Posted by: Karen | February 9, 2005

Gasparilla Distance Classic 15k Race Report

I have TONS of stuff to tell you about my trip, but will stick to the race report for the moment.

Saturday’s race started out chilly (yes, this is a Calgarian talking) and as we walked to the start I could see my breath. I was wearing shorts and my short sleeved Sugoi Toronto Penguins shirt. I also wore my bright pink Penguin Brigade hat with an outlandish pink foamy tiara on top. Several of us were wearing the tiaras, and it made us easy to spot in the crowd.

We walked about 11 blocks in the dark to the start in downtown Tampa, and found the men’s start and got in the portapotty line-up. I knew the women’s start was a couple of blocks away, but figured the men’s lines would go faster. I saw a guy in line with an inflatable airplane strapped to his head and admired his outlandish headgear.

We went over to the women’s start with about 10 minutes to spare and danced around to stay warm. There was no seeding by race time expectations, so we just lined up kind of close to the back.

Carlene (from Kanata, Ontario) and I started out together. I had only met Carlene in person the day before, but we’ve talked on e-mail lists for years. I had an idea from her recent training reports that we might be able to run together. We didn’t make any promises to each other; we had talked about running the first couple of km together, see how we felt pace-wise and then decide on the course whether to stay together or not.

We began the race as the sun came up. My hands took a good 2 miles to warm
up. Our first mile was nice and easy at 10:33, and we only walked through a few water stations. There were plenty of water stations, and we didn’t walk through all of them. Somewhere around half-way I started hunting for Gatorade at the stations and only saw water.

It was an out and back course mostly along a beautiful boulevard with water on one side and great, beautiful mansions on the other. Lots of big, beautiful trees lined the boulevard. I’ve never run a course that flat. We didn’t talk much, but pointed out things that intrigued/appealed to us along the way.

“Big tree”, I’d pant.
“Mansion”, Carlene would nod towards a well-appointed estate.

We knew from our limited conversation that we were making a good effort, yet we seemed to have lots of lung space when it came to cheering on other competitors. We saw the frontrunners coming back and cheered on the wheelchairs and elites. One guy towards the top 50 or so had dreadlocks and was wearing a full sweat suit. I saw Airplane Head and cheered him on.

There was a fairly strong headwind coming back, but once we got used to it, it was quite refreshing. It was good to have the cool breeze and not get overheated. After the turnaround I wasn’t sure if we were actually going faster, or if the wind just made it feel like we were putting in more effort. At one point I felt kind of crappy and told Carlene I felt like we had slowed down. She glanced at her Garmin and laughed as she reported that we had really sped up quite a bit! No wonder I was feeling taxed! We slowed down a tad to save our energy and I felt much better.

Now that we were on our way back, we started to look for other Penguins we knew. We cheered on our bright pink visors and tiaras whenever we saw them. Every time I gave a whoop of encouragement it reverberated through me as well, and gave me surges of strength.

We came across a Gatorade station, but I drank sparingly as I didn’t want to have to find a portapotty. Somewhere around between 10 and 12 km I did feel a little worried that I might need to urgently find a toilet, but there wasn’t one around. By the time we came across one the feeling had gone away and I was starting to focus on finishing in good time.

There was a misting station at one water stop and the volunteers had moved away from it so racers wouldn’t have to go through it, as it was still chilly. Carlene and I, crazy Canadians that we are, were plenty warm enough and detoured through the misters with big grins on our faces. We ran with polka-dotted glasses for a while, but it was a fun diversion.

In the last third or so of the race we had gradually sped up to where I didn’t think I could go much faster without a finish line nearby. We held the pace, and at around 2 km or so Carlene started telling me how little we had left to go.

Finally at around 1.2ish km left to go, the draw of the finish line was very strong and I needed to see how much kick I had left. I shouted to Carlene something about needing to speed up and she shouted back “I’ll see you at the finish!”

I called up the little CD player in my head. I put in the song that has picked up my pace several times over the last two weeks, Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time”, and cued it to the chorus. My foot turnover kicked into the beat. I passed lots of people. I was amazing. I was strong. I was…

… how did Carlene get up in front of me?

I toyed with the idea of catching up with her, but I was already using quite a bit of energy, and tried keep her on a short leash. If I caught up again, she might speed up again, and I’d be dead before we finished.

We saw the Penguin cheering section about 50m before the finish and I veered over for high-fives. Dawn had her camera out, Julie flourished her bright pink boa, and Dianne pointed to Carlene and yelled “CATCH HER!”

I slapped a couple of hands, opened up my stride all the way and zipped
right in, two seconds ahead of Carlene. What fun!

My chip time was 1:36:50, or as Carlene later broke it down for me – 3 x 32 minute 5ks back to back. Carlene and I congratulated each other. I stopped my watch, got my chip removed and received a medal. We headed towards a bridge that had food tables, and Dianne found us. We walked with her towards the start of the 5k race, which would be starting soon, and wished her well.

It was absolutely fantastic to be able to run with Carlene the WHOLE RACE and I think we each were pleased with our times, considering our dicey winter training schedules.

According to Carlene’s report, “We ran the first half of the course in 50:31 and the second half in 47:21. According to my GPS we did nice negative splits and the final kilometer was mostly sub-6 minute kilometer pace. WOW! We rocked!”

Woohoo! The sub-6 minute km at the end tells me maybe I can squeeze a little more out of my next race. Carlene’s GPS was quite addicting – I’m glad it was on her arm and not mine – I could have become totally obsessed with it.

We missed cheering in the rest of the 15k Penguins, as we were walking Dianne over to her 5k, and I desperately needed to heed the call of nature. There is something strange about wearing race clothes and hearing the star spangled banner from the portapotty… at least I wasn’t missing MY race start πŸ™‚

By the time we made it to the 5k finish the winner was already striding in, and we enjoyed cheering in all the Penguins running and walking the 5k.

I am quite thrilled with my shiny pirate medal. I’ve run 10 and 16k races at home but never received a medal for running a race. Cool Beans!.

The rest of the weekend was quite a dream-come-true for me. I was like a big sponge, sopping up experiences with fellow penguins. I will try to post some
of my favourite impressions of that later.

Here are some pics of me during the race, if you’re curious.


  1. wow, what a race!! Congratulations, Karen. Your report is great…you obviously had a wonderful time. And what a finish:)

  2. Good for you to drop your split times running into the headwind. I ran the 15K and had the same experience: negative splits, soaked up the scenery, enjoyed the cool wind on the return leg and had a blast in Tampa. See you there next year maybe! Let’s upgrade to the half marathon.

  3. Great race report and great race! Looking forward to hearing the TONS of stuff about the rest of the weekend.

  4. What a fabulous race report … very inspiring! Congratulations!

  5. Congrats on an outstanding race! Sounds like you really enjoyed the experience!

  6. Great race, Karen! And negative splits too. Fabulous! It sounds like you had a ball down there. Love the hat πŸ™‚ Are you going to post a pic of the medal? I’d love to see it.

  7. Great report and great race!! So glad you had such fun!!

  8. Thanks for sharing the details of your race. You have a remarkable memory for details. Cool. Kirsten

  9. Congratulations on a great race! I was on the lookout for penguins, but there were so many people there, so I guess I never saw you or your crew. Glad you had a great time in Tamps!

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  11. […] This was race day, and you all know how that started out. After the race I had a little soak in a cold bath and then headed down for a swim in the outdoor pool and a soak in the hot tub. […]


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