As I only mentioned 101 times now, I recently went to Tampa to visit my dad and run the Gasparilla Half Marathon.
To be honest, I knew next to nothing about this race other than A. it’s in Tampa and B. it’s in “winter”. My dad had never been to one of my races and I thought it would nice to kill two birds with one stone, as it were. Get out of Chicago, visit my dad, and run a race in nicer weather? Yep.
I arrived in Tampa on Friday around 11:15 AM and we went directly to the expo to get my bib. The expo was HUGE and looked amazing but I was super hungry and the line to pick up my bib took FOREVER. I might have gotten a little hangry at the seemingly incompetent volunteer behind the counter. Having done that exact volunteer job, though, I know it’s not rocket science. Anyway, long story short, I didn’t stick around to peruse the expo’s wares.
Over lunch at the cutest little Irish pub, though, my dad told me all about Gasparilla. Apparently it’s like a month-long party that starts with a reenactment of the pirate Joseph Gaspar invading the city of Tampa and the mayor handing over the keys to the city. The races come at the end of the party, it seems. There are multiple distances over two days and you can do a challenge where you end up running basically a marathon distance over several races.
I was just there for the half marathon. though. Mostly so that I could spend the rest of my time drinking wine and beer and enjoying myself.
On Friday my dad also drove me along most of the course so I had an idea of what I was doing. And you know what? That course is flat. Flat, flat flat. Super flat. There’s one small hill on a tiny bridge but that’s it. If you run in Chicago it’s no different than the “Roosevelt Hill” that all the marathoners talk about.
Anyway, after the craziness of getting my bib I was a bit concerned for the race logistics. Turns out, they were quite good. Gear check was super quick (after I figured out where it was), I could use a real bathroom inside the convention center, and they had plenty of people directing runners to their correct starting corrals.
I gave my dad a hug at the start and then we were off in the dark at 6AM to run through the residential area of Davis Island. It was dark and there wasn’t much light so I was happy that we’d driven around the day before so I could actually see it! I started with the 1:55 pace group so that I wouldn’t go out too fast. It seemed to work although at some point I ended up in front of them. Also, at some point my Pandora app decided to get some hiccups which worried me a tiny bit. I can run without music but I do enjoy racing with it better. Thankfully it got its act together.
The sun came up as we left the island at about mile 5 and headed out onto Bayshore Drive which follows, you guess it, the bay. It’s also home to the world’s longest continuous sidewalk. The rest of the race was an out-and-back along the water with some views of some amazing residences.
At this point I was just running by feel, not looking at my Garmin, and drinking water or Gatorade at every aid station. I was trying to do the mental math of how many miles we were running on Bayshore before we turned around but couldn’t quite make it happen. This is what I get for not studying the course map, right? Anyway, the sun was rising over the water, a nice cool breeze was blowing on us, and I was smiling. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful course.
About mile 8.5 I realized I could see another pace group in front of me. Did I somehow end up behind the 1:55 pace group? Was that the 1:50 pace group?? What the heck? I mean, I knew I ran a 1:53 at my half marathon in December but was I really going to catch the 1:50 pace group?
Well, I did. And I thought, “I should run with them until mile 10 or so in case I start to hit a wall. They’ll make sure I don’t run too fast.” I tucked in with them for about a mile before I felt like I wanted to go faster. So , I did.
I took a Clif Shot Blok at mile 11 and then dropped the rest of them. Strangely, I didn’t feel like I really needed any fuel until that point. I also realized that even if I ran a 10 minute mile for the last few miles I’d probably still PR. I couldn’t do the math to figure out if I could break 1:50, though. Although, since I was still in front of the 1:50 pace group I should have figured out that I would.
For the last few miles I kept telling myself that I was strong, that I could this. Basically, trying not to psych myself out. When I finally saw the “one mile to go” sign I started to push it just a little bit more.
I cannot describe how excited I was to cross that finish line in 1:47:42. I honestly never thought I would break 1:50 in a half marathon. To put it in perspective, my very first half marathon in 2009 was 2:13:25. I still can’t believe I’ve knocked almost 30 minutes off that time. That’s just crazy to me.
It could not have been a more perfect day or a more perfect course. All in all, other than the crazy line at packet pick-up, Gasparilla was a very well-done event that I would recommend to runners, veteran or new.