PACKET PICKUP: I knew that packet pick was open until 8 p.m., so on Friday, February 6 after work, I traveled up to the New Balance store on Clark Road in Sarasota. Since we had some other errands to run, it made more sense to take care of it then. When we got to the store, we saw that they had a tent set up in the parking lot with sale items, but unfortunately for us, we didn’t leave enough time to shop!
Once inside the store, the packet pick up was very organized; everything moved quickly even though the store was pretty full. They had computers where you typed in your name and your registration number came up. Very nice.
RACE DAY: The emails sent by the race and their website both outlined the time parameters for race day. Since I already had my bib, I planned to be at the race by about 6:15 a.m. on race day, and we ended up arriving just a little after that. We had parked, I had all my race gear together, and by 6:30 a.m., I was standing in line to use one of the porta-potties. The lines were so long I was getting nervous about whether I would get an opportunity to use one prior to the start of the race. Lucky for me, a bathroom was discovered inside the building just past the gear check and down the steps. It was warm, clean, nearly empty and perfect!
I walked around a little bit and checked out the view. From there, I saw a beautiful view of the Van Wezel so I grabbed a picture on my phone and it came out so nice I could sell it to a postcard company!
I also grabbed a picture of the beautiful (but dreaded) Ringling Bridge that gives you the idea of its elevation (and the reason for my dread). According to my Garmin later, my last half marathon had a total elevation of 65. This race had a total elevation of 1,298! But it is very beautiful!
Back to the race: I headed over to the start area just in time. The corrals were “self-seeded” so I needed to figure out where I’d be starting, which was basically right in front of a group of walkers. The race organizers were talking on the microphone while everyone got lined up.
It was pretty amazing to see so many people at an inaugural race. (In fact, I read later that the race had an amazing first-year record-breaking 2,000 runners and walkers and that the race sold out 10 days prior to race day.) Anyway, a group of us were talking around me getting a feel for where we would finish and what our expectations were for this race. Most of the time I think seasoned runners are hoping for a new PR. I noticed that a few of the women around me were looking forward to a fun event and said they were “in it” for the course and the fun and weren’t shooting for a PR. One woman even had a headband with a little sign that said something about Girl Scout cookies!
So the race began. It was about two minutes before I crossed over the start line. I pushed my Garmin at the start and we were off. It was a little bit of a cluster of people at the start but by the time we made the right turn on 41, it loosened up a bit. There was a drum circle type of band on that corner of 41 and they were very enthusiastically playing and it made us feel like we were being cheered on. By the time we turned onto the John Ringling Causeway, the fast runners were well ahead of us and the walkers were sufficiently behind us so everyone was very nicely spaced out.
Because I have been battling an IT band issue that hasn’t quite resolved, and because I’m slated to do the Fort Lauderdale A1A Half Marathon next weekend, I had already decided I would be walking up the John Ringling Bridge both times, so I didn’t put any big pressure on myself to do anything more than that. I was using the Garmin run/walk format but I disregarded it as I walked up the bridge. I knew where the top was because there was a marching band there cheering us on and they sounded great! (The race’s website lists all the information about the 15 bands and their locations, so I’m not going to bore you here with a line by line of each band, but click on “The Bands” to learn more about them.)
I started to slowly run down the bridge again disregarding the sounds of my run/walk program on my Garmin – I wanted to take advantage of the momentum as long as I could. I was familiar with this segment of the course, having participated in the First Watch Sarasota Half for many years now. The beauty of this bridge and then the beauty of St. Armand’s Circle never gets old. As a resident of Sarasota County, I’m very lucky to call this beautiful area “home”.
So once we went around the circle of St. Armand’s, we headed back up the bridge and then back down. I followed the same routine – ignored the Garmin run/walk format, walked up, and slowly ran down the bridge passing the 5 mile mark. By now I knew that I wasn’t going to drop out of this race due to the IT band even though I had given it a lot of thought the past four miles or so due to the pain. Either it was finally stretched out, or I was just used to the pain of it.
We exited the Causeway and went underneath by Harts Landing, and basically we traveled under the Causeway to the other side. It was very cool but unfortunately I can’t remember the details of how we finally ended up on Bayfront Drive somewhere around mile 6. We headed down Bayfront Drive past the Sarasota Bayfront Park and the 26-foot tall famous statue called “Unconditional Surrender”. The statute is a 15,000-pound, giant replica of the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo of a joyful sailor spontaneously smooching a nurse in Times Square to celebrate the surrender of the Japanese in World War II on V-J Day.
Once we went down Bayfront Drive, the course led to Mound Street, then by mile 7 we were on South Orange Avenue where we received GU from some more great volunteers. By mile 8, we were on McClellan Parkway and headed back in the quaint little neighborhood there. The residents were ringing their cowbells, they had folding chairs or were standing, but clearly they were in it for the long haul cheering all of us on. They seemed to be caught up in the excitement of the race too. We were back by Southside School when the big Girl Scout cookie show was revealed. Young girls were dressed up like cookies and various cookies were being offered. I grabbed a thin mint and a small glass of water, but I was really too parched by then to enjoy it, but I hope the lady looking forward to this section was enjoying it!
After the cookies, we curved around and went down the block heading out of the neighborhood. We were directed back from whence we came – down McClellan Parkway and down South Orange Avenue and then we were directed toward the entrance to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens! How cool is that! (Another piece of information here: This was was the first race ever to run through the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, which is generally open to the public. If you ever have an opportunity to visit, you won’t be disappointed unless you are hoping to hear a band playing for you too!) My son and his wife had their wedding at Selby Gardens in 2007, and then when they came down to visit in 2013, we went again and it seemed like it just got more beautiful!
After going through Selby Gardens, we came out, curved out by Mound Street, headed back down Bayfront (offered more GU too), back down John Ringling Causeway, back down around Harts Landing following the road to the intersection of Tamiami Trail and turned left. By now, my knee was crazy sore and both of my hips hurt probably from shifting off that IT band and the knee.
There was a section of Tamiami Trail called “Beer Mile”. Of course, as a woman with over 22 years of recovery, I didn’t have any interest in checking into that. It was funny, however, to point out that I saw so many half-full cups of beer lined up on the curb after “Beer Mile”. It looked like people grabbed a cup, took a swig, either didn’t like the beer or decided it wasn’t a good idea for them, and put the cup down right next to the other ones all lined up.
And then I saw it – the “I have arrived” sign. I knew was going to make it but boy, was I sore:
I saw the photographers and thought I needed to pull it together and look like I was having fun out there but it hurt too much. I did the best I could. I came around the corner thinking the finish line was there but it wasn’t. I had to turn left where I thought the finish line was, but it wasn’t there either. I had to make another right. AND THEN I SAW THE FINISH LINE!!!
I crossed over the finish line, stopped my Garmin, picked up my medal, grabbed a water and looked for somewhere to sit. Jane had followed me from the corner of Route 41 all the way over to the finish line and was ready to give me a hand if I needed it.
After the race there was brunch provided to participants and it was pretty great tasting too! All leftover food was being donated to the Salvation Army to feed the homeless too.
This course was not only beautiful, but the race itself was very well executed. The course was perfectly measured – my Garmin read 13.19 at the finish. It seemed like there were water/Gatorade stops at every mile which was very nice (don’t quote me as I don’t know for a fact exactly where the water stations were). The course showcased 15 bands with 25 entertainment locations, it had the dedicated Girl Scout cookie area, the “Beer Mile” thing, the route through Selby Gardens and the 700-person spectator zone. There were 22 non-profit and fundraising partners with a collective $28,000 donation given to the organizations. Later I learned that the participants of this race spanned in age from nine years old to 81 years old, and they came from 37 different states, from Florida to the upper East Coast to the mid-west to California.
The race offered an entry fee of $45 for the 2016 race participants who registered on this race day. From what I understand, they had about 900 people register for next year’s race – clearly a testimony to how great the race was this year. If you want to register, there’s still room at the $65 price, by clicking HERE.
The icing on the cake for the faster runners is the fact that all top three male and female winners received complimentary entry into 2016 Sarasota Music Half Marathon in addition to trophies!
If you want to learn more about Sarasota County and our beaches, places to visit, places to stay and other awesome things to do, check out their website HERE!
See you all there next year!