Now that mom’s a half marathoner, we’ve been on a quest to find interesting races that we can to together. Given that mom is a walker (granted, a fast one, but a walker), we are always searching for races that advertise as being walker-friendly, or that have a good cut off time suitable for walkers in interesting locations. In our quest to find interesting races that fit the criteria, we identified the FirstWatch Sarasota Half Marathon as a contender. Once we leaded about the area, we signed up immediately. A run over a bridge, on a key, and through stately homes, all ocean-front? Yes, please!
Mom and I decided that the best plan was to stay overnight in a hotel in Sarasota (terrible, I know) and enjoy the area before the half marathon. We found our place easily and set off to check out the area. It’s gorgeous. For those of you who haven’t been to Sarasota, look it up on a map. The whole city is right on the water, with keys along the coast. It’s amazing. The city also seems to enjoy art, as evidenced by the amazing art installations all along the city sidewalks.
After enjoying some time in the city, admiring the enormous statue of the kissing sailor, it was time for our early bed time. Race morning dawned early, with clear skies and crisp air. It was approximately 68 degrees at race start, perfect racing conditions. Mom and I snapped a few quick pictures, then set off.
The course went along Route 41, the waterfront main drag and immediately headed out toward the Ringling Bridge. The view over the bridge was amazing – stately homes, bobbing boats, and water as far as the eye could see. Next, the course wound through St. Armand’s Circle, the little shopping area and center of St. Armand’s Key. It was lovely, old Florida style. Next, it was back up and over the bridge. By this time the sun was up and the day was bright and clear. The course continued back along the main drag, past several well-staffed aid stations, and right past the Ringling art museum. It’s a funny pink building nestled in the midst of a small neighborhood. The neighborhood was an eclectic mix of beach cottages, vacation homes, and lovely waterfront mansions, complete with their associated compound behind firmly closed gates. Each section of the neighborhood had its own little park, all of them water front. As we wound through the homes and past the parks, we were treated to great views and friendly spectators. About halfway through the neighborhood, we passed a fabulous art deco school. Sadly, I wasn’t fast enough to snap a picture, but it was a great piece of Florida architecture. The neighborhood section was calm, quiet, and shady. All along the way we encountered great characters – only in Florida does a race marshall bring his own parrot.
Once out of the neighborhood, it was just another mile or two to the finish line. Both mom and I loved the course. It was perhaps the best designed course I’ve ever run. It was just perfect. The hills were manageable, even for Floridians, the views spectacular, and the shady neighborhood positioned at just the right spot. There were cheering fans, great water stops, and friendly people all along the way.
At the finish line, volunteers greeted us with our medals (a lovely abstract dolphin) and water. There was a huge finish line party with a live band and tents on the water’s edge. Perhaps the only thing not wonderful about the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon was the post-race food. It was not good at all. There were bagels (plain and raisin), a few muffins that looked like they wilted in the heat, and a disgusting-looking melted yogurt parfait. There were lots of parfaits left over. The yogurt was warm and runny and even these starving half marathoners couldn’t bring ourselves to eat it.
It’s worth note that the race really was walker friendly. Mom and I were far from the last walkers and the spectators and water stop volunteers were cheerful, plentiful, and happy to see us. We enjoyed all the same amenities as runners. I felt welcomed and encouraged as a walker.
Overall, I loved the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. Not only would I do it again, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a well designed course with great views. And though it’s hilly for Florida, anyone who conquers the bridge is rewarded with a great view.