Racing season is pretty much over here in Florida. Summer is rapidly approaching, and with that our temperatures are rising. It’s starting to get HOT! I don’t mind running in the heat though… I actually quite enjoy it. Racing is another matter! The hotter it gets, the slower those times end up being. With that in mind, the inaugural Sandbar Half Marathon, benefitting the local YMCA, was the perfect ‘end of season’ race for Southwest Florida.
The course, an out and back on scenic Manasota Key, is flat and large portions of it are shaded. This makes for a great chance to PR and see just how much you’ve improved over the season. Word to the wise though: if you are planning on chasing down that PR, watch your tangents. Although almost the entire course is on the same street, there are lots of gentle curves in the road. While my GPS put the course right at 13.1, the course was not certified this year. Race organizers, however, did indicate that was something they’d be looking at for next year. With this being an out and back, you pass each aid station twice, so there was plenty of on course support.
This wasn’t just a fast course though! It was beautiful. Around half the race is run down a beautifully landscaped road with a great tree canopy, while the entire thing is surrounded by spectacular ocean and bay-front homes. You pass directly alongside the beach for a bit on the way out, and again on the way back. Finally, after an almost two mile loop at the south end of the key, you take a quick right and almost immediately are across the line. Then it’s time for relaxation, and celebration at the title sponsor: Sandbar Tiki and Grille. The beer flowed freely, and there was a delicious hot meal waiting, all to the backdrop of beautiful Manasota Key and live music. It was truly an awesome vibe. Even if you aren’t chasing down a PR, this is still a great event!
Yet despite the potential for a fast time, the beauty of the course and the afterparty… none of those were what struck me the most about this race. Instead it was the community. With around 600 athletes racing in both distances, this was quite a crowd for an inaugural event. And those athletes, the organizers, sponsors and local community were all super friendly and supportive of each other. I’ve said a million times that running, and races, bring out all that is good in humanity. This was a perfect example of that.
As I raced down the course, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the local residents were out on lawn chairs cheering us on. Manasota Key is a very small community, so while there weren’t masses of spectators, the percentage of community engagement was impressive! Rather than get all up in arms about runners bogging down the only road, they embraced this event. The race course was not closed to traffic, yet this small community’s support made that a moot point. I probably only saw a dozen cars during the entire time I was running. Although runners were racing across both sides of the roads, drivers were patient and respectful… clearly this isn’t Miami! It was incredible to see this handful of drivers keeping a significant distance behind runners, inching along at times under 5mph, and waiting patiently until there was wide open road to pass. I never thought I’d say I felt comfortable running a race while sharing the lane with traffic, but thats exactly what happened here. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with mutual respect! While this may not be possible as the race grows (and I suspect it will) for now everything is perfectly balanced.
It wasn’t just the support of the locals that made this a spectacular day though. The entire community here was awesome. On out and backs, I always make it a point to cheer on the runners across the road from me, and I’m never the only one that does. Here it seemed like everybody was doing it! Mutual support of one another as we each pushed to run our own race… together! Then during the awards ceremony, race staff indicated they were short some medals. Last minute signups blew past expectations for total participants (which I think was reasonable considering this was the first year of the race). To make the situation right, they promised runners they’d be ordering and sending out medals to those who didn’t get them. Since there were still a few people out on the course at this point, I knew exactly what I had to do. I went back to the finish line: the last person on the course was just as deserving of getting a medal as I was. I’ve got plenty, waiting a bit for my next wasn’t going to hurt me! As if on cue, she finished a minute later and I handed her her medal! “Congratulations on a job well done!” You know how I said the running community rocks? Well I wasn’t even the only runner who went back to the finish ready to give up my medal. This community of runners, my team, is one I’m quite proud of! The Sandbar Half Marathon was a great event to celebrate a season of successes and support! Congrats to all who were involved this year, and looking forward another great run next year!