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Temps warmer, crowd smaller for St. Petersburg Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon

Tabitha Jones, left, gets some last-minute help from friend Jana Alexander, both of Tampa, before the road race began at Tropicana Field.
Published Feb. 11, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG

When 2013 began, Yolanda Murphy-Johnson resolved to run 13 half marathons, a goal that makes getting a gym membership look wimpy.

On Sunday, Murphy-Johnson of Clermont was one of thousands of runners and walkers who poured into the city for the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, an event that city officials first welcomed last year in hopes it would provide a major boost to hotels and businesses.

Organizers said 6,500 people were scheduled to compete in the road race this year, which began at 7:30 a.m. at Tropicana Field and wound its way through St. Petersburg, ending at North Shore Park. About 1,000 people registered to run a 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) race — what organizers referred to as the "mini marathon" — but most signed up for the 13.1-mile feat of endurance.

The race also drew about 700 local volunteers to the downtown area, according to organizers.

The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon series, which is put on in cities around the country by the Competitor Group, is known for its pace-setting, fatigue-erasing music.

Band stages were erected at each of the mile markers along the route and local musicians like WhyteBeard, from Clearwater, and the St. Petersburg College Steel Drum Ensemble played popular songs as participants ran past. Jamaican singer Sean Kingston headlined the event.

"It really keeps you pumped up," said Keith Metcalfe, a runner from Windsor, Ontario. "It was so awesome having them play all these familiar songs."

Organizers said attendance this year was down slightly from the year before, when the race had about 7,000 finishers. Participants also noted a smaller crowd.

"I'm going to have to say there are fewer people here this year," said Erin Santella, 43, of Palm Harbor, who also participated in 2012, when it was so cold that some runners remembered seeing band members wearing gloves.

A purple tutu hugged her middle. "It's my talisman," she said.

When St. Petersburg city officials first boasted that the Rock 'n' roll Half Marathon was coming to town, they projected it would draw 12,000 to 15,000 runners. The actual number was closer to half of that estimate, but that has not diminished elected officials' attraction to the race.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster attended the event Sunday, as did City Council members Jeff Danner and Wengay Newton.

Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater has a three-year contract for the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon and has pledged to spend $100,000 for each race.

Jon Phillips, a 28-year old from Brooklyn, N.Y., finished first in this year's race, posting a time of 1 hour, 14 minutes, 23 seconds.

Natasha Yaremczuk, 32, of Canada placed first among female entrants, finishing with a time of 1:20:03.

Among the group of runners leading the pack was Austin Dotson, a 15-year-old boy from Land O'Lakes, who finished in 1:34:08, surprising some of his competitors.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779.

Editor's note

This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater has a three-year contract for the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. A story Monday gave an incorrect party to the contract.

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