TAMPA — Despite winning two 5-kilometer races in as many states last weekend, Stephanie Pezzullo felt obligated to enter Saturday morning’s Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K.

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An Ocala-based running trainer, Pezzullo had 10 clients and wanted to offer support.

She offered an example instead.

Operating mainly on fumes in muggy 70-degree temperatures, Pezzullo won the female competition in 54 minutes, 58 seconds. Because she’s not a local resident, she couldn’t claim the $2,000 first prize, which went to runnerup (and 2016 winner) Becky Howarth of Tampa (55:18).

"With this heat and humidity, it’s really hard for me," said Pezzullo, a 34-year-old former Penn State soccer player who transitioned to running late in her college career. "Those last 2 miles I was literally slipping because, as you can see, I’m dripping wet."

LIVE BLOG: Photos, updates from the Gasparilla road races in Tampa

Subtract the overcast sky, and an unseasonable February morning may have segued to unbearable.

Compounding the magnitude of Saturday’s challenge was the fact Pezzullo won the women’s 5K in Brunswick, Ga., (in 17:43) last Saturday, and the Blueberry Horseshoe 5K in north Marion County (in 17:48) the next day.

Both featured prize money. "So I’m dead from those," she said.

Yet she was among only three women to maintain a sub-six-minute pace Saturday, joining Howarth and Tampa’s Nicole Rozario (55:36), a former NCAA national steeplechase qualifier for USF.

Pezzullo’s final time was only a second slower than Howarth’s winning time in 2016, when conditions were more moderate.

"It’s just hard to get your grip, it’s so humid, but I’m happy with it," said Pezzullo, the third American female finisher at the 2012 Chicago Marathon.

"A win is a win."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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