If you are a runner and you truly love Tampa, you will never miss Gasparilla Distance Classic. Heck, I even attempted it pregnant one year. That’s how much I and my 30,000 closest running friends love this race every year.
The Gasparilla Distance classic is a staple like Cuban sandwiches and plastic beads. Ok, maybe that’s the wrong analogy but this race is entwined into the fabric of our community much like our treasured Gasparilla parade and Cuban sandwiches. (Tampa Cuban sandwiches are waaaaay better than Miami’s. #justsaying)
This year, I decided to step up to another challenge after successfully surviving the Lime Challenge last year. It seems these legs of mine like a good challenge. Since I ran the A1A marathon the week before Gasparilla, I decided against the Mac Daddy Mic Ultra All Four Races Challenge because I was worried about time limit between the half marathon and the 8K. Therefore, I attempted the Amber Challenge which only required me to run 3 of the four races (15K, 5K on Saturday and the Half Marathon on Sunday). I felt pretty confident in my selection.
In usual Gasparilla style, I stopped by the 8 On Your Side Health Expo on Friday to pick up all my racing gear. Inevitably, I bumped into a few friends because everyone in Tampa runs Gasparilla. Plus, everyone loves Gasparilla Expo as much as the race.
On an unusually cold and but always early Saturday morning, Allana, Jenny and I trekked to downtown Tampa for Day One of the Gasparilla Distance Classic. Allana would wait for me at the finish line with our fellow Suncoast Striders until I crossed the 15K finish line and then we would take on the 5K together.
Although it was crazy cold, it definitely warmed up fast when the sun cracked the sky. I always love watching the sunrise over Tampa Bay. Having just finished a marathon the week before, I set out just to finish and didn’t worry about time. Of course, I needed to finish in a reasonable amount of time so I could make it back for the 5K with Allana.
Honestly, I just puttered along the course and enjoyed myself and the runners around me. Along the way, I bumped into Regina, a fellow Strider, who was walking and running about the same pace as me. I tagged along with Regina and loved having the time to catch up with her. We really did have a good time!
Just before mile 6, the Krispy Kreme Krewe were handing out doughnut holes like they do every year. I passed on the puffed pastry and just focused on finishing.
A little past mile 9, I spotted Allana, Marcia, Patrick and the Striders cheering for everyone. With the finish line in sight, Regina and I were ready to be done.
This year, after we crossed the finish line, we had to walk a ways to receive our medal. With the number of people in one small spot, that was completely understandable, but I was worried about not being to locate Allana. Thankfully, Marcia had the sense to follow the spectator path over the bridge to find me.
Chip Time 1:44:06
Gun Time 1:45:24
Ave Pace 11:10 /mi
Div Place 320
After some refreshments and a quick potty break, Allana and I made our way to the 5K start, which was in the same place as the 15K start. A few start line photos and we were on our way for the 5K!
I let Allana set the pace, which meant a slower walking and running pace from the previous race and I was totally fine with that. Just behind us, soldiers were keeping time and I loved their pace too.
By now, the course and I had certainly warmed up and 5K was a great little recovery run. The course was also a lovely combination of short and sweet, especially at the 1.5 turnaround where the Rough Riders were handing out full size Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
What was with all the doughnuts at this race? Allana picked up the pace to grab a doughnut and I was completely unprepared for her sprint! Wow. #willrunfordoughnuts.
As she snacked, we returned to the walking portion of our race. Again, I was happy to just do whatever and finish.
Once Allana spotted the finish line, she sprinted again, which I was not physically or mentally prepared for. She actually enjoyed finishing ahead of me for once and I let her have her moment in the Gasparilla sun.
Chip Time 45:11
Gun Time 47:27
Ave Pace 14:31
Div (40-44) 623
Div (11-14) 172
After the 5K, we made our way to the pirate ship for the obligatory post-race photo and the post-race festivities at Amalie Arena Park. That was definitely the place to be as I found so many of our runner friends, including Suzan and The Herd” of the Suncoast Striders. Some runners are Kenyan in their dreams. I’m a zebra.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the new post-race location, but more importantly I loved the multiple samples of Ulele craft beer at the post-race party and the fact that the #GiveAndGrub truck was there too. I would have stayed there a lot longer but Allana wanted to pop into the expo.
Sunday, I faced Day Two of the Gasparilla Distance Classic, but only the half marathon. I felt ready and overall pretty good. This year, the race organizers led the runners into two paths: under 2 hours and over two hours. Since I had no business being on the under 2 hours side, I followed the herd to my appropriate corral where I bumped into Tracy looking like the cutest runner pirate ever.
With the Tampa skyline glowing beside us and illuminating the way, we headed through the streets of Downtown Tampa once more. Once we approached the Davis Island I realized why runners were separated into two different starting corrals as the narrow bridge seemed less congested with fewer runners.
Once again, my goal was simply to finish. I didn’t worry about time just making it to the finish line. In the beginning, I felt good. My legs weren’t too worn out from the day before and I hung onto a comfortable easy pace.
The first few miles of the course were a tour through Davis Island but it wasn’t until the sun rose that I could recognize some of the familiar sights.
Just before mile 5, we crossed the bridge to head down Bayshore Blvd and the spectators were there to greet us.
Around mile 6 water station, I spotted a familiar face, Race Director Chris Lauber and of course, I had to stop and take a selfie with him.
Amazingly, I was still feeling good and it seemed I would finish around 2:30.
About mile 7, I spotted Regina and Karen taking a walking break and I joined them for a quick recovery walk and another race selfie.
After a short recovery walk, I was ready to run again when I spotted the sprinklers although I didn’t need to cool down but then I heard the HOTTEST water station on the boulevard. Their Jamaican beats and reggae ska style always puts me in a feel good mood.
Just before mile 9, we turned the corner for the last stretch along the boulevard. Only four more miles to go! I took another walking break and then I was ready to tackle the last leg of this half marathon.
Between miles 10 and 11, the 2:30 pace group passed me, which didn’t bother me a bit, especially when I saw the smiling faces of the Florida’s Blue Kids Running Program and I absorbed their enthusiasm and energy of those amazing kids! As they hollered and cheered for each of us, their spirit carried me to the finish line.
Or at least until I heard the booming music from the Gasparilla Music Festival Krewe. With only two miles left, I was ready to finish and I tried my best to pick up the pace.
Only one more mile until my Columbia Restaurant Black Bean and Rice!
Just a little further under the bridge and the finish line was in sight. With less than a quarter mile to go, I tried my best to sprint to the finish with my friend, Jessica, cheering for me in the 8K corral.
With a finish time just over 2 and half hours, I was good with that. Close enough! This race was never about time, but simply to step up to the challenge and that I did indeed.
Chip Time 2:32:59
Gun Time 2:38:55
Ave Pace 11:40
After my finish line selfie, I made my way down the path again to collect my medals and take pirate photos…
…and of course, the usual Tampa skyline photo.
As I stood there attempting to take skyline selfies, a lovely lady offered to take my photo and then right there, in a city with over 30,000 runners, I swiftly learned how the small the world really is. This random stranger just moved here from North Carolina as part of military life. Turns out, this very woman, Kim, knows my friend, Lori, the very same Lori would taught me to run in the very beginning.
How crazy is that?! For me, it was like catching up with an old friend and I completely believe the randomness of it all. This was her very first Gasparilla race and Gasparilla was Lori’s last race in Tampa.
As cool as it was to converse with Kim, that Columbia Restaurant food was calling me and I needed to eat. Although there is no beer until after 11:00 a.m. for Sunday’s race, I was thankfully for piles of 1905 Salad, paella and black beans and rice provided by the Columbia Restaurant. It’s almost as fantastic as the pirate themed-medals.
After successfully surviving the Amber Challenge, I decided to go for the Mac Daddy Mic Ultra Challenge next year. With the absence of any marathon in 2016 (I’m taking a break from those for a while), I believe I could certainly complete all four races in a timely manner and maybe even PR for one or two of them.
If you don’t live in Tampa, the Gasparilla Distance Classic race is definitely one to add to your race bucket list. (See the GDC future departure dates here.)
After all, I would never let ship sail without me.