TAMPA — On an overcast and muggy morning with little breeze, the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K race became a homecoming for the men’s and women’s winners.
Alex Main, who starred at Berkeley Prep, captured first place in the men’s race, while Jess Butler, who was a standout runner at the University of Tampa, was victorious in the women’s race.
Two years ago, Main capped a standout high school cross country career with a second-place finish at the Class 2A state championships, finishing in 16 minutes flat. He topped that performance Saturday, crossing the finishing line in 15:37.
Had he been pushed for the lead, Main could have run faster, but he found himself alone out front for the much of the second half of the 3.1-mile race.
After toeing the starting line with more than 14,000 other entrants in the 5K, Main ran at the rear of a lead pack of five runners through the first kilometer before moving to the front. The lead group went out cautiously, noting the slick footing on the Brorein Street bridge just after the start.
Eventual runner-up Jake Poore of Land O’ Lakes was still with Main at the mile mark, which they passed in 5:02. But Main maintained his 5-minute pace for the remainder of the race, and as Poore faded he built a 15-meter lead at the turnaround point.
By 2 miles, Main had increased his lead to 40 meters and, keeping his focus on the finish up Bayshore Boulevard, picked his pace up in the last mile to finish 31 seconds ahead of Poore.
Main recently returned to the Tampa area, transferring to South Florida from Auburn, where he had been running for the Tigers. Since his return, he has been training on his own. His solitary training clearly paid off in the challenging conditions.
“It wasn’t much fun running by myself out there, but I tried to stay focused,” Main said. “With the humidity, I just tried to run an even race.”
Butler led the female field for much of the race, pulling clear of her nearest competitor in the first mile. Finishing in 17:04, Butler was pleased with her time, also noting the humid conditions.
“It was really humid out, but I felt good and really surprised myself after pulling away from (second-place) Bridget (Blake) early on,” Butler said.
Butler, who starred at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High, competed at UT under coach Jerry Slavin, whom she praised extensively. Butler is attending Florida State, where she is seeking her Masters degree and competing for the Seminoles under coach Tampa native Bob Braman.
The men’s masters division (over 40) of the 5K also had some notable performances, with 49-year-old Daniel Bergeson of Oldsmar winning the division in an impressive time of 17:14, which was good for seventh overall. The women’s masters winner was 42-year-old Wendi Hudson of Apollo Beach, who ran 20:21, closely followed by Punta Gorda’s Debora Swinford, 57, in 20:27.