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Crate remains the big winner in Gasparilla races

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Published:   |   Updated: March 4, 2013 at 05:04 PM

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TAMPA -

The Gaparilla half marathon is this morning. Jessica Crate, the two-time defending women’s champion and course record holder, will not repeat.

On purpose.

“I just want to give back to this event,” Crate said.

Just before 6:45 Saturday morning, she stood at the start line for the 15K race, holding the sign she’d carry all race: 7:00, for seven-minute miles, the pace Crate will run in all four Gasparilla races this weekend. She can go much faster, but won’t. She wants people to hang with her.

She’s a designated race pacer, urging runners along, like other pacers here at Gaspiralla, who know they can do better, but choose to help. Still, Crate, a defending champ throttling down, is a special story.

“I love this weekend,” said Crate, 27, who lives in Satellite Beach, Fla. “It’s the culture here. This whole town comes together. It’s inspiring ... My goal, in everything, is leave a legacy.”

So she ran two races Saturday and will do two today, about 30 miles total. She’ll push those who fall in with her, talking to them, encouraging them.

But one more thing for today’s half-marathon champion:

“I’m putting out a challenge,” Crate said with a grin. “Whoever wins this race, if you break my record, I’m coming back next year. We’re going to break it again, and I’m going to win.”

We were about to say she’s a Type A personality.

“I’m triple-A,” Crate said.

She was born a month premature _ she was already on the run. She has dual citizenship, having attended middle school and high school in Canada. Crate didn’t play one sport, but all of them, besides president’s list, cheerleading, dance and three instruments (clarinet, saxophone, piano). She didn’t run cross country and track for one college, but two, first Arizona State before transferring to Florida State, where she graduated in 1997.

She has her own marketing company, trains other runners, is a personal development coach, gave up a career in pharmaceutical sales to teach healthy, drug-free living and with a friend has created a nonprofit to fight lifestyle-related diseases by establishing athletic groups in low income communities. And sometime last month, Jessica Crate reportedly slept.

“I don’t ever want to slow down,” she said.

But here she is this weekend, doing just that.

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight between Crate and Gasparilla. In 2010, Crate’s first Gasparilla half marathon, she was leading the women’s field when she and a group of men made a wrong turn because the Gasparilla car leading them made a wrong turn. When they regained the actual course, there were women in front of Crate. She ran down all but one to finish second. She was livid that day. It didn’t last.

“Life’s too short to stay angry _ you just get even.”

She won the half marathon in 2011 and 2012, so there.

“I like to win at everything I do,” Crane said.

Not this weekend.

She says it goes back to how was raised, a Christian home, mission trips to Haiti and Brazil and, while at FSU, a journey to Cameroon, where she coached, helped build homes, schools and roads. You want to leave a legacy.

“I’ve run the half (marathon) here for three years,” Crate said. “I’ve won it the last two. I have the course record. What do I do with that? Well, something different. This year, I’m all about giving back.”

In the second race Saturday, after Crate and her group crossed the 5K finish line, she stayed there to hand out high fives. She congratulated Logan Carmichael, a 17-year-old from outside Toronto.

“Girl, way to push through it. You were awesome,” Crate told her.

Briana Whaley of Seminole won the women’s 15K. Jessica Crate finished 16th. Kaitlin Donner of Melbourne won the 5K. Crate came in 32nd. Today it’s the half marathon and the 8K. Jessica Crate has no chance in either race _ by choice. It makes her that much more of a champion.

“That’s cool she’s doing that,” said Whaley, a three-time Gasparilla 15K winner. “Maybe I’ll do that next year.”

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