Christa Benton loves the cross country course at G.T Bray park. The trees and the trails. The little bridge that spans the little creek.
“This course brings back good memories,” she said Monday morning, moments before picking up another first-place trophy at the Canes Cross Country Classic 5K.
Benton won the race for the fourth time when she finished in 17 minutes, 31.34 seconds. She set the female course record at 17:30.11 in 2007.
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But the memories go further back than 2005, when she won her first Canes Classic.
Benton owned Bray’s cross country course during her days as one of the top high school runners in the state. She won regional titles for St. Petersburg Keswick Christian in 1998, 1999 and 2000 at Bray and then won state titles the following week.
Benton, who lives in St. Pete, has raced seven times at Bray and finished first each time.
Yeah, good times.
She remembers her first race at Bray when she set a PR as a sophomore.
“I remember how delighted my coach was,” Benton said.
Her coach was Lance Lipham, a legend at Keswick, who died of pancreatic cancer in August 2008. It was Lipham who found Benton in Keswick’s band room, where she played the oboe, and convinced her to give distance running a try.
“I have good lungs from music,” she said.
It was Lipham who gave Benton a running log every Christmas, and it was Lipham who told Benton the longer the race, the better she ran.
Benton, who became an All-American at USF, has run seven marathons, with her best time a 2-hour, 50-minute, 5-second finish at the last Boston Marathon.
“His goal for me was to hit the Olympic qualifying time,” Benton said.
She needs to drop that time by two or three minutes.
“Just seconds per mile,” she said.
Benton is 25 and teaches music at St. Pete Northside Christian. She doesn’t coach the cross country team but slips on her running shoes and runs with them. She was glad to see all the high school runners at Monday’s Canes Classic.
“Very refreshing,” she said.
Cross country and track gave her such wonderful moments. She would like all high school runners to have the same experiences.
Music, Benton said, is her first love. She can play almost every instrument.
“I’m not gifted at the trombone,” she said.
But she is a gifted runner. Lipham helped her realize that, mixing her God-given talent with what she said is a God-given desire to push herself to succeed.
Benton is pushing herself toward the Olympic marathon, because Lipham’s dream became her dream.
Monday was nothing more than a training run; a speed workout for Benton. She decided on coming to Bradenton because she remembered the times she ran here in high school. The half-days of school. The ride over the Sunshine Skyway.
“That’s probably one of the reasons I like this course,” she said. “Only good memories.”