TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic is still set to be an in-person event. Plenty of guidelines, precautions and procedures are already set that may allow this nationally-known race to happen. If it does, it will be one of the first major road races in the country since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The races are set for Feb. 20 and Feb. 21, 2021.

The first change this year will be fewer participants. Each race will be capped at 5,000. That includes the 15K and 5K on Saturday and the half marathon and 8K on Sunday. An additional 500 can register for the 5K Walk and another 500 for Stroller Roll. That’s a total of 21,000 runners and walkers. Nearly 32,000 people participate in a normal year. 

Executive Race Director Susan Harmeling and her team have worked with the Tampa Police Department, the city of Tampa, and Tampa General Hospital on the mitigation plan, and it continues to be tweaked, as needed. 

The first difference runners will notice on race day is that only registered participants will be allowed near the starting line. Runners will have their temperature taken before they enter the starting area. The temperature must register 100.4 or less. Once inside, there will be multiple staging areas to keep people separated. 

The starting line will look much different as well. Instead of everyone crowding at the front, there will be four single-file lines with 6 feet or more between the lines. Each row of  four runners will start a few seconds apart. Eight rows will cross the start line each minute for a total of 32 runners. For some perspective, last year 1,200 people crossed the start line each minute. 

As the rows of runners begin their trek down Bayshore Boulevard, race organizers will guide more runners into the starting chutes from the staging areas. This will take more time, so races will start earlier. The first (and fastest) runners in Saturday’s 15K and Sunday’s half marathon start at 5:30 a.m. All runners will be assigned a time to arrive and a time to start the race. The last runners in these races will start at 7:45 a.m. 

The 5K race on Saturday starts at 9:30 a.m. with the Stroller Roll and walk beginning at noon. Sunday’s 8K will also start at 9:30 a.m. Again, each participant will be given a specific time to arrive and start. 

A few other things to keep in mind, face coverings are mandatory before the race, but they can be removed during the race.

Runners are also advised to carry their own water, if possible. There will be water stops along the way, and race organizers have a plan to make sure all volunteers and runners stay separated. Volunteers will fill cups of water and place them on a table along the race route. While runners take those cups, volunteers will be 8 feet back from the course filling up another table with cups of water. When the first table is empty, the volunteers switch the tables, sanitize the first table, and start filling it with cups of water. 

Finally, the finish-line area will also be different than previous years. No spectators will be allowed in the secure area around the finish line. Runners will cross the line and get funneled into two lines heading back over the Platt Street Bridge. In these lines, they can grab a bottle of water and a post-race bag. The race medal will be in this bag along with other post-race goodies. There will be no post-race party.

As with any event, these guidelines may change. If cases are spiking in February, the race may have to be virtual, so be sure to watch for any emails or correspondence from the race officials. Even if it’s a virtual race, the 8 On Your Side Health and Fitness Expo will still go on at the Tampa Convention Center on Friday, February 19 and Saturday, February 20. There will be expanded hours to accommodate social distancing. Friday’s event will be from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It will be open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Temperature checks and COVID screening questions will be required to enter.