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Race Report – Gasparilla Distance Classic weekend

In February, my running buddies and I headed to Tampa Bay for the Gasparilla Distance Classic weekend. This race got its start way back in 1978 and thousands of people come out to it every year. It is actually spread out over 2 days – the 5k and 15k race are run on the Saturday and the half marathon and 8K are run on the Sunday. My group decided to participate in the Michelob Amber Challenge, which included the 5K, 15K and the half marathon.

I have to give the event team major props for a job really well done. From pre-race communications, to the expo, to race morning, everything was extremely organized and went pretty seamlessly.

Our home base for the weekend was the Westin Tampa Waterside, just a short walk from all of the Tampa Convention Center and the start and finish lines we’d be crossing in the following days.

We picked up our packets at the expo at the Tampa Convention Center on the Friday before the races. Because we stayed at the official race hotel, the Expo was just a short walk away. The packet pick-up was very easy, and the Expo had a ton of excellent vendors. I spent more than I meant to!

Oh – did I mention the SWAG??? Our race gear included two excellent technical t-shirts, a long sleeve and a special Amber Challenge jacket. I understand that the race was rebranded this year, and I have to say that I love the new design. The race shirts have quickly become some of my favourites.

Here are a few notes about each of the races:

15k

  • Some people were dressed in long sleeves and pants, but as a Canadian who had just left the cold behind, I was thrilled to run in a tank and skirt
  • The 15K started right in front of the convention center. I was quickly able to get into a decent pace and didn’t feel overly crowded.
  • There were also race photographers all over the place snapping photos, and all of the volunteers were extremely nice.
  • I pushed it for this race – it was the only one where I had a preset goal. I had wanted to run it in under 1:30, and my chip time was 1:30:02. Not bad!
  • My pace slowed as the heat increased during the second half of the race. Man, it was hot.
  • There were lots of snacks after the race – pretzels, fruit cups, granola bars, yogurt and dates

5k

  • After the 15k, I had just enough time to eat a quick snack, drink some water and walk to the 5k starting line. I’m not going to lie – my legs sore and I didn’t really know how I would run the 5k. But we decided that our goal for this race was to HAVE FUN, take pictures and preserve our legs for the half marathon
  • My team had actually brought pirate costumes along with us for this race and had a great time high-fiving other participants and spectators. We all stuck together for this one and had a blast
  • The course was great, mostly flat and nice scenery. The portion along Bayshore Blvd. was gorgeous, with great views of the Bay

Half Marathon

  • The race started at 6am and I was pretty excited. It started in the dark, so you get to have an amazing sunrise. Unfortunately when you have thousands of runners lined up at the start, there tends to be a bottleneck.
  • For someone who lives and trains in Newmarket, the 90% humidity and high temperatures made for a tough race – especially the last three miles.
  • There were water stops every two miles through mile 10 or so, then every mile.
  • The music and cheering squads throughout the race were wonderful
  • I ended up finishing the race in 2:16 which isn’t my worst time but certainly not even close to a PR. I don’t want to lose sight of the most important thing – I had so much fun
  • Upon crossing the finish line, you received your medal (which is awesome!), water and WET TOWELS to put around your neck. Excellent idea and much appreciated!
  • There was an amazing brunch served by Columbia Restaurant at the end – I’ve honestly never finished a race with such food.

Overall, this was a great race to run. The course is awesome, the medals are GREAT, crowd support was incredible and the after party was fun. I would certainly do this race again!

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