Everyone has that one event, or few events, that they look forward to every year. For me that event is the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic (PGDC) held in Tampa FL in late February. I’ve run 100s of races all over the US, international events, but PGDC has been my favorite event for the past 3 years for several reasons…
- There is a Distance and Event for Everyone. Whether you are an experienced distance runner, first time 5ker, Olympian (Dathan Ritzenhein and Abdi Abdirahman both ran in 2015), or just enjoy getting out for walk with a few thousand friends PGDC has something for you. There are 4 races throughout the weekend: 15k and 5k the first day followed by a half marathon and 8k on the second. You can sign up for any individual race OR…here is the fun part…do a ‘Challenge’ option. The Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus Challenge is the 15k and 8k for a total of 14.2 miles; the Mich. Ultra Amber Challenge is the 15k, 5k, and Half for 25.5 miles, and my personal favorite the Ultra Challenge. This is the ‘Grand Slam’ event of all 4 races (15k, 5k, Half, & 8k) for a total of 30.4 miles over 2 days. With a total of 7 event options there really is something for everyone and anyone.
- Best Value Race Around. Hands down Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic gives you the best bang for your buck. All the events are fairly priced and actually inexpensive if you sign up early and the swag is THE BEST. Awesome tech shirt, custom bib, reusable shopping bag, unique medal for every distance, finish line photo op with pirates, and post-race food and beer (as well as other beverages).
Signing up for a challenge will just multiple the amount of swag you go home with. Regardless of the challenge you chose you will get a shirt for each corresponding race as well as a unique Challenge jacket and finishers medal. So if you run all 4 races you’ll go home with 4 shirts, a jacket and 5 medals!
And we keep going…for those of you who run in the Top 10% of your age group for any race you can claim a PGDC Top 10% coffee mug to remind you every morning of your accomplishment. Plague awards are also given top performers in every race, challenge series, military divisions, and corporate challenges. THEN several weeks later the top 5 in every age group will get a custom award engraved with your name and age group place for the race.
It should also be noted that the shirts, jackets, medals, and awards are all very well designed and feature different designs every year. I’m not kidding…Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic goes above and beyond to reward their runners.
- Flawless Organization. The PGDC crew really has figured out how to orchestrate a world class event. They handle over 30,000 runners, separate start lines that use a common finish line, multiple start waves, elite start coral, fluid/fuel/aid stations, and general course management as well as anyone in the business. I could go into infinite detail about how well produced this weekend is but won’t bore you with that…just know I have not heard one complaint in 3 years.
- After Party. One of my favorite parts of any race. The post-race party is held in a close by park and features the awards ceremony, live bands, DJ, and an all-around good time. Stopping by for a post-race beer and the chance to hang out with other runners is a must for both days regardless of if you ran or not! Here’s a little secret…after you wait out the line for your free Mich Ultra stop by the Ulele tent and snag a free craft beer sample. The brewmaster (Tim Shackton) makes some incredible beers and hey more free beer!
- Weather is something that can be drastically different year to year but every year I’ve run PGDC there has been great weather. Especially for those in cold winter climates Tampa offers a beautiful mid-winter get away.
- Great Courses. All the courses are run along the bay and offer nice water views of the bay and downtown Tampa. Also with predawn race starts for the 15k and Half runners get a beautiful sunrise during their run. All courses are also flat and very fast so this is the perfect place to set a P.R.
*Running with the Winner (I took 3rd this year) of the Michelob Ultra Challenge around mile 6 of the half marathon. Photo taken by Dr. David Lubin
- Everyone is Nice. This one is pretty self-explanatory but PGDC really sticks out as an event that everyone you come into contact with…runners, volunteers, police, professional athletes (both Meb and Shalane were congratulating runners at the end of races this year), spectators, EVERYONE…is happy and has nothing but nice things to say.
These are main reasons that Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic has come to be my favorite event. It’s an event I am already looking forward to running next year and competing once again for the Michelob Ultra Challenge title. I hope to see you Feb 24-26 in Tampa for the 2017 edition of the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic!