Now THAT’S a medal. Isn’t she beautiful?
Well, I did it. I survived another half marathon last Sunday. Technically it was my first official half marathon since giving birth in October 2015, so I’ll take it. 😉
First of all, the Gasparilla Distance Classic is a race weekend that’s near and dear to my heart. It was the first big race I traveled to when I first started running (back when I was still living in Orlando) and now that I live in Tampa, it’s a huge hometown race that the whole city gets excited about. I took the last two years off due to pregnancy and having an infant, but couldn’t wait to join back in the fun this year.
The Gasparilla Distance Classic consists of an entire weekend of races. There’s the 15K and 5K on Saturday and the Half Marathon and 8K on Sunday. You can choose to do one race or there’s various challenges for multiple races. I kept it simple with just the half marathon this year, but I’ve done the challenges before and highly recommend them.
There’s also the giant expo that runs Friday and Saturday at the convention center. A co-worker and I found the sweet spot of dodging the lunchtime/after work crowds by making our way to the expo around 2 on Friday. There were no lines and we were able to grab our office’s bibs/shirts in less than 30 minutes.
It was definitely odd having the ability to run in and out of the expo this year, instead of having to stay put and man a booth. It was the first time in 4 years I didn’t have to work a booth at Gasparilla, and I can’t say I missed it!
My alarm went off a little after 4am on race morning. I took the dog out, got dressed, and enjoyed a cup of coffee with an english muffin. I was out the door by 5am and on my way to South Tampa. If you’re familiar with the area, parking for Gasparilla usually isn’t a problem. I took advantage of free street parking a couple blocks away from Bayshore and had about half a mile walk to the start. Bag check was available at the convention center, but I didn’t have anything that needed to be checked. Instead, I made my way to the corrals to wait it out.
Tampa really is a small town when it comes down to it. I ended up running into a couple of former co-workers in the start corral and we spent our time catching up on office gossip. Before we knew it, they were singing the national anthem and counting down to the start.
The start was set-up a little differently this year. Instead of a free for all, there were three corrals: seeded elites, sub-2 hour finishers, and everyone else. I had a green bib, which meant I was somehow placed in the sub-2 hour group. The elites went first and our group immediately followed. It happened so quickly, I didn’t even have time to get my phone out for a photo!
We went through the start, made a quick left, and headed onto Davis Island for the first portion of the race. I ran with a former coworker for the first mile or so, watching our pace and trying to get a feel for what I would be capable of today.
I should probably note here that I had no goals for this race. While I’ve been working hard at incorporating speed training back into my routine, I haven’t really done many long runs since the Walt Disney World Marathon last month. In fact, my longest run since the marathon has been 7 miles. So I had no expectations going into this race, but was also feeling a little more confident in my abilities. The weather was amazing – clear and cool – and my body felt great. Hmmm… maybe I do still have some running mojo in me.
It’s such a shame that the Davis Island portion of the race is done in the dark. Davis Island is probably one of my favorite places to run in Tampa and it’s the incredible views of the water that make it worthwhile. We did see a cruise ship all lit up making its way into port, but otherwise it was a pretty dull run in the dark. The loop around Davis Island took up just under 5 miles of the course. I will say I was already impressed with the race’s setup. There were plenty of aide station, stocked full with Gatorade, water, volunteers, and portable restrooms. I stopped for a potty break at one of the aide stations around mile 4.
We left Davis Island and headed back over the bridge to Bayshore Blvd. The rest of the race (all 7 miles of it!) was an out and back on Bayshore. While the entire run does run parallel to the water, this portion can definitely become a bit boring. Especially when you realize just how long you have to run straight on this road before the turn around.
I saw my friend Meg just after we left Davis Island and she managed to get a quick pic of me “speeding” by. Ha!
By the way, I’m OBSESSED with the Brooks Ghost Crop Running Tights I wore for the race. Not only was the pattern super fun, but the crops are paper thin and really lightweight – perfect for Florida “winters.” The temperature remained in the low 50s for the entire race, with a nice breeze cooling us down here and there. I almost didn’t wear the crops because I was afraid they would be too warm, but they ended up being perfect. I never felt too hot and was extremely comfortable the whole race. I even had a few runners compliment them when they passed me. If you’re looking for an ultra light tight or crop for spring running, I highly recommend the Brooks Ghost Crops. My legs didn’t chafe or overheat, and I appreciated the extra coverage on the course.
I felt great for the first stretch out on Bayshore. In fact, I felt great for the majority of the first 3/4 of the race. My goal was to keep around a 10 min/mile pace and I was hitting that goal with ease. I didn’t feel like I was going to die (which is always a sign of a good race) and didn’t feel the need to stop and walk as much as I did at WDW. It was a beautiful day for a run and I was honestly thrilled to be out there.
The great thing about out-and-back courses is you eventually get to see all of your friends who are way faster than you are. Scanning the folks heading back kept me entertained for the last stretch and I loved cheering on friends when I did see them.
I finally reached the turnaround point just after mile 9 and was immediately hit with a gush of wind. Holy headwind, Batman! All that talk about how great I felt? It started to make sense – I had a tailwind. Well, crap. These last few miles are really going to suck. The only thing I could do was dig deep and keep pushing.
I had my packet of Shark Bites around this point (cheap and easy nutrition for the win!) and turned on my music for the first time of the race. I had been running with headphones in the entire race, but for some reason never actually got around to turning the music on. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea, but I definitely needed it for the last few miles.
The countdown of the last 5K began. My pace slowed down and I walked more than I wanted, but I was getting through it.
And there’s the finish line.
Overall, it was a great race. I know my time could have been better – especially considering how great I felt out there – but it’s an improvement from where I was at WDW so I’ll take it. I’ll get my speed back, it’s just going to take time (and a lot of hard work).
Oh, and by the way, this was my first year taking advantage of the post-race food and consider me impress.
A big shout out to Columbia and the delicious post-race eats. I enjoyed every bite!
And no race day would be complete without my little munchkin.
She’s all about the bling. Obviously.