TAMPA — Roughly 20 minutes into Saturday morning's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, reigning champ A.J. Richmond glanced over his left shoulder to former college teammate Jon Mott and flashed a quick hand signal.
"He was telling me that the two guys in front of him were hurting," Mott said.
It was Mott's cue to conquer.
Managing a brisk pace down the stretch, Mott, 31, gradually pulled away from that modest lead pack to win his third Gasparilla 15K title since 2014. Even with temperatures hovering in the mid-60s at the outset — a veritable sauna as starting-line weather goes — Mott's time (47:00) was his best in this race.
Richmond was second, 11 seconds behind his buddy.
"I pretty much executed my plan perfectly," said Mott, a Northeast High alumnus now residing in Lakeland.
"I sat back, let them duel it out, and then as soon we hit the (Gandy Boulevard) turnaround and started coming back (up Bayshore), I started dropping it to sub-five-minute miles. It held, but at the last three miles it was me and A.J., and then A.J. just started slowly falling off."
Paige Howard, a former East Bay High and University of Tampa distance-running standout, won the women's overall title in 57:14. She and Mott each earned the $2,000 purse awarded to the race's top local male/female finishers.
By Saturday's second mile, the four leaders — Mott, Richmond, former Saint Leo cross country All-American Rafal Matuszczak and Matt Hensley of Boulder, Colo. — had put 300 yards between themselves and the rest of the field. At that point, Mott found himself roughly 30 yards behind the other three.
The four were in a pack by Mile 4, when Mott and Richmond began pulling away. Midway through Mile 6, the two had at least a 20-yard lead on the others. From there, Mott slipped past his former Webber International University teammate and Babson Park neighbor, who also was seeking his third Gasparilla 15K crown.
"I think I did pretty good actually," said Richmond, a teacher and track/cross country coach at Lake Wales High. "I just didn't have enough left."
Not that Mott had much more than fumes by the time he crossed the finish line near the foot of the Platt Street Bridge.
"I was just holding, hoping he would fall, and eventually he did," said Mott, the top Florida finisher at the 2016 U.S. Olympic marathon team trials. "That was a really painful race. I thought I was gonna puke that last (three-tenths of a mile)."
After a few days' rest, Mott — who endured four surgeries at Webber before evolving into an elite marathoner — begins training for the Ottawa Marathon in late May. His goal is to finish in 2:19 or less, which would qualify him for the 2020 Olympic Team Trials in the event.
"Honestly, this was probably my best Gasparilla race ever by far," Mott said. "I mean, everything went to plan. I'm really happy about this race."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.