Sunday, March 20, 2016

Race Report: Gasparilla Distance Classic

The 15K and 5K startline on Saturday
Gasparilla is a long standing tradition in Tampa, Florida.  For the entire month of February, the entire city festively celebrates the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a friendly "invasion" of the city by mythical pirate José Gaspar and his crew. On the day of the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates (held annually since 1904), members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (YMKG), accompanied by a flotilla of hundreds of smaller boats, sail across Tampa Bay to downtown Tampa on the Jose Gasparilla, a 165-foot long "pirate" ship which was specially built for this purpose in 1954. Once the ship lands, the pirate captain demands that the mayor hand over the key to the city in a playful ceremony which has had different outcomes in different years. Whether or not the mayor actually "surrenders," the pirates hold their "victory parade" through the streets of Tampa.

Happy direction man.
The Gasparilla Distance Classic, celebrating its 39th year in 2016, happens a few weeks later, with more than 30,000 participants in the four running events held over the weekend.  Saturday morning begins with a 15K, followed by one of the largest 5K races in the country (over 12,000 finishers), while on Sunday, race morning begins with a half marathon, followed by an 8K.  Runners elect to run one or more of the distances, participating in "challenges" if they participate in multiple races.  A cap of 1,000 participants was made for running all four races, known as the Michelob Ultra Challenge, a total of 30.4 miles over the two days.  400 participated in the Michelob Ultra Amber Challenge (the 15K and 5K on Saturday, and Half on Sunday); while 600 participated in the Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus Challenge (the 15K on Saturday and the 8K on Sunday).  Challenge participants get an additional medal for finishing the challenge, as well as a special commemorative jacket.

15K - the first race of the weekend. Done.
Fun signs on the route...
I flew in late Friday night after work, arriving at around 11:30pm after a flight delay, and took an Uber to my friend Ryan's apartment.  Ryan's a tour manager for the Rock 'n' Roll marathon series, who I have gotten to know in my travels across the country and through that series over the past year. He was kind enough to let me stay at his place while I was in town over the weekend.  After a quick few hours of sleep, we were up by 4:30 in the morning, to be picked up by Ryan's coworkers to head to the expo at the Tampa Convention Center, steps away from the startline for the 15K.  The expo for the race weekend continued on into Saturday, and Ryan was working the State Farm booth, so we both headed into downtown Tampa  - for him to prep their expo booth, for me to run 12.4 miles of races.

The 15K, equivalent to a 9.3 mile course, departed from the corner of Brorein Street and Franklin Street at 6:45am, heading westward, then turning onto Bayshore Boulevard, where we would continue for 4.5 miles, before turning onto Gandy Boulevard, reaching a turn around spot at Quincy Avenue, and then returning back onto Bayshore Boulevard, finishing at the foot of the Platt Street Bridge.  I started off well, posting a 9 minute first mile, but my tiredness from the week prior's mostly disastrous LA Marathon increased my successive mile times.  My lack of sleep from the night before didn't help either.  Somewhere after the turnaround, someone was giving out glazed donut halves from Krispy Kreme, so I partook.  I finished in a time of 1:37:51, a 10:29/mi pace.  If I kept it up, I'd be at a 2:17:26 half, which is where I'd expect to be anyway, being that my half times have been near that as of late.

Out on Bayshore Blvd...
and Back on Bayshore Blvd... x4.
5K done.
After a quick run into the expo to drop off my medal and cool down, I went back out to do the 5K.  There was a MESS of people getting ready to run, as they had set it up for five separate waves, each leaving 15 minutes apart from each other, with runners capable of sub-30 minute 5Ks first, then 31-35 minute runners, 36-40 minute runners, 41-45 minute runners, a stroller start (46-50 minutes), and then walkers who would take over 51 minutes.  This meant many runners would be finished while others were still yet to start.  I started with the first wave, but by this time the sun was out and in full force in the high 60s, and my legs were still tired from the first race.  On the turnaround, I found another person handing out Krispy Kremes - but this time full donuts - and I partook yet again, stopping to walk and chow on an entire glazed donut (...I was hungry!)  I finished the 5K in 33:22, not bad for having a donut-slow-down. :)  The temps may have crested over 70 by the time I was done, so I was drenched in sweat, and happily took a wet rag to cool myself off. I went back into the convention center, and signed up for a 20 minute massage, which was much needed after the rough day of running I already had.  I went back up to the expo and milled around, got some photos taken, and then went off to get some much needed lunch at local barbecue joint Holy Hog Barbecue.
Another name board!



Autographs :)

Shalane and Meb.
American marathon superstars!
I went back to the expo later that afternoon to see Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi, who were in town to cheer on the runners.  The Gasparilla Distance Classic Association had booked them to attend the event, and were probably ecstatic to have snagged two of the six members of the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Team headed to Rio this summer, having qualified with their placements at the prior week's Olympic Trials in Los Angeles.  Shalane and Meb held a Q&A session and stuck around for photos, and I gladly stood in line to grab a photo with two amazing American champions.  I then headed back to Ryan's place with him after he had finished working at the expo, and we got some rest before heading out for dinner at another local haunt, Bungalow.  He brought me back to the apartment (while he went out, lol) and I went straight to bed to get a good night's sleep for the following morning's races.

Too early in the AM.  Half startline
With a 6:00am start, the half marathon kicked off at the corner of Platt Street and Bayshore Boulevard.  I took an Uber that morning from Ryan's that took me as close as possible to the startline.  It was pure madness, with so many people congregating on the bridge and on a side street just off the bridge, as we got ourselves into the corrals before the startline.  Soon, we were sent off, into the pre-dawn darkness, turning left onto Plant Avenue.  Almost immediately, it got really dark, as the road was not very well lit, and I got a little worried about misstepping because a short portion of the road was covered with brick pavers.  We then crossed a bridge onto Davis Island, following the perimeter roads of Channel Drive and Davis Boulevard around the island.  With the sun not up, I was not able to really appreciate the views, which were of million dollar homes (including Derek Jeter's massive estate) scattered around this affluent island.  It wasn't until about 6:45 when the horizon began to be illuminated.  The first five miles of the half marathon were on Davis Island, and it was pretty devoid of people cheering us on, save for the volunteers providing us water and the one random fire-juggler around mile 4.5.
Davis Island sights

Fire juggler!

Bridge back to... sigh. Bayshore Blvd.
We took the exit ramp out of Davis Island and crossed the five mile mark, and before we knew it, we were back on Bayshore Boulevard.  Oh.  Bayshore Boulevard.  Fan-freakin'-tastic.  The third out-and-back on this stretch of road for the weekend.  And not only that, it was four miles out and four miles back.  Lord have mercy, it was tough to have to see the same route again, and knowing I have to cover part of that AGAIN in my last race of the day.  I trudged through, and made the turn around at Gandy Blvd, and then we headed back toward the finish line.  And with a stop to twerk with the lady at the 12 mile mark.

8K start.
As we neared the finish, the start was set up for the 8K race on the other side of the street, and we were cheered on by onlookers on both sides as we closed up the 13.1 miles back onto the Platt Street Bridge.  I crossed the finish in 2:27:02, and just like yesterday, just busting through to the finish under the heat of the blazing sun.  I was spent.  I got my medal (yay, fun skull with hinged jaw!) and then immediately dropped it off to the "challenge" table, where they kept it for safe keeping while I ran the 8K.  I sped off to cool down a bit before heading back into the sun to get ready for 8K (thankfully I had roughly an hour).

Dee Dee, Deb, myself, and Margaret
At 9:30, the 8K started, and yet again, we were out on Bayshore Blvd, for the last time.  Thank god.  We turned on the first cut in the median just after Bay to Bay Blvd, and then returned to the finish line.  The roughly 5-mile distance was under yet another scorching sun, and I finished in 59:29.  Ryan was waiting at the finish, and after getting all my stuff, we headed out toward the Riverwalk area behind the convention center, where a huge line had formed for people to get food - the line was so long, we decided to forgo the food (and we found out later that they ran out!) so we went to the finish festival in Cotanchobee Park for our free beers.  Local restaurant Ulele had a tent where they were giving out free craft beers, so we disposed of our Michelobs in favor of those, and then met up with Ryan's Competitor Group (and fellow Tampan) Dorcas at the VIP area, which we ended up going into (perks of knowing people!) and munched on some Cuban sandwiches and delicious garlic bread provided by another local restaurant (and popular haunt) Columbia Restaurant.  I later found out that my friends Dee Dee, Deb, and Margaret were over near the Riverwalk area, resting underneath some shade umbrellas, and Ryan and I met up with them to reminisce about the weekend, and chat about future races.  They then charged me with a challenge to sing the national anthem at a race in every state, and it looks like I may up for completing that challenge :)

Ryan and I stopped for some awesome Cuban food near his apartment at Pipo's Café for lunch, before heading back to his apartment so I could shower and then get all my stuff ready before heading to the airport. I had a fantastic weekend getting a bucket list race/weekend of races out of the way!

Bling haul for the weekend!

Showing it all off...

Victory Headstand in front of the docked Jose Gasparilla

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