TAMPA — The last time she triumphantly crossed the finish line of the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, Becky Dunkel went out fast on a mild morning and won by more than two minutes.
That was three years, a few nagging injuries and one milestone birthday ago.
“I took a lot of time off last year, but it was a good mental break and physical break,” said Dunkel, a newlywed who won the 2016 race as Becky Howarth.
“I started back training in September, and I’ve just been really careful doing all the rehab exercises and feeling really good.”
Her comeback culminated on a toasty Tampa morning when temperatures had reached 69 degrees by the 6:40 start time. Maintaining a pace just below six minutes, Dunkel, 30, earned her second Gasparilla crown, finishing in 55 minutes, 49 seconds.
As a Tampa resident, Dunkel, an actuary, earned the $2,000 first-place prize. Kristen Tenaglia, a 34-year-old veteran local racer from Seminole, finished second (57:14).
Defending champ Paige Howard and 2018 runnerup Jacki Wachtel, who each have two children (Howard, 31, won last year’s race while two months’ pregnant), finished fifth and fourth, respectively.
“Overall, I’m happy with the run,” said Tampa’s Howard, whose 58:23 finish was 68 seconds off her victorious 2018 time.
“It was very hot and I just didn’t have the kick in me this year. Now I just hope I have enough energy left to chase (2-year-old) Jackson and take care of (5-month-old) Hope.”
A native of Manchester, England, who competed at Butler University in Indianapolis, Dunkel called Saturday’s race weather “brutal.” New Port Richey’s Wachtel, 39, called it “a little warm,” but said the virtual absence of any headwind helped.
“I’ll take it,” Wachtel said.
With Wachtel and Howard among those in pursuit, and with husband David (the couple was married July 20) observing as close as possible from his bike, Dunkel managed a dominant — if not brisk — performance.
Her time was 62 seconds slower than her triumphant 2016 effort.
“I think I’m in shape to run in the 54s, but just under 56 is good for today,” said Dunkel, currently training for the Boston Marathon.
“It was hot, and very humid. It was just a case of who could hang on the longest.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.