opening remarks.

RACE WRAPUP: One second separated winner Jon Mott of St. Petersburg from runnerup Brian Burke (16:29) of Tampa at the Jan. 26 Run with the Nuns 5K in St. Petersburg. Ramos, Largo High's state championship qualifier last fall, was another two seconds behind Burke.

Mott, a former 800-meter specialist at Northeast High now at Webber International University, was the first Pinellas finisher (51:50) at the Gasparilla 15K last year. College teammate Austin Richmond finished second to Todd Snyder of Michigan. Saturday, Mott will run the 5K, reports Vikings coach Larry Rudisill.

At the Nuns race, Jeanne Townsend of St. Petersburg broke 20 minutes with a 19:59 effort for the women's title over Brianne Shoby (21:06) of Kenneth City and Kaley Matthews (21:09) of St. Petersburg.

- The 29th annual Flatlanders Challenge 10K in Brooksville had hometown favorite Drew Martucci breaking the finish-line tape in 34 minutes flat. Jon Docs of Tampa won the masters division in 40:44. Duncan Cameron of Palm Harbor not only prevailed in his 65-69 division, his time was faster than the winners of 25-29 through 60-64.

Three-time Gasparilla 15K winner Laura Drake repeated as the women's winner in 44:15, ahead of masters winner Kit Van Allan (47:24) of Palm Harbor.

In the 5K at Brooksville, Tyler Maier of Ridge Manor won in 17:24 with Albert Wieringa, 61, of St. Peterburg amazingly finishing first, 40 and over, in 19:57. Natalie Durrum of Spring Hill took the women's title in 21:22.

MORE GASPARILLA: Look for another close race at Gasparilla this weekend among last year's 1-2 finishers, Christa Benton and Melanie Peters. Last year they finished 1-2 in 54:27 and 54:41, respectively. Jacki Wachtel of Tarpon Springs, who finished third in 2006, is expecting in September and will not compete this year.

At last month's Disney Marathon, Peters surged at the 15-mile mark to win (2:47:29) the coveted title with Benton taking third. Since early January, Peters has gone on to win (17:47) a Track Shack Grand Prix 5K event in Orlando and run a social (easy) Miami Marathon in 3:14 for 13th place. After the race, Peters hung out with fellow Michigan native Brian Sell, who ran his way onto the 2008 Olympic marathon team at the November trials in New York City.

Peters, a grad student at USF St. Petersburg, did her undergraduate work at the University of Miami, where she excelled in the mile and 5K. She's a member of the Forerunners Club, training under the guidance of coach Joe Burgasser.

Asked if she was ready for a fast race Saturday, Peters said: "If I do improve upon last year's time, I would attribute it to the possibility of improved weather conditions and perhaps smarter race strategy."

NATIONAL HONORS: The March issue of Running Times again lists the top masters in the world for 2007. For example, Russian women swept the top three positions, ages 45-49.

However, three Pinellas men made their mark. Bill Riley, a St. Petersburg winter resident from Centerville, Mass., is first 70-74 posting a 10K time of 40:57, among other achievements.

Honorable mention was achieved by St. Petersburg's Albert Wieringa of the West Florida Y Runners Club in the 65-69 bracket, and Burgasser again cracked the elite field in the 65-69 group. He turns 70 on Sept. 13 where he'll be the poised for another top-three finish.

For those who have been around since the 1984 Olympics, Joan (Benoit) Samuelson, the marathon gold medalist, is listed at No. 1 among women 50-54. In 2007, she ran a 10K in 36:49. On April 20, she'll run the Olympic trials marathon in Boston.

THIS WEEKEND: The Gasparilla Health and Fitness Expo is at the Tampa Convention Center on Friday and Saturday.

FIFTY STATE MARATHONS:Jim Patton of the West Florida Y Runners will run his 45th state marathon in Oregon on May 4 with a goal of all the states by Dec. 31.

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