Florida runners dominate annual Melon Run in Gainesville

Eddie Garcia, left, and Jessica Pascoe pose after each runner claimed first place in their division in the 2017 Melon Run held annually on Independence Day at Westside Park in Gainesville. [Graham Hall/Correspondent]

Gainesville area runners, 353 of them, converged Tuesday morning at Albert “Ray” Massey Westside Park to kick off Independence Day with a nearly four-decades-long tradition: the Melon Run.

The 39th annual three-mile race, hosted by the Florida Track Club, embraces the traditional method of measurement rather than the metric system.

The run, which unveiled a redesigned course consisting of just six left turns, saw former University of Florida cross country runner Eddie Garcia claim first place with a time of 14:33. It was the first year that Garcia, who joined the FTC in 2016, had participated in the race as a runner. For the former Gator, the Melon Run was an opportunity to continue training for the California International Marathon taking place Dec. 3 in Sacramento, California.

“I liked the course, I’ve run this area a lot so it’s pretty familiar to me,” Garcia said. “My training in summer is really just about putting that base mileage together for the marathon.”

Garcia, 24, said he’s enjoyed staying in Gainesville after graduation to continue his training with the club.

“The track club here is fantastic,” Garcia said. “They’ve got a great group of runners in Gainesville, and it’s a great running community.”

Blake Lowery, 19, and Bobby Hensley, 33, shared the podium with Garcia, as they claimed second and third-place finishes in the men’s division. Lowery was first in the 15-19-year-old division.

The Melon Run also saw Jessica Pascoe claim her first win in the women’s division with a time of 16:47.

Pascoe, a native of New South Wales, Australia, and a rising sophomore who competes for the UF women’s track and cross country program, said her finish was indicative of how far she is in her rehabilitation after she missed UF’s spring season due to injury.

“It was just a lot of fun to do something, get out and not push yourself too hard,” said Pascoe, who moved to Gainesville 10 months ago. “This time of year we don’t want to be doing anything serious, but it was good to have that break from training.”

The event, which preceded a kids’ fun run, provided runners and attendees with refreshments and watermelon.

Complete results can be found at www.start2finishracemanagement.com.