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Couple that runs together gets paid together

Husband and wife Brian and Kayla Atkinson embrace after finishing the half-marathon; he’s the runnerup and she’s the champ.
Husband and wife Brian and Kayla Atkinson embrace after finishing the half-marathon; he’s the runnerup and she’s the champ.
Published Feb. 21, 2016

TAMPA — He could have attempted a job indigenous to the typical hungry college student: Pizza delivery, Uber driver, maybe a gig at the mall.

Brian Atkinson chose a less conventional route, one spanning slightly more than 13 miles.

The 23-year-old USF med-school student pocketed $1,500 with a runnerup finish (1:07.39) in the half-marathon at Sunday morning's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic.

A little more in the tank, and Atkinson, who essentially shared the lead for roughly 10 miles, might have held off winner Austin (A.J.) Richmond and earned another $500.

"I tried to hang in there," Atkinson said, "and I was definitely hurting when he put in that move with about 3 miles to go or so."

Such is the ebb and flow of elite racing. But understanding why Atkinson didn't possess a final kick becomes easier when you hear the kicker.

Only eight days before, the former Melbourne High distance-running extraordinaire completed the first marathon of his life — at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles.

Oh, those wacky college kids.

"Well, me and my wife are both in grad school (at USF)," Atkinson said, "so the money's a little tight."

Sunday brought a bit more security. Thirteen minutes after he crossed the Bayshore Boulevard finish line, Kayla Atkinson, whom Brian began dating when both were Duke runners and undergraduates, completed her wire-to-wire dominance to claim the women's title and the accompanying $2,000 purse.

"It's a pretty good gig to make some money," said Kayla, who won 11 distance-running state titles at Melbourne's Holy Trinity Episcopal. "So that was definitely the motivation."

But even motivation has its limits. By many accounts, Brian Atkinson transcended them by running Sunday.

The prior weekend's Trials — for which Atkinson qualified with a sub-1:05 half-marathon time — was staged in arid, mid-70-degree southern California heat. The event so sapped Babson Park's Jon Mott, the top Florida finisher, that he opted not to try for a third consecutive Gasparilla 15-kilometer title this year.

"It's pretty difficult," said 10,000-meter Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan, who collapsed at the finish line after placing third among women at the trials.

"It just depends what kind of effort you had to put forth. But yeah, typically you won't see many marathoners running a half the next weekend. That's definitely an accomplishment."

Told it was Atkinson's first marathon, Flanagan's tone segued from impressed to incredulous.

"Oh, well, then yeah, that's really surprising for sure," she said.

Atkinson's better half wasn't quite as shocked.

Kayla and Brian were only "acquaintances" while growing up on Florida's east coast, but she was aware of his sparkling prep career (six total state titles). In June 2014, three weeks before their wedding in Durham, he placed 14th in the men's 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Oregon.

"I know everyone says, 'Oh, it's a marathon,' but I see him training every day," said Kayla, who is pursuing a graduate degree in social work. "I knew he wasn't gonna be like, trying to run a (personal record), but he recovers pretty fast so I knew that he could run decent."

Decent? On a morning devoid of wind and clouds, Atkinson turned heads.

Not to mention a profit.

"After I finished (the marathon) I was like, 'I don't know if I'm gonna be able to walk again much less run," ' Atkinson said. "This morning I woke up, I still didn't feel good, but I thought I could get third or fourth and still get something, so why not try?"

Contact Joey Knight at jknightsr@gmail.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.