Thousands of runners came out to participate in the Naples Daily News Half Marathon in downtown Naples on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. Nicole Raucheisen/Naples Daily News
Despite being a bit under the weather, Belainesh Gebre won her fourth Naples Daily News Half Marathon bright and early Sunday morning.
The petite, 29-year-old Gebre, who set the women's race record in 2011 at 1 hour, 9 minutes and 57.6 seconds, finished this year's 28th run at 1:13:29.6.
"I feel really tired, honestly, because I couldn't sleep yesterday and the day before," Gebre said. "My body's really tired."
A native of Ethopia and an American citizen who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, Gebre caught a cold from her 2-year-old daughter, Maya, before catching her flight from Phoenix on Friday. She had a bit of a cough and heavy lungs but battled through it.
Gebre also won this race in 2009, 2011 and in 2013. This was her first time back since having Maya.
"I wanted to come back for this race after the baby," Gebre said. "I want to do more training and do my course record again. I'm not happy with the time, but it's hard after you have a baby."
Ocala's Stephanie Pezzullo, 34, came in second at 1:17:36.5. Atlanta's Janel Blancett, 28, was third in 1:18:48. Fort Myers' Tania Canterbury, 37, was the top Southwest Florida finisher, taking 11 th overall in 1:25:56.6. Madeline Rublee, 19, of Immokalee was the top Collier County runner, finishing 21st in 1:34:06.4.
"Not bad considering the humidity," Pezzullo said. "I tend to melt."
Gebre, who is not affiliated with a running club, has been splitting her time between training and babysitting. It's tough to do the former because of the latter.
"It's really hard," said Gebre, who ran in the Olympic Trials last year, has twice finished in the top-eight at the World Cross Country Championships and holds an All-Athletics.com Women's Road Running World Ranking of 127.
As per usual, Gebre churned to the lead early in blowing away the NDN Half Marathon field.
"No problem," Gebre said. "But I didn't have any power. One guy, a nice guy, said, 'Let's do this together,' but I didn't have any energy."
The 34-year-old Pezzullo was a four-year soccer starter at Penn State before getting the running bug. Career highlights include ninth-place finishes in the U.S. Half Marathon Championships (2012) and the U.S. 10-Mile Championships (2013), a 10th-place finish in the 2012 Chicago Marathon and being a two-time finalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Championships.
Pezzullo broke away from marathons in 2012 to pursue triathlons, but she's making a comeback.
A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, who has long been a professional runner for Zap Fitness and Reebok, Pezzullo trains about 18 central Florida clients for her outfit, Training with Pezz. She's been in Ocala for about a year.
Pezzullo's goal was to not take things to fast. She wanted a six-minute pace and came in a bit under that and was quite happy about it.
As for Gebre's win, Pezzullo shrugged. She saw her getting away early.
"She's one of the top runners in the country," Pezzullo said.