Stephanie Bland says any day she is out running is a good day. The Michigan resident, staying with her parents in Fiddler’s Creek, ran the Marco Island Half Marathon, better known as the Bridge Run, on Sunday morning, beat last year’s time by four minutes, and finished first among all female runners.
“I did the Boston Marathon, and I was in between the two bombs, so I’m just thankful I’m able to be here and run,” she said, after completing the 13-mile plus distance in one hour, 32 minutes and three seconds. Bland was beaming widely and didn’t seem out of breath. Last year she placed third, and said her son instructed her to “just go and win it. He will be so happy,” said Stephanie, 30.
First place male runner Greg Kaczka, repeating his victory in last year’s Bridge Run, also has a local connection. His dad Jeff was sitting, relaxed, outside the Key Marco entry to cheer Greg on as he breezed by, running on a pace that put him over four and a half minutes ahead of his closest competitor. He finished in 1:14:20.
“Look at him – he’s on cruise control, just jogging,” volunteer and longtime race organize Mark McGarity said as Kaczka headed off down San Marco toward the finish line, all alone except for the police vehicle staying ahead of the leader. Greg Kaczka will be running the Boston Marathon next month, and with hills in short supply in Florida, crossing the bridge helps with the notorious ups and downs of that course.
“You couldn’t ask for a better day. This is a nice, fun run,” he said after the race, proving that different people have different ideas of fun. With temperatures well below last year, the race was comfortable for all the runners, and even the volunteers got some respite from the “no-see-ums” that can swarm from the mangroves along the race course and in Key Marco.
“The runners are fine,” said McGarity. “It’s when you’re standing there they pick you up and carry you away.” That was particularly helpful for the musicians who serenaded the runners, and couldn’t swat and play their instruments at the same time. At the Key Marco entry, the Kellogg Duo performed musical numbers including “All About the Bass” and “Hurts So Good,” which made a fitting theme song for people getting up before dawn to run a half marathon. Volunteers including Harvard-bound local runner Rosie Poling handed out paper cups of water and Gatorade to the competitors as they passed.
At the foot of the Stan Gober Memorial Bridge, “Billy J and the Big Easy” cranked the tunes on a portable sound system, with their music carrying out over the waterway.
Cipriano Martinez was first male finisher in the 5K, and Eileen Poling of Marco Island won among females with a time of 23:30. In all, said race director Heather Mastrangelo, 167 runners competed in the half marathon, and 159 in the 5K.
In the half marathon, Marty McCormick finished second among the men at 1:18:56, and hometown girl Alexis Lamb of Marco Island was the second female runner at 1:35:23. The overall male and female winners received $200 as well as bragging rights.
Carol Farrell, Marilyn Springfield, and Maria Lamb, Marco Islanders all, were one, two and three in the senior masters. Dita Prikrylova of Marco was first among females 40-44. Sarah Hardwig, 14, sang the National Anthem before the race.
Top male and female runners in the master, grand, senior master categories, as well as first Collier County finishers and first realtor each won $100. For a complete listing of results, go online to marcoislandhalfmarathon.com.