Once you’ve completed the Dopey Challenge at Disney it’s easy to think that’s as crazy as it gets. That is, unless you’ve heard of the Gasparilla Distance Classic.
This past weekend while thousands of Princesses stormed the Magic Kingdom for the annual Princess Half Marathon Weekend, I was trekking to Tampa for a different challenge.
I’m actually grateful for the weekend in Tampa as I’ve run Princess before and I didn’t really enjoy it all that much. I mean it’s another fun Disney race but I’m not the biggest fan. There is the thought of returning to it in 2018 to tackle the Glass Slipper Challenge but I’m up in the air. Gasparilla is cheaper and the challenge is easily $100 less than a Disney Challenge.
For 2017 I returned to Gasparilla to tackle a beast of a race weekend with the Michelob Ultra Challenge. This two day event involves four races for a total of 30.4 miles of running.
I was asked on Sunday morning but another racer if I thought this was easier or harder than running the Dopey Challenge at Disney. Let me tell you something, it’s a whole lot harder.
Like any big race weekend, it all starts with the Expo. Erica (who was in town for Princess) and I made the drive to Tampa for bib picket up. Now, normally I would do day of bib pick up but with a longer, challenge, weekend I’m willing to make an exception and make the extra drive.
The expo takes place in the Tampa Convention Center which has plenty of parking nearby as well as hotels if you are from out of town. Has both Erica and I been running this races this weekend together, I might have opted for local lodgings but I would be driving in each morning for the race. Not ideal but it made sense with our plans for the weekend.
For last year’s races one of our teammates had picked up all the packets so I had no idea what to expect so I was a tad nervous about the experience. There was no need!
Bib pick up was an absolute breeze (make sure you know your number, which is emailed to you, to make everything move along much smoother!). Once you’ve grabbed your bib, you move along over to pick up your shirts. The area was arrange with a section for each race and then one for the challenges.
The race SWAG is amazing if you’re crazy enough to do a challenge. As I mentioned, I was running the Michelob Ultra Challenge which involved all four races. As a result I received a shirt for each of the races along with a challenger jacket.
The weekend does have two other, slightly less insane, challenge options: the Michelob Ultra Lime Challenge (the 15k and 8k) and the Ultra Amber Challenge (15k, 5k, Half Marathon). The thing is, I am full blown nutty so I was in for the whole shebang: Saturday: 15k and 5k, Sunday: Half Marathon and 8k.
The result is some pretty awesome SWAG!
At the challenge pick up area a wonderful volunteer puts together your bag with all four shirts and your jacket. Gasparilla does its best to be a green race and as a result your SWAG comes in a reusable shopping bag. It’s a great addition to the collection that lives in a drawer in my kitchen and I never use because I’m forgetful and apparently hate the environment.
The expo is a lot of what you’d expect with sponsor’s booths, running gear and race supplies, as well as other local races (usually offering expo discounts!). We walked around for a bit but since we had to get to the RunDisney expo, we didn’t stay too long.
Race 1: The 15k
Both days are an early start because of the hour drive to Tampa. With the 15k starting at 6:45, I headed out around 5 for the drive and to allow time for parking. Just about anywhere near the start line you are going to pay for parking. Everyone was charging a $10 Event Fee for parking so plan for it. I made sure to have cash with me since it would be easier and faster than a card. This rang true for the parking garage I ended up in which was only accepting cash as far as I could tell.
I hit a port-o-john and seeded myself for the start. For the 15k the race is self-seeding unless you have a magical yellow bib. I didn’t qualify so I started in the second wave. I placed myself just a bit back from the front of the pack since I didn’t want to slow down the faster people.
Yeah, I run a lot and I’m not slow, but I am very much not fast either.
Not much worth reporting for the 15k. I kept myself at a steady pace and was happy to shave a few minutes off my personal record. I didn’t push too hard because I had another race starting just 45 minutes after I crossed the finish line.
I tucked my finisher medal into my running belt and made my way to the start line.
Race 2: The 5k
The downside to back to back races like this is the in between time. My legs with feeling it by time the starting horn went off.
Now for the 5k, they were going with something new. As this is the largest race crowd of the weekend, they decided to break everyone into waves rather than having a mass start. I appreciated this as it made life somewhat easier. It didn’t stop people from jumping into corrals they didn’t belong in but I’ll just mind my own business.
As I’ve mentioned before, 5Ks are not my favorite as they are usually populated by people who are not experienced runners. There is nothing wrong with that but when people seed themselves improperly, it can lead to a frustrating beginning of a race before the crowds thin.
This was the case with this race and I chose to ignore it since I knew I wasn’t going to be Mr. Speedy for this race anyway. I race my race as best I could with tired legs and came in at about 34 minutes. This is about 7 minutes slower than my best 5k but I had just run 9 miles before this so I wasn’t about to be mad.
Race 3: The Half Marathon
Now, sometimes, I am not the brightest bulb in the pack. This was the case for Sunday morning. For some reason I had both races in my calendar wrong. I had them starting 15 minutes AFTER they were actually gunning off.
This resulted in a bit of a rushed morning. I had arrived and parked before realizing my mistake which left me just enough time to get to the start line and go.
For the half marathon the race actually starts in a different location than on Saturday when both races kick off from the same point. Sunday’s start was a bit further away. I got myself into the crowd of runners (this race was a one start free for all) and managed to seed myself with the 2 hour and 30 minutes pace group. I would have preferred to start a little closer to the front of the pack but from experience last year; this was going to be my expected finish time.
For the most part it was your standard half marathon experience. There was one “WTF” moment around mile 4 when a woman running directly in front of me realized her shoe was untied and rather than moving out of the way and stopping, she went around and came to a grinding halt in the middle of the road. This caused me to ram right into her, knocking her over
I. Was. Pissed.
I believed my exact words were “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?”
She had some choice words for me as well.
Seriously people. Runner etiquette. Learn it.
I finished up with a respectable 2:20 time and had enough breathing room to grab a snack and make my way to the next start line.
Rather than tucking away my medal, I opted for medal drop off. This is a wonderful perk for challenge runners that don’t want to run with their half marathon medal. As this one is hinged, I didn’t want to risk ruining it while I was running.
Another perk is that right at the medal drop off, they have some bananas and other snacks available just for challenge runners. This is wonderful because it allowed us to refuel without having to walk all the way to the runner relief area as the 8K start was right next to the finish line area.
Race 4: The 8k
I went into the 8k with no personal expectations other than to finish as quickly as possible and get back to Orlando.
I started off the race a bit annoyed because of a pair of women, a mother and daughter, next to me. They had seeded themselves way ahead of where they should have been and they knew it. In fact, they were boasting about it as they saw the pacers seeding themselves in.
DAUGHTER: Ha, look, we’re with the 6 minute a mile group!
MOM: Haha no way we’re going that fast.
DAUGHTER: Should we move?
MOM: Nah, people can just go around us.
I don’t know who you two are but know that I hate you. We all do.
This is not a safe move for anyone. Sure, everyone wants to get out there and go but when you don’t properly seed yourself with the appropriate pace group you run the risk of injury to yourself or someone else. When those elite people go, they go and if you’re in their way it’s going to cause problems.
What annoyed me the most is when I made the turn around and was heading towards the finish line, I saw the mom walking alongside the chase car. This meant she was literally the last person that was going to finish the race. Nothing wrong with that at all but it was an indicator that she should have started further back. The first half mile of the course is congested enough without walkers causing unnecessary traffic jams.
I encourage everyone to get out there and do their best but please be safe and smart about it.
I finished up the race, receiving my 8k medal as well as my challenge medal. I picked up my half medal from the drop off and made my way home.
In the End
Having run this challenge twice now I have to say it’s a sure thing to add to your running bucket list. The course is wonderful (though please note that you are running the same course for each race so prepare for the same view over and over and over again) and the SWAG is generous.
I will say that this challenge is a tough one, much more difficult than Dopey. Yes Dopey is more miles but it’s spread out over four days as opposed to four races in two days. Especially since you are starting one right after the other.
As of right now I’m not sure what my plans for 2018 will be when it comes to this race weekend. Gasparilla butts heads with Princess Half Marathon every year without fail so it is about choosing between the two. I’d like to run with my team at Princess and complete the last challenge on my RunDisney list, but I’d also love to spend less money.
I’ll definitely keep ya’ll posted on my plans!