The Gasparilla Distance Classic series of races includes a 15k, 5k, half marathon, 8k, the Michelob Ultra Challenge (which includes all 4 races), the Michelob Ultra Amber Challenge (3 of the races: the 15k, 5k and half), and the Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus Challenge (the 15k and 8k). My choice: the Ultra. So, my challenge was 4 races set over 2 days. First up was the 15k and 5k on Saturday.

Flat Melinda race day gasparilla

Flat Melinda: Ready for Gasparilla Day 1!

Registration and Cost: I love to search for my registration confirmation to see when I decided to sign up for a race. Since I knew the Ultra Challenge was capped at 1,000 participants, I registered SUPER early (in May) to save some money — and it was before I had even completed a full marathon and just a couple weeks after finishing my first half marathon. That cracks me up.

Since I registered for all four races at once, the cost was $185. Everything was done online through imATHLETE, and I didn’t have any issues.

Expo and Packet Pick Up: We went to the expo on Friday after we landed. This size of this expo was on par with Pittsburgh’s — it was HUGE, with so many vendors. Publix was a main sponsor, so they gave out free race distance magnets (and, yes, I got all four!) and Cabot cheese was there sampling their awesomeness as well. Still no luck on finding some clearance Saucony Ride 7s in my size at any of the shoe vendors. Whomp.

I really liked that I wore the same bib for all four races. Also, the t-shirts could all be picked up in the same spot, and they gave us the Ultra Challenge finisher jackets at packet pick-up, which I found interesting (what if you didn’t finish?!). The swag was all packed into a reusable shopping tote, which was also a welcome change (I have so many of those backpack-like cinch bags!).

Bag Check: Didn’t use bag check for any of the races, since I stayed at a hotel within walking distance of both start lines. It was really nice that they had a medal drop in between races for runners completing the various challenges (my medal drop was my boyfriend haha).

Weather: Beautiful… but hot! With the early (dark) start times, I was able to toss out a couple of my old unwanted long-sleeves over the two days, but by mid-morning, temperatures were in the low 70s. Running in shorts and a tank (and hat, because ALL SUN) is my preferred comfort zone but OMG when I saw people running in long pants and sweatshirts and FURRY COSTUMES, I knew Florida officially lost its dang mind.

30something furry gasparilla race

A furry in Florida! RACING IN COSTUME. #hotAF

Fans and Experience: Great crowd support and I lucked out with incredibly friendly pacers (randomly, one who just moved to Pittsburgh) and talkative fellow runners. At the turn-around point, there was a large group of fans with freaking DOUGHNUTS. Throughout the course, there was music and cheer sections and entertainment of various genres (my favorite was probably the guy who was playing a keyboard and singing over electronica music).

Start Line and Course: Both courses took advantage of the beautiful waterfront, running out and back on Bayshore Blvd. Both the 15k and 5k also had the same start and finish lines. I had about an hour between races, and I made friends with a guy from Indiana (who had a Steelers tattoo), who offered up one of his extra GU energy gels for me. The 5K corrals felt SUPER packed and chaotic — more so than lining up for the 15k. There was water at almost every mile of both races, with Gatorade at some stops as well. This race had really great volunteers!

Medals and Swag: I already mentioned the individual shirts, but each race also came with individual medals.

Gasparilla challenge 15k and 5k medals

Bonus: You guys! There were cold towels at the finish line! This was the most amazing thing ever!

Random Bullshit: Ugh, my knee. This was the first time I’ve felt some pain during a race, and it started within the first couple miles. My strategy was total bullshit, too (but it worked) — run faster. (Seriously.) When I increased my pace, it no longer hurt, so I guess maybe my form is breaking down when I’m slowing up? No clue, but I was definitely nervous about running Day 2. And I was having arguments inside my head about being able to keep up the faster pace for 18 miles of running the following day. hahahaha NOPE. OR COULD I?!

After Party: I went back to the hotel to ice my knee and prop up my legs for a few hours, while the boyfriend Uber-ed to the local breweries and to a drugstore to get me a knee brace and some KT tape.

The Great: I PR’d my 15k!
The Good: Man, everyone was having so much fun at these races. It was contagious!
The Bad: That Florida sun.
The Ugly: Ugh, knee trouble.

Gasparilla Day 1 30something

15k official finish time: 1:34:27 — a new PR! I haven’t run a 15k since November 2014, so I took a few minutes off my old time.

Splits (based on Garmin watch): 10:47 (1) / 10:26 (2) / 10:27 (3) / 10:20 (4) / 9:47 (5) / 10:06 (6) / 9:25 (7) / 10:13 (8) / 9:41 (9)

5k official finish time: 30:48 — not a PR but still pretty impressive after running a 15k!

Splits: 10:19 / 9:43 / 9:33 — WOO! Negative splits!

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