15th Annual Clearwater Running and Fitness Festival Was Outstanding
The festival took place on January 19, 2014 and included three timed races (marathon, half-marathon, 5-miler) and a just for the joy of it 5K walk/run. My family and I made the roughly 50 minute drive from Land O' Lakes so that my daughter could compete in the half-marathon and I could complete the 5-miler. We and our favorite cheerleader/husband/father really enjoyed the day and plan to attend next year.
A Few of My Favorite Things
- Florida in January Weather Perfection- the temperatures at the race start were close to 40 degrees, a little chilly but not quite layer on the disposable sweat shirts and trash bags weather. Neither heat stroke nor hypothermia were even a remote possibility. It was the iconic Sunshine State kind of morning.
- Stunning Scenic and Challenging Course- all of the races started in Coachman Park and went up and over the Memorial Causeway. The 5-milers turned around near the entrance to Clearwater Beach and went back up and over the Memorial Causeway a second time. The half-marathoners continued past the beach and went up and over the Sand Key Bridge (twice, of course). The morning sun on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico made even the inclines seem appealing somehow. I glanced out over the Gulf and saw pelicans effortlessly skimming the water and was jealous because nothing about those ascents was effortless to me. The challenge of the bridge inclines made me feel more athletic somehow and that's always a plus.
- Prolonged Downhill Finish- the finish might have been one of my favorite parts of the whole course. I fast walked up the bridges and ran the downsides. The second time I chugged up the Memorial Causeway I noticed a distinct decrease in vigor. Then I got to the peak and from then it was all downhill. At the base of the bridge was this fun pedestrian corkscrew, winding sidewalk that was all downhill. I fell into a fast rhythm that felt effortless and this gave me a nice shot of strength for the finish.
- Glittery, Starfish Medal Swag- every marathon, half-marathon, and 5-mile finisher received a distinctive starfish medal. There are bigger medals for age group winners and nice trophies for over all winners. My daughter said that the medals for marathoners were about the size of license plates. The medals are just cool; they really are.
- Cool Max Shirts in Both Long and Short Sleeve- they have nice shirts in light weight cool max. As a bonus feature, the child sizes don't have the Michelob beer logo, meaning your runner child can wear their shirt to school without risking a wardrobe violation.
- Fun Post-Race Party- the post-race party was in a spacious, grassy park by the waterfront. There were carbohydrates in multiple forms like bananas, pretzels, muffins, cheese danish, donuts, and even freshly cooked pasta. There were plenty of chairs and a great musician for entertainment. I enjoyed slouching in a chair in the sunshine, nibbling on snacks, and watching runners roll in from the nearby finish line.
- Toilets O' Plenty- there were a couple of rows of portable toilets. I'm the person who always needs to use the facilities (often multiple times) before a run so access is important to me.
- Nice Staff and Volunteers- everyone that we encountered at this event (and the packet pick-up) was friendly and helpful. The race director even drove the route, picked up clothing that got dropped as runners got warmed in the sunshine, and returned the items to a central locations. I thought that this was very considerate. They were also very polite and helpful with helping to correct my daughter's results (more on this below).
- Plenty of Parking- there was plenty of parking around the area and it looked like most of it was free.
A Few of My Least Favorite Things
- Long Line to Pick Up Timing Chips- even though we arrived over 30 minutes early and already had our numbers, we had to pick up our timing chips on race morning. There was a super-long line for this and I feared that I would not get my chip in time to use the restroom before the start. There was a volunteer directing people to the correct lines to get the chip associated with their bib number and this helped speed things along. Fortunately, the staff recognized that all the people would not get their chips by the original start time and pushed the time back to accommodate this. I had time to do everything necessary and make a new friend at the start line. I appreciated the start line flexibility but hope they will handle timing chips differently next year. If not, I will have to adjust my arrival time accordingly.
- Duplicate Number Snafu- announcement of the half-marathon awards was way behind schedule. Normally this would not be a problem except my daughter was an age group contender and wanted to see how she placed. It turned out that there were duplicate timing chip numbers assigned to half-marathon runners. After multiple delays, the announcer said that winners could come to the table and get their medals before the official announcements were made. Oops, my daughter's name was not on the list. But, instead of sending her home thinking she did not place, the announcer sent her over to the timing tent. There we learned that her bib was assigned to "Unknown" and apparently "unknowns" don't win medals. The Cool Running staff fixed this, printed new results, walked them to the trophy/medal table and they gave my daughter the correct medal. I have to report that this is the second time that the organization that runs the event made a mistake that effected results in my family. My son and daughter ran the Halloween Halfathon and an error in timing chip assignment resulted in my son not getting the medal for second place that he earned. It turns out that he got assigned to the 5K division but he really ran the half. The mistake was corrected on Cool Running site but my son never did get his age group medal. The ability to run these events is a blessing and winning a medal is a sweet bonus so we weren't upset about it. However, our family has had timing/results snafus in two out of two events so maybe they need to review their procedures for timing chip assignment.
- Michelob Ultra Beer- it's nice to have a free beer at the finish but Michelob Ultra barely counts as a beer. I give them points for sponsoring this event but Ultra is an unappealing liquid that does not taste like a beer and gives not even the hint of a pleasant beer-based buzz. This is hardly the fault of the Clearwater Running Festival but a better beer would be really appreciated.
At the beginning of the awards ceremony the race director said that participation in this event increased 50% over the previous year. It was very easy for me to see why this great race has grown in popularity. The Clearwater Running Festival has all the great benefits of a really big race (picture perfect course, gorgeous heavy-duty medals, technical t-shirts, post-race party) but without the tightly packed course and other downfalls of a really big event. I think its an absolute treasure.
Other Great Florida Races
The Clearwater Running Festival was part of the Florida Gulf Beaches Road Races series of events. The next event, a half-marathon and 5K, is scheduled for Sunday March 23, 2014. The course takes runners through beautiful, fast, flat and scenic Ft. Desoto Park. It should be a perfect weekend to get in a last spring half-marathon while the Florida weather remains runner friendly. I highly recommend participating in any of the well-run and highly enjoyayble Florida Gulf Beaches Road Races.