TAMPA — As the sun and its accompanying humidity rose over Hillsborough Bay early Saturday morning, a glaring contrast of petite and palatial materialized along Bayshore Boulevard.
Striding past the waterside thoroughfare’s mansions and condominium towers was Christina Welsh, a 95-pound USF graduate student whose vertical challenges are offset by velocity.
In fact, Welsh’s stature in the annual Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic is becoming more imposing by the year.
On a morning when race-day temperatures eclipsed 70 degrees shortly after 7 a.m., the 26-year-old New Jersey native finished as the 15-kilometer race’s top female placer for the second year in a row. Her time of 55 minutes, 24 seconds was roughly 40 seconds slower than her 2022 finish.
Which stands to reason on another sultry Saturday.
“I mean, the weather’s hot, but that’s kind of what you expect in Florida,” said Welsh, who resides in St. Petersburg and is working on her PhD in marine biology. “It was warm last year, too.”
In terms of this event, which had no cap on participants for the first time since 2020, Welsh just may be heating up.
Saturday morning’s triumph was her third Gasparilla victory in a row, including last year’s half-marathon. She is scheduled to try and defend that half-marathon title Sunday as she prepares for the Ottawa Marathon on May 28.
“Hopefully it’s colder than this (in Canada),” Welsh said.
On Saturday, she broke away from her nearest competitors at the race’s turn, where Bayshore Boulevard meets Gandy. Welsh finished 13 seconds ahead 34-year-old Becky Dunkel, who won the event in 2016 and 2019 (as Becky Howarth); and 33 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Kristen Tenaglia, 38, the 2020 champion.
As bay area residents, all earned part of the $10,000 prize purse: Welsh collected $2,000 while Tampa’s Dunkel and Seminole’s Tenaglia won $1,500 and $750, respectively.
“It’s always hit or miss here,” said Tenaglia, 38, who ran for Miami of Ohio. “Three years ago, it was, like, freezing. This year, it’s warm and humid. But we’re all kind of used to running in this weather, so if you came from up north, you’re probably really struggling.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.