Latest reviews by This Old Runner ~~
This was the fourth time I ran the First Watch Sarasota Half. This year, I received a free entry as a BibRave Pro.
• THIS YEAR THE RACE WAS IN OCTOBER •
For 13 years, the First Watch Sarasota Half & Relay was in March. This year the event moved to October. That meant a different mindset for training over the Summer. It also meant more heat and humidity on race day.
• WEATHER & SAFETY CHANGED RACE PLANS •
There was severe weather during the days before the race. Saturday’s 5K was rained out. It was moved to Sunday morning with the other events.
Between 8-9 pm on Saturday night, it was announced that the second half of the half and relay course wasn’t going to be safe for runners.
Race management notified racers via social media and email that Half participants would get a refund. Half runners were invited to run the 10K for FREE on Sunday. Relay runners could run their 6.2 miles together instead of in two legs.
There’s no question, last minute changes are upsetting. The downside to a late announcement is some people don't see the message until race morning. I felt bad for out-of-town runners who traveled for a half.
I thought First Watch Sarasota did a good job handling everything. Participants had choices:
• Choose to skip the race and get a full refund
• Run a 10K and get a full refund
• Run with your relay partner instead of in shifts
• Make it a training run with on-course support, a finisher medal, and a post race party
That worked for me and a couple thousand other runners who showed up on Sunday morning. Race management thanked everyone for understanding.
Side note: Since there wasn't a half marathon, there weren't any pacers with signs to help runners seed themselves in the corrals. No big deal since there were fewer runners, but I missed having that cue.
• RACE DAY •
80 degrees and super humid at the starting line. We started in the dark, which felt good. Everyone I talked to was in good spirits.
• POST RACE •
After the race, everyone received a medal, water, and gatorade endurance at the finish line. The beer garden was open and serving Michelob Light and hard seltzers.
The food tent had lots of food: apples, bananas, muffins, yogurt parfaits, and hot pancakes.
I love sitting by Sarasota Bay — close to the water there was a nice breeze. There was a live band playing music, too.
• EXPO + PACKET PICKUP + SWAG •
There isn't an official expo. There were a few vendor tents at the race.
Packet pickup was at the downtown Sarasota Fit2Run store on Friday and Saturday, and at the registration tent on race morning.
Runners got a race shirt, sunscreen, chapstick, probiotic and CBD samples. There were discount coupons for First Watch, Floyd’s of Leadville, and Up4 Probiotics in the goodie bag. I always size up for this race shirt, and was happy with it.
• PARKING •
Less runners meant more parking spots at Van Wezel. When you park there you are steps away from the start/finish line and all the festivities.
• RACE COURSE •
I love running the Ringling Bridge, so I was happy. It's a good challenge for me. You go over the bridge twice — on your way to and from St. Armand’s Circle. And the downhills are so.much.fun!
The 10K course is the first half of the half marathon course. Runners start at Van Wezel, then run on Tamiami Trail to the bridge. There’s a long approach on both sides of the bridge. We went over the bridge, did a loop around St. Armand’s Circle, then over the bridge again. Then, we ran on Tamiami Trail back to Van Wezel.
Normally, the half marathon (miles 7-11) takes runners through mature older neighborhoods with bay views, big trees, and pretty homes. We skipped that this year.
• AID STATIONS •
I think there were 4 (5?) aid stations on the course. There was Gatorade Endurance thirst quencher and water offered at each one. There were GE gels after mile 4. There was water and GE at the finish line.
• MEDALS •
Everyone got the medal for their original race registration. Half mara runners got a a half medal despite running a 10K. I’m happy to have it. I appreciate the creativity and design. It’s a beauty!
• FINAL NOTE •
If you run long enough you’ll experience cancelled and postponed races. No race org wants to cancel or modify a race. Life happens. It’s part of the deal, and that’s okay. Hopefully, next year the race won't have any problems.
I enjoyed my 10K on Sunday. It was a challenge with hills, heat, and humidity. And, there were beautiful bridge views, on-course support, and finish line festivities with tasty food and beverages.
There’s only happiness when I get to race through Sarasota with a couple thousand sweaty running friends!
Check out photos and more details: http://www.thisoldrunner.com/2019-first-watch-sarasota-half.html
Best Damn Race Safety Harbor is the 2nd in the 2019 series of 5 Best Damn Races. (Jacksonville, Safety Harbor, Savannah, Orlando and New Orleans). Safety Harbor is located on the west side of Tampa Bay.
This was year 7 for the Safety Harbor race. It has steadily improved each year. I can’t say enough good things about this year's event.
• PACKET PICKUP and THE EXPO
Racers had three options for packet pickup. Thursday in Tampa at Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Friday and Saturday on-site at the BDR Expo.
The expo was at Safety Harbor Marina Park on the waterfront. You could pick up your packet then peruse all the vendor tents. There were freebies and samples from local races and places. Several races had giveaways and discounts. If you needed sunglasses or a headband before the race, you could get it. The Best Damn Race merch tent featured new items like a sugar skull hat and Tervis tumblers.
Picture spots were set up at the expo. You could grab pics in front of Tampa Bay, the finish line, or a BDR backdrop. The weather was a happy surprise. The threat of rain disappeared. It was a gorgeous weekend.
• THE SWAG
Everyone received a Best Damn Race reusable bag. Inside was a location specific pint glass, discounts to local race, Biscoff cookies, a Sticker Mule sticker of a race medal, and promotional giveaway items from the sponsors.
The race shirts are a soft poly/cotton/rayon blend. Dark blue heather with a bright logo on the front. You could exchange it for a different size on Saturday after the last race began.
• RACE COURSE
I ran the Half marathon. It began on Bayshore Boulevard with excellent views of the sunrise. We ran along the water then headed inland long enough to get to Philippe Park.
Philippe Park has huge oak trees that form a tunnel through the park. It was a fun place to run. Slight inclines and declines. We ran out and back through the park, then headed across town. We ran to the other side of Safety Harbor then up and down some hills.
The hills are mild compared to places like Pennsylvania and Virginia, but they’re hills to Floridians. It was a good test. The race finished by running along Tampa Bay again with park and water views.
Every mile is marked. LEO and volunteers were abundant on course. No chance of getting lost.
• AID STATIONS
There were 11 aid stations available to half marathoners. The first stop had water, the rest had water and Gatorade. SIS gels and GU gels were available at mile 5 and 8. Two port-a-potties at each aid station.
• MEDALS and MORE MEDALS
The medal is a SAND GLOBE. It’s a 3D globe with sand inside. (See photo). All the medals are all bright, fun graphics that depict the race city. Every race has it’s own medal: 5K, 10K, and half. An additional medal is earned if you run the 5K, 10K Challenge.
If you run a half marathon in each of the 5 BDR race cities you get extra medals along the way. 2x, 3x, 4x and 5x racer bling is awarded as you earn it.
• POST RACE PARTY
The location of the race course is super nice. The location of the post race party is excellent. As you cross the finish line you receive your medal and a bottle of water.
A few yards away is the post race party in beautiful Marina Park. Everything is included in your race fee. So, grab a beer, hard seltzer, or vodka mixed drink to start.
The choices seem never-ending: Outback Steakhouse chicken, steak, and Caesar salad. Papa Johns pizza delivered hot to the party. Fresh strawberries, salty snacks (Cheetos anyone?), bite-size chocolate bars, brownies, donuts, coffee, soft drinks, water, and electrolytes were available.
Ring the PR bell, take a photo, watch the awards ceremony. Talk to running friends you haven’t seen since last year. Visit the vendors. Sign up for your next race. Visit the port-o-potties.
There’s plenty of room for everyone to stay and relax after the race. It was a beautiful day, and the post race party was scheduled to last until noon.
Plenty of street parking. Lot parking is available in several lots a mile to 2 miles from the starting line. Race management and the website do a good job of explaining the parking set up. All parking was free.
Race registration kicks off with a blitz in March. Get in early for the best price. The cost increases on a sliding scale based on the number of people who registered.
This year the 5K, 10K, and Challenge SOLD OUT.
• CHECK OUT MY EVENT PHOTOS
See the race course, more medals, and post race party here: http://www.thisoldrunner.com/2019-best-damn-race-safety-harbor-review.html
Everything about this race is sweet! If you haven't run a Hot Chocolate race yet, go find one and register.
The expo was at the Tampa Convention Center. It's also the start and finish point for the race. That means after packet pickup at the expo, you'll know where to park and line up on race day. The expo was in the East Hall. There was signage and staff to guide everyone to the right place. Packet pickup was easy as 1-2-3. Get your bib, get your SWAG bag, and visit all the vendors.
You could sign up for next year's race at special expo pricing. Try samples, play games for prices, and take advantage of discounted deals. There was a Hot Chocolate gear store with accessories, rain jackets, tanks, long sleeves, and jackets. Everything flowed smoothly.
There were picture spots all around the expo. Marshall the giant marshmallow man was outside on the steps of the convention center, too.
Everyone — 5K and 15K runners — receive the full zip hooded jacket. It's some of the best race swag around. The sleeves have thumbholes. There are zip pockets. The jacket came in merlot and black this year. Everyone was encouraged to try on their jacket before leaving the expo. If it didn't fit you could use the SWAG SWAP area to get the right size by trading. There were lots of chocolate samples at the expo. I indulged in the hot chocolate because it's the BEST!
I ran the 15K. It was an out and back along Bayshore Blvd. on Tampa Bay. This is the third year for the #HC15K in Tampa, and I think it was the best weather yet. There was heavy cloud cover which made it comfortable. It was cool at the starting line. Once you started to run you didn't need a jacket. Still, it wasn't too hot.
The entire course is pretty and very flat. Lots of big houses and water views to see. The out and back course meant you see other runners out there. Lots of holiday decorations. Not a lot of spectators, but it didn't matter since you could see other runners.
Every mile is marked. Seemed to be Porta Pots at every aid station, maybe even each mile marker?
There were three aid stations offering water, Nuun , and candy. (M&Ms, marshmallows with chocolate chips, and Swedish fish. The volunteers were a blast — especially at the last aid station. The volunteers made a cheer tunnel, called runners by name, and gave an escort through the tunnel. It was hilarious, and a great boost.
The 15K finishers receive a giant chocolate bar with gold accents. It's city-specific, so the Tampa version had pirates and water. It's a substantial medal for a 15K distance.
Every runner, in the 5K and 15K gets a finishers cup filled with chocolate goodies. The delicious hot chocolate is in a cup in the center, surrounded by chocolate fondue and treats to dip in the fondue. Man, that really is the best hot chocolate around!
The post race finish area offered seating on the steps of the convention center. There were picture spots, portolets, and water views all around. Very well organized race. Great signage that made it easy to find everything.
Parking was easier this year than last year. It was a $5 flat fee. You paid in cash when you entered the Tampa Convention Center garage. No fumbling around with payment machines and tickets after the race. It was easy in and easy out.
There were a ton of runners dressed up in holiday gear. It was fun to see all the creative outfits out there! Great race at a good time of year. Who doesn't need a long run to burn off the crazy during the holidays?!
Fun Fact: The winners (top male and female) of this race win First Watch Daytime Cafe meals for a year!
This was my 3rd First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. It should have been my 4th, but I had a sinus infection last year and DNS. I was very happy to return this year!
63 degrees at the start, and just 74 at the finish. I should mention there was 100% humidity, but we're all gonna sweat anyway, right? The race started at 6:30 am this year, which meant we ran in the cool darkness for an hour.
Miami on Wednesday, then in Sarasota on Friday and Saturday. Packet pickup was available on race morning, too. I went on Friday and got my bib, beer bracelet, and shirt in under 5 minutes.
This year's shirt is bright neon green and super soft. I'll definitely wear it a lot. The swag included a First Watch Cafe coupon, protein bars, and a package of First Watch coffee.
Parking is easy if you arrive early. The race begins and ends at Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, and there is plenty of on site parking. Use the lot if you aren't in a hurry to leave after the race — you can't exit until 10 am. There are other parking lots and street parking nearby. Details were in the athlete guide.
This year there was road construction on Tamiami Trail and 10th Street, so traffic backed up before the race. But, everything moved along thanks to traffic volunteers and law enforcement.
You run up and down the John Ringling Causeway bridge TWICE between miles 2-5. It's a definite challenge, but feels so, so, good going down. It's a scenic view from every angle on the bridge. Depending on your pace you'll run the bridge in the dark, or as the sun rises. It's fun both ways.
The course takes you around St. Armand's Circle, along the Tamiami Trail, and through older neighborhoods with mature shade trees, bay views, and beautiful homes. There were both warm and cool breezes along Bayshore.
This year the race added designated picture spots so runners could take selfies with views of Sarasota Bay.
There were plenty of aid stations on the course. Water and Gatorade Endurance were available. Volunteers did a great job of handing off drinks. Gatorade Endurance gel was available at mile 9.
Due to construction on 10th Street, the course start and finish were different. The final half mile didn't have the same momentum as past years when we raced downhill then turned into the finish, but it worked! There were cheering spectators, photographers, and kind volunteers. I always appreciate when someone puts the medal over my head rather than just handing it to me — especially after a half marathon. Ice cold water and Gatorade were available after crossing the finish line.
One thing First Watch Sarasota Half always gets right is the finish line photogs. There are a couple taking finish line pics, but then there are more photogs ready to capture your medal pic and group shots post-race. And, I saw at least 4 photographers on the course.
Everyone receives free race photos, courtesy of Athlinks. It's cool how you have your race results and photos all in one place online. You can download your photos.
POST RACE PARTY:
The Beer Garden offered Michelob Ultra, Spiked Seltzer and Truly Sparkling alcoholic beverages. The food tent had a buffet of bananas, cut oranges, mini muffins, yogurt parfaits, pancakes, etc. from First Watch Daytime Cafe. I had the yogurt parfait — it was the perfect mix of granola, yogurt, strawberries and grapes. The post race festivities are on the lawn next to the bay. Very nice.
You get the "biggest bling on Florida's West Coast" when you run this race. Organizers said this year's sparkling teal blue was inspired by Sarasota Bay. It's sure is a shiny glittering beauty — 4 x 4.5 inches. (See photo.)
First Watch Sarasota Half and Relay added a 10K distance this year. If you've always wanted to #RunSarasota, but weren't ready for a half, give the 10K or Relay a try. You get all the perks of sunrise over Sarasota Bay and a delicious post-race party. Plus, every finisher received the huge, sparkly dolphin medal.
This was my 4th year running at the St Pete Beach Classic. This time I ran the Duo Challenge: a 10K and 5K on Saturday. The other years I ran the half marathon on Sunday.
WEATHER: 60 degrees, and cloudy. There was a tricky NW wind that made it feel colder. Both courses were out and backs. The wind was in our faces for the first half, but at our backs for the second half. This was probably the warmest year I can remember. You never know what temps you'll get in Florida in January.
EXPO: The expo is held at the Sirata Beach Resort, which is the host hotel. The start/finish lines and post race party are on the Sirata property. The expo was quick and efficient. I was able to park at the Sirata, pick up my bib and peruse the expo vendors in about 15 mins. There were lots of deals on merchandise and local races.
SWAG: I've loved every long sleeve tech shirt from this race. This year was another good one — loved the blue color. There were dark gray shirts, too. Along with the shirt, each racer received a nice drawstring backpack sponsored by St Pete Running Company. They were the 5K race sponsor.
PARKING: Parking is always the biggest concern in a beach town. Selene Restaurant offered free parking. I'd guess there were 80+ spots there. I arrived early and found a great spot. There is paid parking available throughout the town. Don't ever park illegally at the beach. They will tow you.
RACE COURSE: This is a flat, fast course. Great for PRs. St Pete Beach is a charming tourist town. You get a good street level tour on both the 10K and 5K courses. There are pretty water views, and lots of cheerful volunteers. I didn't run with water during the 10K and found plenty on course. I carried water for the 5K because I wanted to save time by not stopping at aid stations. The half marathon course is more diverse with more beach views and hidden neighborhoods.
FINISH LINE: The finish line is a sharp right from Gulf Blvd. onto the Sirata property. There was a finish line video feed this year. It was fun to watch later, and it was live during the races for spectators to view. The finish flows nicely to receive your medal, water, and get a pro photo at the official backdrop. From there you walk a short distance to the food tent.
POST RACE PARTY: The food tent had heaters in it, which felt good! There was a nice spread of grapes, bananas, cut oranges, mini muffins, rice, beans, coffee, water, soft drinks, and Gatorade Endurance. The beer was something from a keg, or a can from Crooked Thumb Brewery. You could sit in the tent, or outside on the beach.
MEDALS: The Challenge finishers went home with 3 medals. Each one was a turtle — really cute! The 5k and 10k medals were the same size with different hanging tags. The Challenge turtle was bigger.
This is a well planned race that never disappoints. It falls on MLK Jr. weekend each year.