I’ve only done the race once before but this year’s Sarasota First Watch Half Marathon & Relay race was waaaaaaay better than last year’s race. Good on ya Sarasota because you took it all up a few notches.
This year was the 10th Anniversary of the race. It’s a small race through the neighborhoods of Sarasota, on the coast of southwest Florida. They told us there were 5,000 runners out there this today. I guess I’ve been going to a lot of huge races because 5,000 people felt really small and intimate, like a neighborhood 5k. This race was the last of the Florida Storm Series and I always see people with those big “5” blinged out race medals for having run this one plus the other 4.
I got there really early (445am) so parking was a breeze. There still seemed to be a lot of parking available right there by the start or a block away until maybe 545 or 6am. The porta-potty situation last year was awful. Runners and spectators were all trying to use them even right up until the race started, with no luck. People were upset. The race people must have heard about it and put more units in because this time there appeared to be more and I didn’t hear people grumbling about it. The race-day packet pickup was flawless as well. Though I did see a lot of people there still in line to get their packets around 630-640 and the race started at 7:00. Well it was supposed to start at 7 but it’s always late. I personally think they’re waiting for it to be light enough on the course because we are always delayed until it’s definitely light enough for, say, cars to see the runners. They never fully explained it. Then there were corrals for the first time this year. It’s all honor system but I didn’t see anybody in higher corrals than they were supposed to be in. On the contrary I saw a lot of people go back to slower corrals to run with their friends and spouses. Also there was a dj or someone controlling the music this year and everyone loved it. Everyone in my corral was dancing and I heard numerous people say that the music was great or great addition or better than last year, comments like that. Last year was such a convoluted messy event really. This one really ironed out all the wrinkles and put in additions to make everyone happy.
At 7:10 we were finally allowed to start and everyone took off. No… I mean it… everyone flew out of there. Granted, I was in B corral so maybe those times were faster? I don’t even know the time frame of the corrals but I felt like everyone was flying, especially since it was extremely humid and the first mile was a massive hill. I’ll give more on my race day performance later but I really did think people were flying. It could be a lot of those people were part of the relay portion so they were planning to run a fast 10k before they tagged their partner. But that hill in the beginning is no joke. What is it with Miami and Sarasota putting the big hills first? I guess there’s no good place for a hill.
The first 6 miles is out over the bridge and into downtown Sarasota. Talk about descending to sea level. You could chew the air down there this year. Just hot salty humid sea air. It was a welcome sight (almost) to see that bridge/hill again to take you out of there at mile 4. On the other side of the bridge you get back to where the start is and where the other relay runner teams are waiting for their partners. It’s a pretty easy transfer and everyone is spaced out pretty well with identifying flags according to their bib numbers. Then… oh man… then you spend the next 3+ miles going steadily uphill on route 41 just along the side of the road. Is this payback for the 2nd relay team member who missed the first hill? It goes on forever. Ok, it’s a minimal incline but after 3 miles you are seriously tired of going uphill.
Then you hang a left into the neighborhoods. It’s very much like the Miami Marathon in this part, where you run through these Florida neighborhood. Residents also come out to watch you run. At one point here I was struggling to take my GU Chomps out of my pocket and stopped in front of a house to get it and I look over and this little girl and her dog were sitting in front of this huge window and waived to me. It was really cute and funny. Sarasota changed up their course a little bit here in the zig zag of the neighborhood it seems. I could be mistaken but it was still a good route and uneventful and the shade of the trees in this part was welcome later in the morning.
Finally it dumps you back on the main road again where you have about a mile until the finish line. Guess what? Uphill again. I didn’t understand how that was possible since I definitely don’t remember a downhill the first time around so this hill was shocking (in a bad way). But I suppose I do remember now going downhill for a bit after the relay people changed places. Then you hang a sharp right to the finish and to your medal. And let me tell you, the medal did not disappoint (*ahem* like last years). This time it looked very Florida-like with the teal blue and the visible dolphins. It was great.
At the finish area, they have these huge setups for large groups to get their pictures taken and people were loving it. They have these at most races but they are usually these backdrops around 4 feet wide. Here at Sarasota they were like 12 feet wide. They were serious backdrops. I saw groups of 10+ people getting their pictures taken. Then there was the breakfast station where there were bananas, bagels, yogurt parfaits, and pancakes and syrup! Ok, maybe I was just tired last time but I’m pretty sure I’d have remembered PANCAKES! Please let me know if I’m wrong here people. But yeah, pancakes and syrup. If I hadn’t had such a bad race I would have been all over those. Pancakes are way better than beer after a race. But the beer garden did look nice, overlooking the water as usual. You’re going to have to look at my previous Sarasota post for those pictures because I was a total slacker about pictures this time. I regret it but I tell ya, I wasn’t feeling well for this race and afterwards it was worse. I was thinking compression socks and seltzer water, not photos. Sorry folks because there were some great sights, like the giant egg behind the race podium.
The 10th Anniversary Sarasota First Watch Half was a well put on race. If you haven’t run Sarasota and want a small, well done, personable race, you’d like this one. Or if you have run Sarasota in the past and didn’t like things about it, go back and try it again because they’ve really upped the sophistication of the whole thing.