A big, shiny medal is always a legitimate reason to sign up for a race, but sometimes the medal takes a backseat to location. As in this case.
When the race was first announced I didn’t plan to run it. A local 10k with a price tag of $75 seemed a bit much, but I quickly realized that it was such a rare and unique opportunity to traverse this iconic bridge and Florida landmark. Pedestrians have not walked or run this bridge since a pre-opening ceremony back in 1987, and we were given the opportunity do take part in something that hasn’t been available to the general public in over 30 years. PLUS – and even more reason to sign up – all proceeds were allocated to the Armed Forces Family Foundation. Running AND supporting our troops & their families? Sign me up! And it seems that many runners were in agreement, because all 7,000 spots were sold in about a week.
If you’re not from around here and familiar with the Sunshine Skyway bridge, I encourage you to read about it here.
There is very little parking around the recreational rest and fishing areas either north or south of the bridge, which is part of Interstate 275. Runners therefore had to gather at Tropicana Field (home of the Tampa Bay Rays) and due to the sheer size of the field were split in three starting waves: 6:15, 6:45, and 7:15 a.m.. I had signed up for wave #2 and when I arrived around 5 a.m. most runners of the first wave were already boarding the buses to get to the start. Lines seemed to be moving quickly and efficiently. I dropped off my bag at gear check and got in line for the bus. We eventually boarded and took a short 15 minute ride south over the bridge to the start. We gathered in our starting wave right as the sun started to set fire to the horizon behind us:
The mood of the crowd was indescribable; I saw nothing but smiling faces all around me. I think we all realized there and then just how special this event was, and how lucky we were to be part of it.
With only a few minutes delay, wave #1 was sent off with a gun salute. Wave #2 moved forward and after the national anthem we too were sent on our way; heading right for that bridge with the sun rising over our right shoulder.
I’m not always one to stop and take this many photos mid-race, but this of course was different. Who knows if I’d get to do this again? I’d imagine that in 20 or 30 years when my memory starts to fail I’ll be glad to see so many pictures that will bring back these special memories.
The course is pretty flat for the first 3 miles, then the climb begins to reach the top of the bridge, marked by the long, yellow cables.
A quick view down to the water where concrete pillars protect the bridge
Could the weather have been any better than this? I don’t think so….
We continued uphill. A few motorists on the other side were honking, cheering us on (at least that’s what I hope their intention was)….
I turned around a few times to marvel at the view, and found a steady stream of runners and walkers behind me as far as the eye could see:
Ahead of me, my pace makers. Can you imagine running in windy conditions, uphill, with a big flag on your shoulder? This awesome group of service members was steadily forging ahead, leading me all the way to the top of the bridge.
And then, I had reached those bright yellow steel cables, and the top of the Skyway Bridge. I had driven on this road many times; standing there however was a completely different view and feeling.
Finally, it was time to descend on the other side and head for the finish line.
I felt like I was flying and thoroughly enjoyed that downhill stretch of the course where my legs were able to recover and I started to catch my breath. The uphill climb was no joke! Only a little over a mile to go, then I crossed the finish in just over an hour.
Volunteers helped us board the buses back to Tropicana field where we received our medal, food, and…..BEER!
Was it hard? Well, “hard” is a relative term. I’m sure this bridge wasn’t easy for a lot of runners. I didn’t specifically train for the elevation, plus I’m still nursing a sore hip, but I can’t say it was all that hard. If I compare this to IronGirl where we cross two bridges TWICE it was actually pretty easy. After all, this time we only had to get to the top once. It was literally down hill from there! I crossed the finish line in 1:03:10, and still – nothing but smiling faces everywhere. We had done it! We had earned that medal and beer!
There’s reason to be weary of inaugural events like this. A ton of stuff can go wrong if the organizers aren’t on top of their game. This race however seemingly went off without a hitch – starting with the outdoor expo & packet pickup Saturday and ending with the conclusion of the race Sunday morning. Looking back I’m in awe how smooth everything went: parking, the lines to our corals, loading the buses and getting 7,000 runners to the start, sending us off in three waves, and finally getting everyone back on the buses to the post race area where we received our medals, food, and refreshments. There must have been a hundred volunteers, helping to keep things organized. Everyone seemed happy to be there, and I’ll be happy to return in 2019.