As I write this, Maine and the rest of the northeast is in the midst of a blizzard. The wind has been howling for hours and the drifting snow is creeping up the windows. Although we are used to running in snowy and frigid conditions, we have embraced our running quest as an opportunity to head out of the cold for mini mid-winter breaks. It’s days like today that I really appreciate these little escapes.
Two years ago Mike advocated for a trip to Florida. Once I read about the Best Damn Race in Safety Harbor, Florida, I knew that was the race for us. First of all, who could resist this race name? The race offers a 5K, 10K, and half marathon all on the same day. The 10K and half start early and the 5K begins slightly later. The races travel over portions of the same course and end at the same finish line. We opted to take the easy way out and signed up for the 5K.
So in February 2013 we flew to Tampa and drove to Safety Harbor, which was just across the causeway over Tampa Bay, in our spiffy Fiat 500 rental car.
We had made reservations at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa which is the hotel affiliated with the race. The packet pick-up and expo were located right behind the resort at the Safety Harbor Marina Park. But most amazingly of all, the starting line for the race is directly outside the front door of the resort! Having run dozens of races that involved locating the race (which I’m sorry to say has occasionally involved some heated “discussions” about driving directions), as well as parking, standing in port-a-potty lines, checking gear, etc, etc, this bonus cannot be over-emphasized! Besides the fact that the resort is lovely, we had the unbelievable luxury of staying in our room until we were ready to head out to warm up for the race and then leisurely join the other runners at the starting line.
We arrived the day prior to the race so we were able to soak up the incredibly therapeutic sun and warmth as we slowly removed layers of clothing. As I lounged by the pool another woman sat next to me dressed in a turtleneck sweater. We looked at each other and I asked if she was from up north. She admitted that she was and we commented on how amazing it was to feel warm. After spending months in bone-chilling temps at home it was difficult to believe we really could shed our layers.
The resort is on the west shore of Tampa Bay. There is a long wooden pier beside the resort that you can stroll down and get wonderful views of the bay.
We spent some time exploring the quaint town.
We found this sign that says, “Danger Do Not Feed or Molest the Alligators” humorous.
The first night we came across a small but perfect southern restaurant called Southern Fresh.
The food was fabulous.
Mike had a great local beer called Florida Cracker, a Belgian-style wheat beer.
We wished we’d had a chance to enjoy the outdoor fire pit.
The next morning we very leisurely prepared for our race. We ventured out to watch the early start of the half and 10K and assess the temperature. It was cool by Florida standards and not yet very sunny. We spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to decide on attire for the race. Long sleeves? Short sleeves? Long sleeves over short sleeves? I eventually settled on short-sleeves with a long-sleeve top. We were almost giddy with the wonder of having our room steps from the starting line. We felt like VIPs with access to our own private bathroom just minutes before the race! We did a little warm up run and then lined up and waited for the gun to go off. I suddenly realized it was warm and quickly pinned my number to my short sleeve shirt, tied my other shirt around my waist and we were off!
As we took off along the palm-tree lined coast past stately homes overlooking Tampa Bay I could hardly believe it was February. I was in heaven. But I was also seriously trying to finish with a good time. The course was flat and I had been running well at home. Mike was ready to pace me so we really pushed hard (for me) along the route. The course is virtually flat so that was a huge change from our very hilly routes at home. We crossed the finish line together and I was thrilled to have beaten my goal time.
We joined the huge after-race festivities where the beer was flowing freely and chatted with other runners. I was amazed and thrilled to see that I had placed in my age-group. This truly had been the Best Damn Race!
We savored our after-race high as we had lunch with Mike’s sister and her husband. Later we soaked up some more sun and a few cocktails beside the pool, not wanting to waste a single drop of either before heading back up north the next day.
That evening we came across Green Springs Bistro.
Although we didn’t have a reservation they fit us in at a perfect little table in the bar. Live guitar music was playing. The food was extraordinary and the service was stellar.
We had truly had a fabulous day. The Best Damn Race had absolutely lived up to it’s name and given us an opportunity to thaw out for a few days.
If you have a chance to travel to Florida, I strongly urge you to try the Best Damn Race. As of this post, there are still openings in all races which is February 7 this year. I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed.
Have you traveled to warmer climates to race in the winter? Do you have any suggestions for winter races in warm states?
Quest Race #: 12
Date Run: February 2, 2013
Bottom Line: The Best Damn Race is a fabulous, well-organized race in Florida that offered us a perfect mid-winter break from the cold and snow. And if you want to feel like a VIP, check into the resort for amazing starting line amenities.