Disclaimer: I received a free entry into the Gasparilla Ultra Challenge. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!"
On February 24 and 25, 2018 I participated in the Gasparilla Ultra Challenge (http://www.tampabayrun.com/) in Tampa, FL. For years I had heard about the Gasparilla race series and I was super excited to run it this year. In my true nature, I went all out and ran all the races for the Ultra Challenge. The Ultra Challenge consist of (in their exact order) a 15k and 5k on Saturday and a half marathon and 5k on Sunday. The races were back to back.
The expo was held at the Tampa Convention Center. Number and packet pick was really easy. For the Ultra Challenge I picked up one bib, 4 shirts, and my jacket. There were plenty of vendors who were selling goods and discounted race entries and giving out free samples. I bought a few Sweaty Bands and had a nice ice cream sample (counted as carb loading).
The expo had a name wall (one of my favorite expo items) and plenty of signage for photo opps.
Saturday Feb 24, 2018
Race #1: 15k
The first race for the Ultra Challenge was the 15k. The race started at 6:45 am. Thankfully I stayed 2 blocks from the start line. Since the weather was unseasonably warm they provided wind chillers during the route. The route was similar to the Hot Chocolate Tampa route along Bayshore Blvd. It was flat and there were water stations every other mile. To survive the heat and conserve my energy for the next 3 races, I ran a 2 min/30 sec interval. I finished in 1:50 and grabbed a bite to prep for the 5k.
The highlight of finishing the 15k was meeting Meb at the finish line.
Race #2: 5k
About 20 minutes after finishing the 15k I got in the start corral for the 5k. The official starting time was 9:35 am for me. The 5k was also along Bayshore Blvd. We ran the same out and back course. I ran this race at a slow pace because the heat was starting to get to me. I ran a 1/1 interval and even had a donut during the race (something I never do). I finished the 5k, which also completed half of the Ultra Challenge.
I carried my 15k medal in my backpack during the 5k race, but the race offered medal drop off for those who did not want to run with it. They also offered quick snacks between races for the challenge participants.
Sunday Feb 25, 2018
Race #3: Half Marathon
The race started at 6 am. We ran the first 5 miles through a neighborhood before we ran on Bayshore Blvd for the remainder of the race. We ran on the opposite side of Bayshore than we did on Saturday. I ran a 2 min/1 min interval up to mile 9. At mile 9 the heat was too much and I started to slow down. I finished in less than 3 hours and immediately lined up for the 8k. The medal for the half marathon was a cool pirate skull. It will be a unique addition to my medal collection.
Race #4: 8k
The 8k was the final race of the Ultra Challenge. I had nothing in the tank to run the 8k so I walked. It was very warm so I walked with one my running buddies and new friend I met along the way. It was fun to just enjoy the last race of the series. Upon completion, I received the 8k and Ultra Challenge medal.
Overall it was a great race series. All the distances were fine. The hardest part of the race was the heat. It was in the 70s and 80s through the races. Thankfully the course was flat so the terrain was not something to worry about in addition to the heat. The races were well organized and the swag was nice. The only improvement I would make is to cover the bridge gratings with carpet to prevent tripping during the runs.