The Casual Runner

Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Race

Big Splash Challenge
Half Marathon, 5K, and 1 Miler

September 23rd, 2017

Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida

Why I Decided to Run This Race

When we decided to move to Florida I began looking up local half marathons and stumbled across the Inaugural Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Race page on Facebook.  I instantly wanted to do this because I absolutely love mermaids and quickly began thinking of costumes I could wear.  I originally had no interest in running any of the other races besides the half marathon.

However, once they released images of the medals and I saw that the 5K medal had a manatee on it I knew I needed this medal.  I’m sure many of the readers know by now I may like manatees even more than running!  So, I decided if I was going to run the half marathon and the 5K I might as well do the Big Splash Challenge and run the one miler too.  Plus I’m in the middle of training for the Space Coast Marathon and Dopey so 17.2 miles in one day I figured would be great for training.

Race Expo/Swag Review

There was not an actual expo for this race.  There were originally two packet pick ups for this race and I attended the one on the Thursday before the race at Fit 2 Run in Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida.  Quick side note – originally there was not supposed to be any race day packet pick up, but something happened with the bibs that got mailed to people so the race directors chose to have one after all.  Back to the Orlando pickup – this was very convenient for Floridians that don’t live on the Gulf Coast.  Bib pickup was from 4pm-8pm so I had to wait for Mike to get home for work to go, because afterwards we were heading to Epcot for David Cook at the Eat to the Beat concert series.

We arrived to Disney Springs and parked in the Orange Garage so we would be as close as possible to the bib pick up as we were in a time crunch to get to Epcot.  When I went in the store I was directed to the line of people that were waiting to pick up their bibs and given a clipboard with my race waiver on it, so that I could sign it.  It appeared there were maybe 5-10 people in  front of me (it was hard to tell if families were with them), so I figured alright, this will go quick….

Nope, 25 minutes later it was finally my turn to pick up my bib.  It appears that it was taking longer because there was only one person actually handing out bibs.  The other person kept going thru the line and making sure everyone had their wrist bands to get into the State Park after the race or Sunday if they chose to go the next day, but was not actually advancing the line or the pace of packet distribution.

When I picked up my bib the worker just took my waiver and never checked my ID to make sure I was who I said I was. She handed me a Big Splash Challenge bib and instructed me that after the half marathon I would have to get my 5K bib then after the 5K I would have to get my one miler bib.  I asked her if I could just get them all now, she responded no.  She then put my bib into a bag with a parking pass (which only Big Splash Challenge participants received) and my tank top that I had selected a few weeks prior as my race swag (which I absolutely loved).  In the bag there were also instructions on changing your bib out for the Big Splash Challenge. Given this, I am at a loss for why the line was moving so slowly.

The Gear

I was ready to channel my inner mermaid.  Luckily I like mermaids and all things under the sea so I did not have to buy any gear for this race and stuck with what I already have.  I wore my teal fin leggings (you may remember them from the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon) along with a black tank that said “I WANT TO BE WHERE THE MERMAIDS ARE.”  I also wore Sweaty Bands, VSX Incredible Sports Bra, Steigen socks, Fitletic running belt, and my newest running addition Aftershokz Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones.  After the half marathon I did freshen up a bit and changed into my “Just Keep Running” tank top. I also carried my go to 32 ounce blue Powerade Zero bottle with me.

The Pre-Race

I need to preface this with the day before the race (at 2:12 AM) race participants received e-mails changing the start times of all of the races.  The Half marathon start time would now be at 6 AM, with waves going off every 15 minutes till 7:30 AM.  Originally the start time had been slated for 7 AM.  Next it stated that  5K start times would be every 15 minutes starting at 8 AM till 10 AM.  Originally, for Big Splash participants, the 5K was supposed to start at 1 PM.  Lastly the one miler would now  start at 10:30 AM every 15 minutes till 2 PM.

Okay, it sucks to have your race plan change the day before the race, but here at Casual Runner we are big on Accept, Adjust, Advance.  So, I was thinking: okay I need to start the half at 6 AM to give myself plenty of time before the last 5K would start.  I also thought well at least I will be done running way earlier and can get out of the heat much sooner than originally planned.  I don’t know if you all know but it may be fall up North, but fall does not really exist in Florida.

We drove in the night before and stayed at the Motel 6 across the street from the entrance to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.  However, driving in at 10pm we didn’t realize we were right across the street as in we could walk to the race.  I set my alarm for 5 AM with the goal of being out the door by 5:40 AM to be at the race by 5:45 AM.  Mike, being the loving boyfriend/coach for the day that he is got up with me and drove me to the race.  Unfortunately we left the room keys in the room so he was committed to spending the entire day outside.

We were parked and walked to what we presumed was the start line.  It was pitch black and very hard to see what was going on and where to go.  There was no one giving instructions, but we headed to the area where we saw the most people.  There were no safety pins provided at bib pick up, so I went to the race day packet pick up to get some safety pins.  It was quickly becoming 6AM, but we still had no clue what was going on.

Waiting around without any updates

Unfortunately I am writing this review several days after the face, so I do not have exact times, but I don’t think that you need exact times to get the point of where I am going with this story. Around 6:30 AM there was an announcement that there was a delay and they would get us going as soon as possible.  Around 6:50AM they said it looks like we should be starting in about 15 minutes.  Then, what I assume was a volunteer, tried to count the runners off in groups of 75 for different waves.  Runners became very upset at this. No real instructions were given and there was a lot of yelling.  Many of us had been waiting there for over an hour at this point and to tell us that we were going to start even later because you were putting us in waves did not sit well with people.

7:05 AM had come and gone and we had still not started the race and the sun was quickly raising and the air was becoming hotter.  I was starting to stress out at this point because I had not planned on running a half marathon in a hotter part of the day (had we started at the stated 6AM time, I would have already completed a significant portion of the race by now).  At this point I was really wishing I had worn a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes and had applied sunscreen.  Shortly before 7:30 AM they announced the race would start.

Along the Half Marathon Course

It was FINALLY time to start a few minutes past 7:30 AM – more than 90 minutes after the scheduled start.  Typically when reviewing races I give you a turn by turn of the course, but there is absolutely no point in me doing this, so I will quickly tell you about the actual course.  We ran thru the parking lot out to Highway 19 ran down what was supposedly 6.55 miles and turned around for the second half of the race.  Boring.  I will say I did look at course maps before I registered for this race and did notice it was a down and back and still registered, so that is completely on me.

Finally ready to start

However, what I could not tell from the course map was that it was a down and back on one of the gulf coast’s busiest highways.  The description of the course was described as, “you can walk or run along the cool urban trail route that incorporates sidewalks and urban trails.”  What about this says you will be running along a busy highway?  In the email we received the day before the race they stressed the importance of us running on the sidewalks even though there would be a bike lane along the road for our safety.  Unfortunately the sidewalks weren’t the safest for us to run on either.  The sidewalks looked like someone had just mowed the day before as they were covered in grass and brush.  I attempted to run on the sidewalks but with severe allergies to grass, my legs soon began to itch and I was forced to run in the bike lane as that is what would be safest for me.  Also for the short time I did run on the sidewalks I had to pick several prickly burrs off of me.

You wonder why I said we supposedly ran 6.55 miles down and back?  Well it’s hard to say because the only mile marker on the way down the course was for mile 2, which did match up with the GPS on my phone.  I could see people making the turn around and I wondered how this was possible because my GPS had just told me I was only at mile 6.  I questioned if this was where we were actually supposed to be turning around because there were no volunteers on the course telling us to turn here.  There were just just people across the street (from what I had been told not actual race volunteers) passing out water bottles.  I will also point out this was a dangerous crossing area.  There were no police officers directing traffic or helping make sure it was safe for runners to cross the highway.

The mermaids getting all set up while the half marathon runners were out on the course


On the way back I soon came upon the mile 9 marker while my GPS was saying we were only at mile 7.5.  The next mile marker I would see was the mile 12 marker which my GPS said was actually at mile 10.5.  I know no GPS is perfectly accurate, but I was showing a difference of of 3 miles between my GPS and  the mile markers.  After the mile 12 marker I ran an additional two miles past that according to GPS.  I’m still baffled to how they figured out the placing of these mile markers and where the other 10 markers ended up.

The next biggest problem with this course was the lack of water.  The first water station was about two and a half miles into the course and had a couple of water jugs with two volunteers who informed us that they already ran out of water cups.  I’m sorry, you ran out of water cups?  How is that possible? As a race director, you know how many people are running this race and you should prepare for that number.  Running out of water (or in this case the cups necessary to drink said water) is never acceptable.

Fortunately I always run with a bottle so it was easy for me to fill my bottle up, but others who did not have that option had to drink from under the spigot – GROSS, but I can’t blame them.  There were two more water stations on this side of the road, but one of them had no volunteers at it at all!  With the lack of water on the first half of the course I texted Mike at the turnaround asking him if he wouldn’t mind walking on the course toward me so I could get some more water and tylenol.  Fortunately the second half the race course had more water, but this wasn’t due to the race directors.  Fortunately, people from the community brought bottles of water out on the course and handed them out to runners, which we were all beyond grateful for!  Side note – there was also no energy gels on the course.  This I can forgive it’s not something that should be expected but it is nice when it is there.

Running with the infamous Powerade Zero bottle during the runDisney 2017 Princess Half Marathon

You may ask why I needed Mike to bring me tylenol?  Well that would be because the arches of my feet were hurting and there were absolutely NO first aid stations on the course!  This is unacceptable.  Many things can go wrong in a race and someone has to be out there to tend to injured runners.  I’ve even ran local 5Ks that have aide stations.  This is one area that cannot be excused! It also was extremely hot and we were running in the sun and I’m sure many people were having overheating issues.  There needed to be medics around to lend assistance to these runners.  If the race directors were so concerned about our safety of running on the road, they should have also been concerned with our overall safety by providing medics.

Fortunately Mike was able to join me for a little over a mile of the race to help get me to the finish line.  It was greatly appreciated because I was thirsty, in pain, and suffering from sheer boredom. Mike cut thru the parking lot so he could be there to cheer me on at the finish line.  It was a very lack luster finish with little course support.  After crossing the finish line I grabbed a bottle of water and made my way to a long line of Big Splash Challenge participants to get my 5K bib.

Along the 5K and 1 Miler Course

Before starting these races I did a quick freshen up and changed tank tops, applied more body glide, and had a snack that I brought with me since there was no food at the finish line of the half.  I also got a new Powerade Zero bottle from our cooler and was absolutely glad that I did!

Once again it is pointless to describe these courses to you because they were down and backs on the same road.  So quick recap – the 5K ran thru the parking lot onto Highway 19 then turned right onto Cortez.  Before making the turn there was a Junior ROTC volunteer that asked if I knew where I was going, I responded no and he told me to take Cortez to July Avenue, cross the road and turn around and come back.  For the one miler same course but instead of going right on Cortez we turned left and were told to run till we were no longer on a  dirt trail and turn around.

To sum it up.  Neither race had water.  The 5K was over four miles long with no one at the turn around.  The one miler was a little under a mile with no one at the turn around.  They were both in direct sunlight.  Since both were on sidewalks where anyone could be Mike joined me for both of them to keep me company.

The SMOpinion

The SMOs were by far the best part of the race.  As you know the manatee on the 5K medal was one of my reasons for running all of these races.  All four medals are are, especially the half marathon medal being as large as my head.  Each medal has a different mermaid on it with an animal (peacock, manatee, and turtle) that can be seen around Weeki Wachee.  The Big Splash Challenge medal features all three mermaids on it that spin in a circle that makes it look like they’re swimming.  All the medals are blinged out in lots of glitter!  I’m in love with these medals.

The Post-Race Experience

Once I was done with all three races things were coming to a close and it appeared that vendors were packing up and tents were being taken down.  I grabbed another bottle of water and I went to collect my SMOs which were on the other side of the finish line in the finisher chute.  I was disappointed that the medals were still in their packaging and I had to unwrap them to enjoy them.  By this point the live mermaids were no longer out to take finisher pictures with the medals.  Had I been able to collect each medal after every race I would have at least been able to get my picture with the half medal as they were still there at that point.

We made our way to the car and grabbed our stuff to head into the Weeki Wachee Springs State  park.  Once in the park we were a little confused as where to go to change into our swim wear and at that point I was exhausted and didn’t feel like going on a search.  So instead of enjoying the park we made the decision to head home.

Playlist Peek

For the first half of the half marathon course I repeated using my playlist from the 2017 Star Wars Dark Side Half marathon and added a few songs that I have enjoyed listening to lately, such as Happily Ever After from the new fireworks show at Magic Kingdom and some Plain White Tees and David Cook which I had enjoyed hearing live at Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival over the past couple of weeks.  At the turn around I had pulled my phone out to text Mike so I decided to change my music.  I decided it was time for a little Hamilton, which has become my go to running soundtrack.

For the 5K I used my boating playlist.  With the heat I just kept telling myself you’re on  a boat and you’re getting a lovely tan and you’re definitely not running a miserably hot race.  For the one miler I went back to my Star Wars playlist especially because the beginning of the playlist has most of my favorite songs.

Looking Back Now

As much I loved the SMO and the race tank there is no way I would do this race again.  The number one problem with this race was lack of communication on race day with safety being a close second.  The race directors did a wonderful job with communication leading up to the race with Facebook updates and multiple e-mails.  Somehow this all fell apart on race day.

Early this morning we did receive apology e-mails from the race directors explaining what went wrong with the race.  It was nice of them to do this, but why couldn’t they have told us any of this on race day when it may have actually mattered or helped us runners?  To summarize, a lot of the issues they blamed on Hurricane Irma.  My problem with this is that you knew Irma caused problems and  you should have considered other options for race day.  These circumstances should have been explained when you knew they were going to be a problem and options could have been made for people to switch to virtual races.   They claimed they had 40 volunteers and due to Irma they lost 37 of them.  They said they had officers to assist at traffic signals and they cancelled three days before.  They stated that water stations weren’t where they were supposed to be.  They also informed us that they were still trying to figure out our final race times.  Who has ever heard of a race that is four days out and you still don’t know your finish time? They did not address there being no first aid stations. We get it, these all sound like big problems. However, they should have been communicated to runners before race day so they could have adjusted accordingly. Moreover, given this list of problems, no explanation was given as to why, at the last minute, they moved the start time of the races up, and then left runners in the lurch beyond the initially stated start time.  Needless to say, the explanation is not satisfactory.

While it may be disappointing to have a race cancelled, let alone at the last minute, if a race director does not think that he or she can stage a safe, quality event due to a change circumstances, then he or she needs to make the tough call and just cancel the event, rather than setting up an entire field of runners for disappointment, or potentially worse.  Case in point, last December the organizers of the Santa Hustle had to cancel the half marathon event due to dangerously cold temperatures, runDisney had to shorten the 2015 Wine and Dine Half Marathon to 6.7 miles because of weather, and once again runDisney had to cancel the January 2017 running of the Walt Disney World Half Marathon because of severe weather. In both cases runners were disappointed, but were nonetheless satisfied that race directors placed a premium on runner safety while providing effective, timely communications.

I’m not sure there is much to be done that could get someone to come back next year to run this race.  Unfortunately I have been soured on this race and have no intention on coming back.

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!