Saturday, February 27, 2016

Gasparilla Classic....Aarghh, Me Matey!

The Gasparilla Classic, in Tampa FL, has been on my bucket list for a few years. Finally for 2016, I was able to fit this race in on my calendar. I started making my plans several months in advance, booking my hotel room for the night before the race at the lovely Marriott Waterside in Tampa and getting registered for the race. I used Hilton Honors reward points to book rooms in Lafayette, LA and Live Oak, FL. This way, I could leave home early afternoon, get to Lafayette for the night, put in a good mileage day to get to Live Oak, FL, and then arrive in Tampa early afternoon the day before the race.

Then I learned that MTF friends were planning a lunch get-together in nearby Auburndale FL on the Saturday I'd be arriving in Tampa. This was great! I don't get to see many of these folks much anymore, now that I'm no longer riding a motorcycle, so I jumped at the chance to attend this lunch meet-up. It was going to be a pretty good-sized crowd, including several snow-bird couples who routinely come down to FL for the winter.

At the MTF group website, where a headcount list was being tallied by one of the group, a very dear friend - Kevin - posted that he was going to come up from the Palm Beach area for the lunch. Kevin is the rider who lost his left leg in a really tragic accident a few years ago.  I held a fund raiser to help him and his wife, collecting money-for-miles and running five half marathons in three months specifically for him. This was important for me, since Kevin is a fellow marathon runner. Fund-raising is over, but the webpage still exists and is here.

Me with dear friend Kevin.

It was so good seeing Kevin! He is his usual optimistic and energetic self. A hearty lunch and lots of visiting and hugs with all of these wonderful friends, and it was time to continue on to Tampa, get checked into the hotel, and go to the race expo to get my race packet.

Tampa convention center, where the race expo was held.
The race expo was surprisingly large, with lots of vendors. I wandered through the hall after getting my race packet. Nothing tempted me to spend money, though. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped at the Starbucks located in the lobby of the hotel next door to the Marriott. A nice cappuccino seemed like the right thing at that moment.

Packet pickup area, at the expo.

I ordered room service and had dinner in my room, feet up, watching TV. It was going to be a VERY early wake-up the next day. The race starts at 6 AM, which meant a 4:30 alarm, and need to be out the door of the hotel by 5:30 AM. Aaargh!

Race route, from my Garmin GPS watch.
I was assigned to Corral B, so positioned myself toward the rear of the corral to wait for the race to start. It didn't take too long for the elite corral and then Corral A to clear the start line, and within just a few minutes of the gun, our corral was crossing the start line. It was still dark out, and within a few 100 yards, we turned left onto a brick-paved road, its uneven surface hard to see in the dark. I slowed down quite a bit through this stretch just to be safe. I briefly caught up with another runner wearing her 50 States Half shirt. We acknowledged each other but she sped up and left me behind. Oh, well...

We crossed a bridge and then ran along the water on this funny-shaped little peninsula just as the sun began to rise. With the waterway and the sunrise, this stretch was gorgeous! We crossed over another bridge and started the long, boring, hot out-and-back stretch along Bayshore Blvd. It was pretty at first, but the boredom factor kicked in within a couple of miles, and it was hot with no shade and seemed to stretch on forever! Even after the turnaround at mile 9, there was no satisfaction. The skyline where we knew the finish line to be was so far away, it was discouraging.

While this is a well-done race, with cool swag - medal and event shirt - it is a one-and-done race for me. There's just something pretty awful about races that include long, straight stretches that go on for miles and miles with no topography, no turns to make it interesting.

A very hot, sweaty, and happy-to-be-done finisher.
I was very glad to have this one done and over with.  Since I needed to get on the road to Panama City, I didn't even hang around at the after-race party. I headed straight for Starbucks for a coffee and muffin, and then straight to my room, where I had some fresh fruit waiting for me. I kicked back for about an hour, then showered, dressed, packed, and retrieved my car from the valet to start my 400 mile drive to Panama City.

Really cool finisher medal.
Along I-75 near Ocala, I stopped for gas and a bathroom break at a gas station with a large touristy citrus and souvenir shop. Perfect! I selected some nice-looking Temple oranges and pink grapefruit to have in my condo at the Marriott property in Panama City. As I made my selections, a couple of young women still wearing their running clothes joined me in line. I recognized the shirts they were wearing and remembered seeing them in the race I'd just run. I commented as much, saying I saw them at the race.

They seemed a bit reluctant to talk with me, but then one of them asked me if I was there.
"Yes," I replied.
"Did you run in the race?" she asked me, incredulity absolutely dripping from her voice. Clearly she expected me to answer no.
"Yes I did. I ran the half marathon," I responded.
I was wearing slacks, a nice top, sandals. She looked me over, taking in the fact that I was, from her perspective, an old lady. She scanned my clothes, my hair, which I'd taken time to blow-dry and style a bit. Clearly she didn't believe me. Then she said, "If you ran that race, you sure are walking a lot better than I am right now." The tone of her voice was unmistakably filled with sarcasm.

We made our purchases, each of us heading to our respective cars. I took great satisfaction in getting out of the parking lot and onto the interstate ahead of her car, my "26.2" sticker prominent on my rear window and in her field of view.

Hah! Apparently once again, this little old lady has everyone fooled!

Temple oranges, purchased on my way to Panama City.
I settled in for the long drive to Panama City, where the next 6 days will be spent at Marriott's Legend's Edge, one of my very favorite Marriott Vacation properties. I look forward to seeing my friends Linda, Sandy, and Marcia, having oysters at Hunt's, getting one or two little runs in, going to Pier Park for lunch one day, and pretty much just kicking back and doing not much for a whole week.