TAMPA — Every year, Bill Riley opens his Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic race packet and takes a moment to look at his bib number, which happens to be his age.
This year? His number was 77.
It’s a tradition that Gasparilla race director Susan Harmeling started many years ago as “a show of respect” for Riley, who is one of the most amazing running specimens the world has seen.
For proof, look no further than Saturday, when Riley finished the 15K in 1 hour, 11 minutes, 10 seconds for an average of 7:38 a mile.
When you plug Riley’s stats into the “Runner’s World Age Graded Calculator” — which Runner’s World says “is a way of putting all race participants on a level playing field regardless of age” — it turns out Riley would have beaten Saturday’s overall winning time of 48:44 laid down by 27-year-old Jon Mott.
The calculator converted Riley’s time to 46:53.
One of Riley’s biggest rivals, 75-year-old Joe Burgasser of St. Petersburg, beat Riley on Saturday with a time of 1:10:40, but when you plug Burgasser’s time into the “Age Graded Calculator,” Riley wins again. Burgasser’s time converted to 48:16.
For Riley, who lives half the year in St. Petersburg and half in Cape Cod, Mass., this type of thing is old news. He’s been beating people in his age group since he started taking running seriously at the age of 40.
“I guess I would have started running sooner, but I had children and a job,” said Riley, who now counts former Boston and New York City marathon champion Bill Rodgers among his many running friends. “It’s never too late to start.”
Since he started, Riley has run in 22 Boston Marathons, six Ironmans and 50 marathons in all. He still wins his age group at the Falmouth Road Race, the Beach to Beacon Race and Mount Washington Road Race.
He does not, however, run marathons anymore.
“Distance,” Riley said, “defeats age.”
Now his training regimen consists of “23 miles a week!” That’s 23 running miles — six on Tuesday, seven on Thursday and 10 on Sunday — coupled with swimming and at least 75 miles riding a bike with wife Debra McSorley, who at the age of 60 marvels at her husband.
“They have done studies on (Riley’s endurance abilities), and he’s off the chart,” McSorley said. “I wish I could have some of what he has.”
Don’t we all? Especially some of us who are much younger.
Consider this: Only four of the more than 5,800 15K finishers on Saturday were older than Riley, which means he ran faster than almost 5,400 runners who were younger than him.
“I’m still highly competitive,” said Riley, who plans to be back next year for his 26th Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K.
He’ll be wearing bib No. 78.