This weekend, about 5000 runners and walkers made their way down the iconic Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. As the sun rose Saturday and Sunday morning, normal traffic was gone, but runners found a sense of normalcy.
For more than a year, road races across the country were canceled or changed to virtual events. This year’s Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic was moved from February to May in hopes of having a traditional race. As the weeks passed, it became clear that a full-fledged weekend of racers, volunteers and staff would not be possible.
Gasparilla Distance Classic officials made the tough decision to turn the race virtual but with a twist. They made a plan to still block traffic on the usual race route and allow runners to hit the pavement.
Runners like Douglas Gimlin who ran the 15K race this year on Bayshore Blvd. It felt like a return to normal for him since he’s run the race nearly 25 times. “When they said they were going to close the roads and still have an event of some kind, I felt like I wanted to come and do the event,” said Gimlin.
“Along with the City of Tampa, who is a co-sponsor of the event, we would not have been able to be out there if not for Publix Supermarkets and the rest of our amazing partners,” said Susan Harmeling, the Executive Director of the Gasparilla Distance Classic.
While racers had to time themselves, there was a start line, mile markers and most importantly, a finish line. Large vats of water allowed runners to fill their own containers along the route, and port-o-potties gave some needed relief for some. It had all the feels of races many have missed.
Katie Mackenzie and her mom run the 5K together each year, and they were happy not to miss it this year. “We wanted to do it outside instead of virtually, so we’re excited to be out here,” she said.
Joe Pistillo ran 13.1 miles and crossed the finish line. “The finish line was great. It was like being at an actual race, finally,” he exclaimed. “There was people cheering. They were announcing our names as we crossed the finish line,” said Pistillo.
Harmeling explained that race sponsors stood by them through COVID. Even if they couldn’t activate their volunteers, they gave what they could.
“They still supported monetarily and with any product that we needed for the runners,” Harmeling continued.
Harmeling admitted that they had no idea how many people would show up on Bayshore Blvd to take advantage of the closed road. “To say that we’re thrilled is an understatement,” she said.
As thousands of runners crossed the finish line this weekend, they raised their hands and celebrated the end of the race many thought wouldn’t happen.