Race Weekend Recap: Gasparilla Ultra Challenge 2018

Arthur and I traveled to Tampa so I could participate in the 2018 Gasparilla Distance Classic. I had registered for the Michelob Ultra Challenge, which meant I would be running four races over two days: a 15K and 5K on Saturday, and a half marathon followed by an 8K on Sunday, for a weekend total of 30.4 miles.

The Gasparilla Distance Classic is just one of several annual pirate-themed events that take place in the Tampa area. The first Distance Classic took place in Feburary 1978, and since then the races have raised over $5 million for local youth organizations and running programs. The Wikipedia article on the Gasparilla Pirate Festival explains a bit about the history of pirate events in Tampa.

Training & Goals
I've filled up my race calendar but I haven't been keeping up with my training. I went into Gasparilla on a nearly two-week running drought, logging only 11 training miles. Yikes. My only goal was to finish. I was a little bit worried about Sunday as the time between the half and the 8K didn't leave a lot of wiggle room for slower runners.

Race Weekend Day One: February 23, 2018
Arthur and I headed to Tampa on Friday, with a stop at Sparkle Skirts Headquarters on the way. Our next stop was the Health and Fitness Expo at the Tampa Convention Center. I picked up my bib, shirts, and challenge jacket. We had a look at the vendors and I was able to find my name on the huge printed banner on display in the hall.

Tampa was having their monthly Fourth Friday celebration, in which several art and cultural venues in the city open their doors for free or offer specials to visitors. We walked to the Henry B. Plant Museum for an hour visit. After dinner we went to the magnificent Tampa Theatre where we enjoyed a show of all the Oscar-nominated animated shorts. They had a two-for-one beer special so I did some extra alcoholic-style carb loading before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Race Weekend Day Two: February 24, 2018
Our hotel in Brandon was just a short drive into downtown Tampa. We found a place to park close to the start/finish area. First we stopped at the convention center for a group picture with my running club before heading over to the start of the 15K race, my first of this distance (instant PR!).

Gasparilla 15K
The corral was extremely crowded and it was hard to find where to enter the fenced-off area. I lined up according to my projected pace.

It was about 70°F with clear skies and 100% humidity at the start. It didn't feel that humid to me. There was a light breeze off of the bay thay may have helped. Arthur took this photo of me at the start:

The course was a simple out-and-back along Bayshore Boulevard. The run had very little shade. I knew I had plenty of time to complete this race, as the following 5K wouldn't start until 9:25AM at the earliest, with the last wave starting at 9:45AM (I crossed the start of the 15K at 6:49AM).

It was fun to be running somewhere new. It was nice to look out over the bay on the first half of the run. There were ample water stops and some distractions, like a group of Rough Riders cheering the runners. There were even some spectators handing out pieces of Krispy Kreme donuts at the turnaround - thank you!

On the way back, unfortunately, all I could notice was the fishy / garbage-y stink coming off the water. At first I thought I got a whiff of a porta-potty but the smell continued for most of the run back. The breeze must have been off the water but at our backs on the way out. On the way in the breeze went right up my nose and I found it quite unpleasant. :(

I finished with a mediocre time of 1:51:13, slowing down significantly for the last four miles, constantly thinking about all the running that was still ahead of me. The best part of the morning was meeting Meb Keflezighi, who was giving out high fives and taking selfies with finishers after the race. I had missed him at the expo so I was very glad to see him, albeit very shortly, at the finish line.

The finish chute, which would be the same for all of the races, was a long walk over the bridge back towards the Tampa Convention Center. Runners could pick up their medals, water, snacks, and cooling towels on the way out.

Gasparilla 5K
After crossing the finish line and getting my goodies, I found Arthur in the crowd. I handed him my medal and then we parted so I could make my way to the starting corral for the 5K. It was even more crowded, and more chaotic. I had no idea where to line up and again it was hard to find the way into the fenced-off corral. My Ultra Challenge bib didn't seem to match the color coding system for the wave starts and the volunteers in the corrals also didn't know where I should be. I made my way to the front of a middle corral. After a while I saw they were letting Ultra runners into the next corral so I asked to be let in as well. I ended up crossing the starting line at about 9:36AM which would have been good for a projected race time of 36-40 minutes. It took me a bit longer than that: 46:44. Oops.

It was 73°F with 83% humidity for the start of this race. The sun was blazing and it felt a lot more than 3° hotter. The route took us along Bayshore Boulevard again. It was a slog. This time the Rough Riders were handing out whole doughnuts at the turnaround. Yummy!

I wasn't feeling super great during either race. I was kind of down on running in general actually. Though I complained about the stink, I should probably put more blame on the copious amounts of beer I drank the night before. Oops.

Anyway, after the 5K I met Arthur back at the car. We headed back to the hotel so I could shower and change. After a nice big late breakfast at First Watch, we headed to the TECO Manatee Viewing Center. It was too hot for manatees but we had a nice visit at the center.

We had an early dinner at Bahama Breeze and then went to see Black Panther at a local cinema. I got a huge soda and a huge popcorn (birthday freebies). So I went from a pre-race beer binge to a pre-race popcorn binge.

Race Weekend Day Three: February 25, 2018
Another short, uneventful drive got us into the city from our suburban hotel.

Gasparilla Half Marathon
I met up with WVR club members before the race for a group photo, but took my leave quickly. I wanted to try to get as far up in the start corral as I could. I was the only club member running both races on Sunday and I'm really glad I left when I did.

I managed to squeeze my way close to the front of the 2+ hour corral. I knew I had to be back by the time the 8K started at 9:15AM. I crossed the half marathon start line at 6:03AM. It was 70°F with 100% humidity. The weather felt pleasantly cool - we started running before the sun came up.

The first part of this race took us through the residential streets of Davis Islands. It was quite dark in some places so I kept my head down, watching my footing. There were plenty of water stops and some distractions along the way, like a fire juggler and cheering homeowners. I was taking it easy but I felt much better than I did the day before. I guess a boatload of popcorn is okay race fuel?

After running the first 5 or so miles on the island, we crossed the Davis Boulevard Bridge to finish the run on Bayshore Boulevard (UGH). On Sunday the stink wasn't as prevalent as on Saturday. It was tolerable.

There were even more spectators out on the route, some giving out brownie bites (YUM), Twizzlers (THE BEST), and even mimosas (darn, I missed these!). Throughout the last 8 miles I was doing a lot of race math (math is hard) and slowing my pace, just wanting to finish and not struggle too much in the blazing sun. I wanted to time my finish so that I wouldn't have to wait around too much for the 8K to start, and it worked out okay. I finished the half in 2:51:33.

Gasparilla 8K
The start of the 8K was directly next to the finish of the half marathon, so after I picked up my half medal I handed it to Arthur and then swung around to get into the 8K corral. It was fun cheering on the incoming half marathoners as I waited for the 8K to start. It was 72°F with full blazing sun. It felt hot. I was going to take it slow. Very, very slow. I did a lot of walking and finished with a time of 1:21:47. Unfortunately some of the water stops ran out of cups for us back-of-the-pack runners, which was disappointing.

After Party
There was a lot going on after the races on Sunday (maybe on Saturday too, but we left early). Unfortunately the food line was closed before I could get anything from the buffet, even though it looked like there was still plenty of food. I saw other runners carrying whole bunches of bananas but I was only given one at the banana table. Huh? Kids were trying to give away whole boxes of Kashi bars and fruit cups. I saw runners with beer, but where did they get it? The beer tent and rest of the runner village was about a 1/3 mile from the food, in a totally separate area. That was pretty strange. Arthur and I walked over so I could get my free post-race beer and we picked up a few other freebies along the way. I was super glad it was over!

I'm glad to have run Gasparilla once, but I think that once was enough. I wasn't a fan of the chaotic starting corrals, the literally stinky course, and running along the exact same stretch of road for four races. The lack of food and shortage of water cups was no fun either. The t-shirts and medals are great but the jacket premium for challenge runners isn't special. All in all I was a bit disappointed after hearing a lot of hype about this race series.

15K chip time: 1:51:13 Placement details: 291/498 in Age Group; 3648/5367 overall
5K chip time:
46:44 Placement details: 472/802 in Age Group; 7460/11356 overall
Half Marathon chip time:
2:51:29 Placement details: 330/457 in Age Group; 4283/5292 overall
8K chip time: 1:21:47 Placement details: 358/431 in Age Group; 4180/4648 overall
Race Amenities: Tech race shirts for each distance, medals for each race plus challenge medal, challege jacket, reusable Publix shopping bag, various swag and coupons at expo
$203.80 for Michelob Ultra Challenge

Report written March 7, 2018

Professional race photos (c) MarathonFoto


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