I’ve made zero secret about how much I adore the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. It’s pretty much my favorite Half Marathon in all of Florida, and yes, I include all of the Disney races in that assessment. When it comes to the most enjoyable races in the Sunshine State, the Sarasota Half is top of the food chain. The race is fun, festive, scenic, low-key but energetic, roomy, uncluttered, well-organized, and an all-around great time. I’ve run this race three times over the last four years, and each time has been a great experience. Whereas the Disneyland Half Marathon in Anaheim always marks the symbolic start of my race season, the Sarasota Half always signifies the triumphant completion.
To put it succinctly: if I could only run one half marathon in Florida, this would be the one.
… OK well that’s it folks. G’nite! Here’s the vi– oh you’re still here? You’re not gonna let me slack on this one?
Fair enough. I’ll do me best. The 2015 First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon was my 25th Half Marathon ever, which indeed is a cause for celebration! So let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? And believe you me, stick with me here; it “ends” well.
Tee hee. Oh, the joy of puns…
The Day Before
Boots and I began the 3 hour drive up from Fort Lauderdale late Saturday morning. Our only agenda was to pick up my registration packet at the Fit 2 Run store in downtown Sarasota, check into our hotel (the Sarasota Airport Holiday Inn — more on that in a minute), attend the scheduled pasta dinner with FIT, and pass out early that evening. Simple enough.
When I arrived at Fit 2 Run at around 2:30 that afternoon, it was pretty much packed to the gills. The line for registration pickup led out of the store and down the adjacent street. Yikes!
Looks were deceiving. The line was long but traffic moved very smoothly… especially compared to the free-for-all zoo that was registration last year. Pretty soon I was inside where I picked up my bib, free race jacket (in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the race), race shirt, and other materials. On the way out I said hi to several FIT friends, many of whom were pacing the race the next day (including first-time pacer and buddy Sarah aka “Helen” from the Miami Marathon). Exiting the store, I waited for Boots to pick me up while chatting with my buddies Kristi and Ines on Main Street. This particular downtown area looked like a plenty fun place to explore, with lots of boutique stores, used book shops, antiques, bars, and restaurants. Some other time, perhaps.
After motoring over to the Holiday Inn where, upon check-in, we were informed that late check-outs were NOT AVAILABLE and we had to be out of our rooms by 11AM the next morning or suffer the Wrath of Lord Palmerston or whatever. This was routinely ignored because the Sarasota Airport Holiday Inn is a terrible place to sleep the night before a race. No, seriously. The staff was making noise from the lobby area well into the evening, the beds were uncomfortable, and the air conditioner has only two modes: completely off, or LOUDLY BLASTING ARCTIC HYPOTHERMIA AT SOUND LEVELS THAT COULD RAISE THE DEAD TWO CONTINENTS AWAY. I had a terrible night’s sleep, and as such will not be staying at that hotel again.
On the plus side, I had a killer Yueng-Ling draft as part of the carbing up during the previous night’s pasta dinner, so it wasn’t a total loss. Thanks to my beer buddies Boots, Katarina, Denise, other Denise, Bruce, and others!
So let’s get to the meat of the matter…
Groggy and sleep-deprived, we left the hotel at 5 AM; last year, Boots and I were stuck in a bit of race traffic and we wanted to avoid it this time around. I think we succeeded. We were easily parked right near the Van Wezel center (next to the Race Area) by around 5:07. Huzzah. We killed time listening to music in the car until 6AM, where, after a quick trip to the porto units, I met up with my buddies for our team picture and general kibbitzing. The weather forecast called for hot temperatures and lots of humidity, but at that point it really didn’t feel all that uncomfortable. There was a strong, cool breeze blowing and it felt like decent running weather to me — just around the mid 60s. So needless to say, I was ready to run this thing!
I had already decided to treat this race as a really fun training run. I had no plans to run at a race pace whatsoever; this was just 13.1 miles of training, nothing more. Instead of pushing myself in hopes of a PR or a competitive time, I wanted to just relax and enjoy this run — take in the scenery and camaraderie, and not worry one whit about my race time. Besides, I had just hit a near-PR two weeks before in Orlando at Best Damn Race. I had ZERO to prove that morning. Erstwhile running buddy Kristi and I lined up in the C corral (or what loosely could be defined as corrals) and waited for the race to begin. After a roaring take on the National Anthem (featuring a young singer who ABSOLUTELY NAILED that high note to cheers from the crowd), the race began in earnest just after 7:10 AM!
And because you demanded it, let’s take a look at the race course, courtesy of my valiant Garmin 220 watch and Google Maps:
It was a beautiful course, for the most part. It took us south on the Tamiami Trail, then eastbound over the Ringling Causeway, around St. Armands Circle, then back west over the Causeway to the Trail, northbound on the Trail (passing the Start/Finish area) for just over 3 miles. Right around the Mile 9 marker we turned east, passing the impeccably architected Ringling Museum of Art, which then continued with a 3 mile jaunt through the residential Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores neighborhoods. Mile 12 took us back onto the Trail, where we headed south towards the Finish Line, back at the Van Wezel center.
(I copied that course description from last year’s race report. Yes. I am that Slacker…)
I’m not going to get too descriptive of the race, other than to say I really enjoyed every second of it. The scenery afforded you by running up the Ringling Causeway is just breathtaking; you get this killer view of Sarasota Bay both coming and going! The bridge itself is no big deal, if you’ve done any sort of hill training or bridge repeats in your weekly runs. I love the turn around at the St. Armands Circle roundabout, which takes you back over the Causeway towards the mainland. Every year I want to stay in Sarasota and explore that area, yet we never seem to do that. Again, someday…
Kristi and I took off at a long-run training pace and pretty much stayed there for the entirety of the race, somewhere between 10 and 11 min/mile. Intervals were set to 5:1 and left there for the duration. As I mentioned before, this was a no-pressure situation (as well as a no-music situation; no speakers or earphones this time around) so we spent much of the time talking, chatting, joking, and/or bitching. As the sun rose the temperature shot up pretty quickly, and the humidity made itself more prevalent with the increased heat. I’ll tell you the honest truth though: it never, ever felt all that bad to me. Maybe it’s the electrolyte/salt supplements I was took, but I felt just fine. Others felt differently. Different strokes, I guess.
I also want to make the observation that I am HORRIFICALLY AWFUL with names during a race. I passed my friend Alan and called him ‘Joey’, then I finally bumped into Dale from the Mickey Milers Running Team and called her ‘Jennifer’. Please don’t take any of that personally, guys; I’m half a dope sometimes…
The least scenic and least memorable portion of the race is probably the 3 mile trek north up Tamiami Trail. Once past the Van Wezel center, it’s nothing but Burger Kings, Dunkin’ Donutses, gas stations, Super 8 motels, and strip malls until Mile 9. In addition, the area cordoned off for runners becomes much narrower. On the other hand, at least it’s pretty fast and flat, so we just motored on. Boots was snapping pictures before we left the Van Wezel area and she managed to capture this amazing Action Jackson snapshot:
At Mile 9, we stopped for a much need porto break and continued onward, making the turn into the Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores area. This was a welcome and scenic foray into some of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the area. Between the elegant houses, beautiful bay views, and tree-lined streets that afford ample amounts of shade, this is my favorite part of the race. Some people comment that the 3+ miles through these neighborhood sometimes seem to “go on forever” — I should know, I used to be one of them. This time around, not so much. It actually felt like it flew by, so I tried to take in as much of it as I could. Meanwhile, I could see the heat was taking its toll on the runners around me: I saw a lot of hunched shoulders, slumping running forms, flushed cheeks, and heard enough wheezing and puffing around me to realize that this race was hitting a lot of people pretty hard. Again, we started at a moderate pace and kept it throughout. That, plus the electrolytes I was taking and the lack of any speed expectations whatsoever, made the race seem fairly reasonable to me. And that’s not bravado, either; I really felt like I was having a great time (because I was).
Just after Mile 12, the course took us back onto Tamiami Trail southbound as we made our way to the Finish Area, or what I’d like to call…
Where Things Get Embarrassingly Fun
The finale of the race took a turn for the comical, but it didn’t start out that way. With less than a quarter-mile to go, we first came across Boots, who snapped these pics right here. I was in great spirits and very ready to celebrate the crossing of my 25th half-marathon finish line!
Then we rounded the corner and prepared to take that last 0.1 miles to the Finish Line!
We made our way down the strip and crossed the Finish Line together, finishing with a time of 2:25:51. I raised my hands up in the air to make a “25” gesture with both hands, but because I forgot all about perspective and mirror imaging, I actually ended up making a “52” gesture. Because I’m half a dope that way…
But it doesn’t end there. Oh no…
As I walked triumphantly from the Finish Line, a frantic gentleman ran up to me, pointing back onto the course. “Sir! Sir! You dropped your phone at the Finish Line!!”
My face turned white and I whipped around. My Armpocket was completely unzipped and empty. When I raised my arms to salute my finish, my Galaxy S5 fell out and was lying face down a few yards from the Finish Line. On the course. In dangerous possibility of being trod upon and smashed by other runners!
Well, what could I do? THE ONLY THING A MAN CAN DO. Run back onto the course, grab it, and run back without getting in anyone else’s way.
This took courage, agility, determination, and a HUGE amount of humility. I jumped back out there and grabbed my phone as quickly as I could.
And photographers managed to capture the moment where I, in all of my supreme glory, photobombed several runners’ finishing pics WITH MY ASS:
Or… if you’d prefer the animated version:
So I not only butchered the “TWENTY-FIVE!” gesture upon crossing the Finish Line, I also managed to jump back onto the course and flaunt my Royal American for all of God and Country to observe. A posterior for posterity.
Way to stick the landing, Millheiser.
Several hearty laughs at my expense later, Kristi and I made our way through the Finish Area. She got her Storm Series medal (I sat out most of the series this year, having participated in only two of the races), we paused for some bay pictures, and then made our way to the FOOD! Sarasota always has a good selection, and this year was no disappointment. I grabbed the requisite banana, bagel, muffin, and the MUCH loved yogurt parfait. My GOD those are awesome. Listen, when First Watch is the corporate sponsor, you’re gonna get some good eats. They were also serving up fresh pancakes off the griddle, but I was pretty well satiated by then, and besides: it was time for BEER!
Some post-race shots:
Also a big shout-out to Hokeyblog reader Gus (the Mummy who introduced himself to Boots during last year’s Halloween Half Marathon), who recognized me after the race and graciously agreed to pose for this pic.
See, gentle readers? You too can be Hokeyblog famous!
So all in all, we had another fine time at the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. I generally don’t like to repeat races anymore; there are so many other amazing races, courses, and different areas I really want to explore and experience. But if I have no conflicting events that weekend, I’ll make a habit to come back to Sarasota Half as much as I can. Something about this race just “feels” perfect. Or maybe it’s simply just a well-run, scenic, and really enjoyable race, period. It remains, in my opinion, the best Half in Florida, but I welcome all challengers in the future. Anyway… here’s the humble video: