This weekend my mom and I participated in the Tampa Bay Gasparilla Distance Classic. It was amazing! The races were easily the best, most fun, most well organized races I’ve ever done. Plus, the courses were beautiful! I can’t wait to sign up for next year’s festival. But first, a recap of this weekend.
The Gasparilla Distance Classic is a race festival that spans Saturday to Sunday. Participants could race in a 15k, 5k, or both on Saturday. Runners could compete in at half marathon, 5+3k, or both on Sunday. Dedicated runners could try one of the Challenges – combinations of multiple races on one or both days. The truly nuts among us could sign up for the Ultimate Challenge and run all four races. Over 26,000 runners participated in the weekend’s events. The festival also included the 8 On Your Side health expo. This year was the 35th running of the Gasparilla races. The event has raised over 3 million dollars for charities in recent years and has a significant positive economic impact on the Tampa area.
My mom and I went to get our packets on Friday to avoid the rush. We were met with great organization, great race shirts, and lots of welcome signs and banners at the Tampa Convention Center.
We were really impressed with the organization of the expo and packet pick up. We were in and out with our packets in record time and were able to enjoy the nice race expo. We helped the economy by making a few purchases at the expo. Course maps were prominently displayed.
Gasparilla Distance Classic 5k
My mom and I signed up to do the 5k together. This was her second 5k and her first 5k healthy, so we were both looking forward to a fun race. Mom and I set off from her home at the crack of dawn. We parked at our hotel (Hyatt – loved it) and walked the four blocks to the race start. We walked over a wide bridge that overlooked the city of Tampa.
It was HOT. Racers lined up in a wave start with walkers in their own wave. It was about 86 degrees with 80% humidity (real feel temperature = 94) at the start of the 5k. Luckily, the race course ran along the water, so there was a nice breeze (that’s Mom walking her way to a PR).
The course was gorgeous. It was a simple down and back course on Bayshore Boulevard. I just can’t say enough how pretty I thought the course was. It was truly beautiful – water on one side, colorful homes on the other.
The volunteers were friendly and cheerful and stationed all along the course. They gave clear racing instructions and cheered for runners. The roads were closed and there was at least one police officer stationed at every single cross street to ensure the safety of the runners. Bands and DJs were scattered along the course, playing upbeat music. Costumed pirates and wenches passed out beads from a trolley in the middle of the course. Overall, the 5k course was wonderful. At the end, volunteers passed out medals, bananas, bottled water, Coke products, and black bean soup (my favorite!!) from Columbia in the finish chute. The finish chute was cleverly stationed under an overpass, so it was shady and cool. The best part was that finishers got a 5k medal. That was a nice surprise.
All in all, I loved the 5k. Mom walked her way to a huge PR (46:22) and says she really enjoyed it. Mom says, “this race showed that this truly was a sport for everyone. Fans encouraged everyone to finish strong and everyone was nice.” Mom also loved her medal and proudly wore it.
Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon
I ran the half marathon on Sunday and mom cheered me on. Sunday was a totally different day, weather-wise. On the way to the start it was 75 degrees and extremely humid. Just before the start, a sudden down pour soaked the area and the cold front that had been predicted rolled in. The temperature dropped rapidly, to about 65 with 105% humidity at the race start (note: it kept dropping and was about 62 and cool with only about 60% humidity at the end of the race). The half marathon also featured a wave start to accommodate the huge number of runners. The race began at 6am, so it was dark, cloudy, and rainy at the start.
The half marathon and 5k course were equally gorgeous. The half marathon runners went to an adjacent island, Davis Island, and then along Bayshore Boulevard for an out and back. The runners were treated to amazing views and spectators got to see the runners at several locations, including on the bridge to Davis Island.
The half course was basically flat. The was some elevation change going over the bridge and a subtle uphill on Bayshore, but it was otherwise flat and fast.
The half marathon included all the features of the 5k – closed roads, police officers blocking the cross streets, abundant helpful volunteers, and friendly fans. There were some dedicated fans out to cheer on the runners at 6am – some in their PJs and even one older gentleman in his undies. I didn’t take my camera, so no photos of the underwear clothed gentleman. There were water stops every two miles through mile 10 or so, then every mile. Each water stop had water and sports drink and one stop had petroleum jelly. Professional pacers were available for runners who wanted to race to a specific finishing goal. The race course was a pleasure to run. It was smooth, easy, and fun. In the finish line chute there were bananas, bagels, bottled waters, Coke products, and more of the delicious Columbia black beans – my most favorite. Having just run 13.1 miles, they were the best beans I had ever tasted.
I had a wonderful time running the half marathon. It’s been my favorite half marathon to date. I loved the course, I loved how organized the whole event was, I loved my cool skull and cross bones finishers’ medal, and I loved the festival feel of the race weekend. A few other notable points…
I thought the Gasparilla folks did great job of managing the race on social media. I followed the race on Twitter and liked the race on Facebook. I got lots of great updates throughout the race weekend on both Twitter and Facebook. The Gasparilla people posted photos and news and retweeted photos tweeted by runners. It loved seeing the updates. Every detail of the races was well managed. There were volunteers everywhere to direct runners. The bathrooms at the Convention Center were clean and nice. Even the food was great. The bananas were cool and the beans were hot. A truly detail oriented race director must be in charge of the race. The t-shirts runners got were great, cleverly designed, wicking shirts. The design on the shirts even matched the race medals. Each race had a different colored shirt. I love my half marathon shirt and can’t wait to wear it.
Mom loves her 5k shirt.
Overall, I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the Gasparilla Distance Classic. Every single aspect of the race was well-managed. It was perfect and easily the best race I’ve ever run. I loved it and will definitely be back next year. In fact, Mom is reading the race information right now. We’ll be signing up just after I post this. Crazy lady multiple race challenge, here I come!
For race photos from MarathonPhoto, click here (and search by name and event).
Edit: Faithful readers noticed that I didn’t include the details on my outfits. Oops.
Rachel’s 5k outfit: really, really old Asics shirt (I’m guessing it’s a Favorite Shirt), Runningskirts.com Mums in Bloom Athletic skirt (which I prefer to the running skirt variety), New Balance visor (no longer available in the same style, but I like my Nike visor better anyway, Lululemon socks, and my regular Brooks Ghosts.
Rachel’s half marathon outfit: really, really old Saucony striped shirt (even older than the Brooks shirt, above, which I’m sure they don’t make anymore), Lululemon Turbo Run Short in black/white black microstripe, New Balance Visor (no longer available in the same style), Lululemon socks, and my regular Brooks Ghosts. I was wearing my Brooks LSD jacket (mine is the original, now you can get the LSD II in pretty much the same color) in the pre-race and post-race pictures.