Two years ago, Dug and I woke up early to cheer for the inaugural Sarasota Music Half Marathon! We had a ton of fun, and really loved the fact that the course was super spectator friendly. I also loved the fact that this course took a completely different path than that of the Sarasota First Watch Half (which I have done a few times, and have just registered for another year!) – and hoped that I’d get a chance to run it in the future!
Last year, I wasn’t quite half marathon ready, but this year – yes! It was time to check it out for myself – and, SPOILER ALERT: I.Had.A.Blast!
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what my “goal” was for this race, other than to experience the “13.1 mile moving party” it was advertised as – especially hot off the heels from Celebration a week ago. I didn’t run or do any other structured workouts in the days between (just some planks and crunches), though I did my regular volume of walking. What I DID do, as you can, was scheme a fun outfit, complete with props – which I called “Country AND Rock and ROLL” – appropriate for the race theme!
With a 6:30 AM start, I set my alarm for 4:30 and headed to sleep around 9:30 PM. Of course, I didn’t fall asleep until around 10:15, and around 11, Abby got up for the first of about 4 wakeups (poor teething baby)! After the last wakeup, it was 4 AM and I realized I might as well just get ready to go instead of attempting to nap, so I got dressed, gathered my gear, and headed out the door!
I was on the road by 4:35 AM, and I *thought* I’d be making a stop at Starbucks (I checked the app, and one was supposedly open at 4 AM). Of course, there was no traffic, and I reached the aforementioned Starbucks at 4:55…only to see the lights still off. Womp. Nevermind! I drove on to the Van Wezel Parking Lot (where the race starts/ends).
Once I arrived at Van Wezel, I was able to select my own row, and opted to head straight up near the starting line and the portapotties. I had about an hour and a half to kill, so I reclined and listened to the radio a bit before hitting the portapotties long before any lines formed.
I hung out in the warmth of my car until 6:15 (it wasn’t particularly cold – about 58) and then, walked over and entered the self-seeded corrals. There were pacers starting at 1:40, and signs for approximate ‘per mile’ paces (6 min, 7 min, 8 min, etc) so I lined up between 8 and 9 – as I presumed I might be, I was the only one dressed in ‘costume’ – but that’s never bothered me before, and today was no different.
While in the corral, I noticed something I had never seen before – ZippCharge kiosks! Essentially, they are little boxes with TV screens on top (that play commercials) with both Android and Apple phone charge cords in the bottom. Since my phone is always notoriously low, I took advantage of the offering, and I have to say, I thought it was a neat little perk!
While we awaited course clearance, I noticed that my friend Katie was ahead, pushing for Ainsley’s Angels! I walked up and chatted for a second. Seeing those chairs lined up was definitely an inspiring sight.
Before I knew it, the course had been called clear, we stood for the anthem, and then the corrals were called forward, with a 30-45 second buffer between each one (this was great for keeping the course uncluttered), and then…WE WERE OFF!
With the coolness in the air paired with a deep sea fog, it was a bit clammy out, but I decided that my running goal would be simple: keep running. Yup! Loose sub-2 goal, but otherwise, I knew I should be smart since I’d be racing again in under a week!
That first mile was great! I had no idea it was a sub-8 until my Garmin chirped, but my legs felt loose enough, and I had a nice buffer of space around me – not crowded or congested (unlike Celebration the week before). It was still dark out, but the streets were well-lit and we were headed out to the beautiful Ringling Causeway Bridge, which is always a sight to be seen – kinda creepy/cool in the fog!
The first ascent over the bridge, I admit, felt a bit rough! Although it didn’t show in my data, I could definitely feel that fact that I had not run hills in quite a long time. Still, I was getting a ton of cheers for my crazy get up, which propelled me forward, toward and around St. Armand’s Circle, and back up and over the bridge, headed south. There were a lot of cheerful spectators out, and many cheered for my pink guitar and cowboy hat, and after a while, a fellow runner that had been running near me, made the comment that he felt like he was my bodyguard. We laughed about that, and chatted for a few minutes before he (Brandon, as I found out) pulled forward. Also, I noticed, around Mile 5, that I was actually closer to the tangents than usual, as my watch would chirp right at Mile markers, instead of wayyyy before them.
So far, so good. I was sticking to my race plan of running (only walking at water stations, I got water at all but two of them) and on account of holding my guitar, I wasn’t really keeping an eye on my pace, other than quick glances. Also, the course’s promise of many bands was on point! Whenever the sounds started fading from one band…you were on to the next!
After we ran the Bayfront stretch, we ducked into the Southside neighborhood area, where I used to train when I worked for Fleet Feet Sports, so that was nostalgic and nice. There were clusters of spectators, and I saw a few friends out there as well, including Jackie and Rob, who snapped some pics!
The turnaround point on the residential part of the course was through the beautiful Cherokee Park neighborhood, where I daydreamed about living in since we moved here four years ago! The tree-lined streets, the stately, yet eclectic collection of homes – just amazing. Equally amazing? This was the section of the race where you could partake in Girl Scout cookies if you were so inclined! I passed, but smiled at the volunteers, including two girls wearing cookie costumes!
Sometimes ‘out and back’ courses get a bad rap, but I have really grown to enjoy them as of late. Cheering for fellow runners is energizing, whether the leads, when you’re headed out, or the runners behind you, on the way back, it’s a reminder that we’re all out doing it together.
I ran on, and I was getting really excited about what was ahead around Mile 10 – the Selby Gardens portion! A popular tourist attraction, I had not experienced it for years – when a friend had her gorgeous wedding there! And…it did NOT disappoint! Meandering through winding paths of crushed gravel and pavement, past exotic plants and banyan trees – it really was worth the wait!
Once we exited the gardens, we were on the home stretch – up 41, back around the bridge underpass area, and on to Van Wezel again. It was around this point we saw many of the same spectators that had been cheering on our way out, and more than a few yelled and said they had hedged bets whether I’d still be carrying the guitar! Hah! They don’t know my dedication to the runner costume game 😉
I loved the end of this race, because there was an arrow pointing to the finish after our short stretch past the Sarasota Orchestra building, and what was just around the corner, was the finish! I pulled out my shades (it still wasn’t sunny, but hey, setting up finish pictures is serious, hah) and adjusted my guitar! WOOO! The clock said 1:49 and I knew I was under that, due to the staggered start.
Funny moment: once I passed under the finish, a volunteer attempted to put the finisher medal over my head: yeah, I forgot I had that giant hat on! He managed to finagle it over the brim, and I marched over to get an official finisher picture, then my share of the renowed Mattison’s runner’s brunch (which definitely lived up to the promise – it was a full brunch buffet, complete with eggs, bacon, french toast, pastries, etc)!
I scooted out pretty quickly after chatting with a few friends and former coworkers to get back home, but I left with a feeling of satisfaction and pride – not only for my personal accomplishment, but for the smooth execution of the event and its impact on our community. The course was lined with smiles and music, and there’s really no better way to spend your Sunday morning, if you ask me!