The Casual Runner

St. Pete Beach Classic Half Marathon

St. Pete Beach Classic Half Marathon
January 15, 2017
St. Pete Beach, Florida

All of Our 2017 St. Pete Beach Classic Coverage:

Why I Decided to Run This Race

Me? Decide? Surely you jest! I had zero say in whether or not I would run this race, that decision was made for me.

You see, Candace and I were heading down to Florida to run the 2017 runDisney Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge, but the prospect of running Donald Duck’s Half Marathon and Mickey Mouse’s Marathon in consecutive days was not enough for her. No, she wanted to make this an extended runcation complete with manatee swims, swimming with sharks, and, yes, even more running!

She discovered the St. Pete Beach Classic Marathon Challenge. We were instantly intrigued by this unique challenge where we would be running 4 races in 2 days: a 5k, a 10k, a 3.8 mile beach run, and half marathon. Oh, and we would get to do it in a scenic gulf coast beach town? Yes, we HAD to check it out.

Spoiler alert: if you are going to Florida anyway in January, you may just need to check out this fun race weekend. It is great to add on to the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend or as a stand alone trip over the holiday weekend. But more on that later.

Getting There / the Lead-up to the Race

As I told you in my review of the beach run portion of the challenge, we were pretty tired after the 3 races that make up the first day of the challenge, and skipped the beach festivities (much to our disappointment) in order to get some rest. We grabbed some takeout food and went back to our hotel for a quiet meal and to watch some NFL Playoff Football. Ok, we did not watch very much football as we both fell asleep. But I will say, it was the BEST night’s sleep I have probably ever had before running a half marathon.

To make it even better, as our hotel was in easy walking distance of the starting line, we got some valuable extra sleep. It was glorious! We got ready and strolled down the street to get ready to run.

Swag Review/Race Expo

For more information on these topics, please check out our articles from earlier this week covering the 10k & 5k events and the event overview & beach run!

The Gear

For the first time in a long time, I woke up to a glorious race day forecast! The temperatures were going to be perfect for running: not too cold, not too hot. No rain in the forecast. Oh yes, I was doing the happy dance for this one!

I selected a Reebok running singlet, my Sweatvac running hat, Spibelt, iPhone 5S, Head running shorts, Adidas Climalite Compression Shorts, Steigen running socks, and New Balance Vazee running shoes.

Did I mention how excited I was for the prospect of running in perfect weather conditions? Because I was!

The Pre-Race

The setup was the same as it was the day before for the 10k and 5k, although there were noticeably more spectators there for the start. There were plenty of port-a-potties for the crowd size and the lines were minimal (which is always high praise for any race event). We got the call to the start. Again, however, I was disappointed by the lack of a start announcement – or at least one that we could hear farther back in the starting corral. It seemed like we received earlier announcements at 10 minutes and 5 minutes, but then the race just started, catching us by surprise.

Along the Course

In a change from the previous day’s starts, we started off heading south (instead of north) to explore part of the island we had not yet run.  If you are running for speed/time (I was not), this course was FLAT AND FAST. The start is a straight shot with zero vertical climbs (you are at sea level), so those runners who were running for personal bests shot off like rockets and never looked back. I must say, if you are looking for a half marathon to run for speed/time, this may just be the race for you.

I love running in the pre-dawn hours, there is just something fun and special about it. We made our way south past hotels and restaurants, pretty much what you would expect to find in a beach town. It made for a nice change of scenery from my usual race and training locales.  We passed the mile 1 marker just before the Loews Don CeSar hotel, which is a gorgeous, classic hotel on the beach. The course runs UNDER the portico of the hotel which made for a fun course feature.

Continuing south, we encountered the worst stretch of the course, which was only bad because it was torn up for construction. Props to the race officials for warning us in advance about this. The road conditions were not too bad for footing (I expected worse given the warnings), but oh the smell! Fortunately future runners of this event will not have to encounter this.

A quick note on the water stations. While the field was a nice size for a half marathon, it was not a big field. That being said, all of the water stations were well-manned and well-supplied, which is something that you do not always see at smaller races. Hats off to the volunteers for another great job!

Just after the mile 2 marker we turned right to head towards the beach, and then turned left to run along the beach for a while. I was running this race for fun, and was not putting any pressure on myself for time. So I took a moment to slow down, and even stop to snap a few pictures at the beach and waited for Candace to catch up. We ran together for a little while and then separated again on one of her run-walk intervals as I continued on ahead. We passed another water station before reaching the mile 3 marker and then turning left at the far southern end of the island and the 5k timing mat.

Another left turn took us to the eastern side of the island and a turn northward, which is where I am going to state my biggest complaint about the race directors. Can we talk for a moment?

Hey St. Pete Beach Classic, what are you doing? You are selling this race completely wrong. I do not remember seeing anywhere in the race materials that we would be treated to an ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS SUNRISE in the MIDDLE of the race! Seeing this sunrise alone makes this race worth it. In all seriousness, it was gorgeous, and worthy of an unexpected magic designation. So running the Classic Challenge gives you a great sunset AND a great sunrise! Now, tell me how everyone isn’t flocking to run this challenge?

I stopped to enjoy the sunrise. I mean, why not? I waited for Candace to catch up again and we stayed together for a little while, when we realized that our race plans just were not going to be compatible on this day. On her next interval I continued on, buoyed by the excitement from the brilliant sunrise.

Just after mile 4, we turned right and headed up over, what I call a “hump bridge.” It is a short bridge with a noticeable, but short incline to get you over a waterway, then an equally short downhill on the other side. You run this bridge twice on the course, and it is the only elevation on the entire course. Yes, it is a FAST FLAT course.

After the bridge we made our way into a residential neighborhood, which is my least favorite setting for races, but, we were on an island and you HAVE to get your 13.1 miles somehow! Well, technically this was a separate island, but who is counting? So, I made a game of it. I started counting the manatee mailboxes. It turns out Candace was doing the same thing! Ok, it may be time to admit that we have a manatee problem.

I truly appreciated the family who set up a mimosa stand in their driveway, but Candace appreciated it so much more. So, whoever you are, thank you!

OK, the mile 6 marker was back at the hump bridge and we crossed back onto the main island, before turning right to head down an alley. I had a good laugh with the volunteers who were directing us where to go about strangers sending you down a dark alley, they were very good natured. This is a good time to point out something. You may be noticing that this course has a lot of turns, and it does. Race officials made sure to have a volunteer at EVERY turn pointing the way. There was no way to get lost on-course as the volunteers had it it covered…wait for it…at EVERY turn. Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.

Back on course now (oops, there’s another one!), we made our way back onto the main road to get us past the Don CeSar hotel as we made our way north to the mile 7 marker. I sound like a broken record, but if you are running for time, this is where you pin your ears back, tuck in, and just go. You have a wide open straight shot for several miles here.

I should note one point about running in a beach town that many Casual Runners may not realize. Since the topography is flat, the roads are constructed with a crown in them to promote drainage. This can take a toll on your ankles if you are not careful. So, without getting in the way of other runners, from time to time, you may want to move around in the lane. I find that staying all the way left or all the way right, or even in the middle, the whole time puts pressure on my ankles in a bad way. Moving around helps even things out a bit.

We passed the mile 8 marker and crossed over the starting line, where yes, other runners were already finishing, but I continued on. At this point you are essentially running the 10k course, minus the last down and back at the end.

Check out the 10k & 5k course details here.

Mile 9 and 10 continue north and are flat and straight, so again, if you are going for speed, let it all out here. There are two left turns around mile 10.5 which turn you around so you are heading southbound along the gulf coast and beaches. You will stay next to the beach until just after mile 12, when you turn left to rejoin the main road for the final 3/4 of a mile to the finish. This is where I started seeing runners who already finished walking back to cheer on other runners.

While I was not running for time, I wanted to finish strong. It was time for me to tuck my own ears back and start pushing the envelope. I saw the mile 13 marker then the sharp right turn into the short finisher’s chute where I crossed the finish line! It was an enjoyable race for sure. But I was not quite done. I grabbed my medal and a bottle of water, and decided to head back out to cheer on Candace. I was glad I did.

I made my way about 3/4 of a mile back or so when I found Candace. The heat was starting to get to her a little bit. Despite drinking plenty of fluids on-course, she said that this just wasn’t her day. I offered her the bottle of water I was carrying and she drank it down. I stayed with her to the finish to make sure she was ok – she was. There was a staffed first aid station right next to the finish line, but by the time we got there, she was feeling much better and did not need any help.

The SMOpinion

Would I go all the way to St. Pete Beach for an SMO? Sure! Why not! I like these medals a lot. They are good quality and the seashell designs are perfect for the race. They will certainly stand out on my bling rack. An additional hat tip to the designers who managed to carry the theme through all of the race and challenge medals for this event, yet still did just enough to make them distinct from one another. Well done!       The Post-Race Experience

Like the day before, organizers wanted to make sure to add some variety instead of just bananas and bagels (don’t worry, they had those too, in fact, that is precisely what I ate!). I must apologize, I was a little exhausted from the run that I did not note all of the variety of offerings they had (check out earlier reviews for what they offered on Saturday), but I can say that they had plenty of water bottles, Gatorade bottles, and Pepsi brand pop products. We grabbed our bagels, water, and sipped some caffeine to rejuvenate us. Overall, this is a nice ending to a solid half marathon event.

Playlist Peek

Since I was not running for time, I had zero idea just how long it would take me to run this race. Thus, I had no idea how much music I needed, so I simply recycled my playlist from the marathon I ran the previous weekend. That, however, did not last long. You see, I was in a weird mood (I stopped mid-race to watch the sunrise for crying out loud!). Part way through the race, and I have no idea when, I switched from music to Podcasts, specifically, the Good Job Brain podcast. While I run training runs with podcasts, I have never listened to them during a race. So, thanks to Karen, Chris, Dana, and Collin for keeping me company throughout this race!

Looking Back Now

If you want to go to Florida in January, you may just need to check out this fun race weekend. It is great to add it on to the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend or as a stand alone trip over the holiday weekend. Speaking of the holiday weekend. You can run the challenge, and still have the rest of Sunday and Monday to enjoy the beach!

This half marathon does have something to appeal to a variety of Casual Runners. It is flat and fast, so if that is your thing, you may just set a PR here. It is fun running in a beach town, and you cannot beat the amazing sunrise view in the first half of the race. That alone is worthwhile. Also, since it is mostly flat, it is an easier race for those looking for a half marathon that is not too challenging in terms of the course. This race does not have much in terms of spectators, but the volunteers and water stations were top notch.

So yes, I would not mind at all having the chance to come back and run this one…maybe I will even run for time? Just as long as I do not miss that killer sunrise.

All of Our 2017 St. Pete Beach Classic Coverage:

Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!