When it comes to running, you don’t have to ever do formal races to participate. All you have to do is run. However, sometimes the organized runs can give you a goal, camaraderie, and motivation. Tampa runners have a love/hate relationship with the Gasparilla Distance Classic. It is, by far, the largest local running event. I first completed the 8K (about 5 miles) a few years ago. I was annoyed that I had to attend the Health and Wellness Expo in order to pick up my race packet. Yet, when I entered the Expo, I became excited. There were lots of freebies, vendors, and activities. You can meet local athletes, news reporters, or other celebrities. The environment is upbeat, and I always spend way too much money. The packet pickup, despite hosting almost 30K runners, was seamless. The day of the race is also electric, yet hectic. There are two races on Saturday and two on Sunday. While it’s such a huge event, it is the most organized I have ever seen. In 5 years of participation,  my race has never started late. The route is an out-and-back that takes runners along beautiful and historic Bayshore Boulevard. I’ve run the half marathon the last 4 years, and it starts at 6AM. Some may not like the early start, but I love it. Not only am I done relatively early, I get to see the sun rise over Bayshore. There’s a post-race meal that is catered by the Columbia Restaurant. I’ve never actually participated in this, but I can imagine it’s probably better than the normal banana. Parking is an issue because the volume of people participating inundates downtown Tampa. I, however, have a friend drop me off and pick me up as close as he can get to the starting line. Some people do not like big races like this. At first, it might be beneficial to try smaller races, giving yourself a chance to learn etiquette, preferences, and pacing. Gasparilla isn’t for everyone, but it seems like everyone is there. They have great medals and t-shirts, and they give a lot of money to local charities. Volunteers provide water, gatoraide, and gels along the route, and there is a lot of community support. Spectators cheer runners on, the mayor waits at the finish line, and the whole vibe is exciting. There are also various challenges. These challenges allow you to combine races; you can do all of them or two of them. While I love this race, it is not the cheapest out there. If you sign up early (which I never do), you can save some money. It can also be very hot; some years have been great, while others just miserable. Regardless, the race coordinators plan accordingly (this year they had misters along the route and iced towels at the finish).  While this event is huge, it has a lot more resources than smaller runs. Bottom line, this event may be too big for some, but I personally don’t plan on missing one.

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