It's hard not to love the pirate theme of this race, including several runners and spectators in really funny pirate costumes. The start time was quite early (6am) but knowing how hot and humid Tampa can be we welcomed the buzzing alarm at 4:15am (ok, only sort of welcomed it at the time). The race does not offer starting corrals and the start line was so packed 15 minutes before race time that we couldn't get past the 2:00 hour pace group until we passed the start. Unfortunately after only a quarter of a mile the race took a u-turn onto a very narrow bridge and we were basically walking (11:45 pace by my watch) until we reached Davis Island. The first mile was so painfully slow so that we skipped the first water station (Kristin had luckily carried a water bottle) and by mile 3 had made up our lost time completely. Be prepared for a dark race as street lights on Davis Island were all off (except at the water stations, which were very well lit and organized) and there was only minimal ambient light until the sun came up around 7:00-7:15am. Miles 5 through 13 (5-9 are south and 9-13 are north) were on Bayshore Boulevard, a major waterfront road, which was pleasantly scenic (reminded us of Lake Shore Drive in Chicago). Keep your eyes to your left for a nice glowing orange sunrise. The sun is a blessing and curse in this race as the lighting was nice but the temperature immediately rose and you could feel the sun sucking the energy from our tired bodies. With the help of several water stations (we skipped the last station as we were starting to get water belly, i.e. you could hear the water sloshing around in our stomachs as we ran) and a few overhead water showers we managed stay cool and hydrated enough to cross the finish within our 2 hour time goal. If you arrrrrgh looking for a good race in Florida, give Gasparilla a look – and make sure to get to the start early if the first mile of the course remains the same as in 2011.
Highlights: The pirate themed race was pretty cool in and of itself, but passing a man who set a world record by finishing the race in under 2 hours while dressed as a dog (25 pound full mascot outfit) was a truly unique memory - especially given the heat and humidity! A big congratulations to Mike McCormack who joined us for the race and finished in 1:35!
Day 1 (Saturday):
Datz is a local deli that is more of a brew pub than a deli. The sandwiches are fresh and huge (home-made potato chips with blue cheese drizzle on the side were amazing). We both had the "French Turk" which was piled high with carved turkey breast, brie and cranberry sauce on home-made cinnamon raisin bread. Very hip place, with friendly wait staff and good pub-style fresh sandwiches.
Tip: If the restaurant is crowded check in with the hostess (give them your cell phone number to receive a text when your table is ready) and check out seating at the bar upstairs as this seating is first come first served.
Big Cat Rescue is unlike a traditional zoo, and is home to exotic cats ranging from bobcats to tigers that were previously household pets or circus animals. We had the unique opportunity to take the afternoon feeding tour (limited to 15 people on the tour so make sure to book this in advance) and follow a keeper as she fed about 10 different exotic cats including two tigers, a bobcat, a mountain lion and a black panther. It was truly a one of a kind experience to see and hear a tiger devour a 2 pound steak in one bite and chew through a whole bone-in chicken without even a flinch. A worthy organization and a very cool up-close and personal tour.
Columbia Restaurant is an authentic restaurant in the old cigar district (Ybor; pronounced E-bore) that offers traditional Columbian cuisine. We sampled the mahi-mahi with “good rice” and the chicken with yellow rice. The mahi-mahi could have used a bit more flavor/spices, but the chicken was quite hearty and almost too filling/flavorful. The black bean soup was extremely good and is highly recommended. Sampled the Ybor Gold Amber Lager which despite its name is actually brewed in Melbourne, Florida. Ybor Gold is a tasty light bodied beer which went well with dinner.
Tip: Although the restaurant is huge (almost an entire city block) make a reservation if you plan to try this popular restaurant on a weekend as it took almost 5 minutes just to get in the door on a Saturday night.
Day 2 (Sunday - Race Day):
Safety Harbor Spa offers a huge Sunday brunch with everything to cure your post-race hunger pains. The biscuits and gravy were quite tasty, the made to order omelets were a pleasant surprise and the fruit/vegetable platters were all very fresh and satisfying. The complimentary bottomless mimosa glass was pretty awesome too. A big thanks to Julia McCormack for arranging our brunch!
Caladesi Island. Unless you own your own yacht the Caladesi Ferry located inside Honeymoon Island State Park is the only way to get to this secluded white-sand beach paradise (ferry is $12 per person, plus $8 per car to enter Honeymoon State Park). While boarding the ferry we saw a dolphin playing in the water no more than 10 feet away and within minutes of docking the ferry at Caladesi Island we spotted a giant turtle feasting on the lush island grasses (Kristin’s favorite reptile). The beaches are truly a seashell lover’s dream, as the white-sand shores are literally covered with thousand of shells that would have already been pocketed by tourists at another beach in the United States! While the water temperature was a bit too cold to swim, the beach was very relaxing and far from overcrowded.
Tip: Print out a $1 off ferry coupon (one coupon valid for up to 6 people) here. Also, unless you like the taste of salt water make sure to sit in the rear of the ferry as the front is a bit of a “splash zone”.
Ceviche = tapas galore! This gem of a restaurant offers nice outdoor seating (apparently the restaurant was originally converted from a residential house so the layout is a bit unusual and non-valet parking is only on the local streets). Plan to split a few tapas between your table (~4 for two people). The “Pa Amb Oli” (Serrano ham and Machego cheese on warm bread) and the “Piquillos Rellenos” (roasted red peppers stuffed with ground veal and chrizo sausage) were our two favorites. The sangria with fresh fruit was also quite tasty (don't be tempted by the half sugar sangria as our waitress warned us it was terrible, and the regular sangria was indeed outstanding).
Day 3 (Monday):
Yuengling Brewery Tour. Although many tourists think Yuengling is an imported beer-maker it is actually America’s oldest brewery (original brewery is located in Pottsville, Pennsylvania). Through its careful expansion plans (currently only available in 13 states) Yuengling added the Tampa brewery in 1999 to serve the South Eastern United States. The tour is very hands-on and extremely informative. In addition to a plant tour we met the brew master, plant manager and head chemist. Yuengling is very operationally unique as it is family owned and each person at the plant knows one another. There is a real sense of joy and true happiness shared by plant employees. After the tour we took a seat at the tasting bar and sampled: Yuengling lager (90% of annual sales for a reason), premium (decent light canned beer), bock (very good but hard to find outside the brewery), black and tan (good mix, still light and flavorful) and the porter (dark and foamy but not as thick as a Guinness). The tour and tasting is free so make sure to tip your guide/bar tender.
Tres Amici at the Bunker is a quaint little coffee shop that offers unique coffee/tea drinks and a very flavorful Cuban sandwich (ham, mustard, cheese and pickles on toasted Cuban bread). While we have no basis for comparison as this was the first time we sampled a Cuban sandwich, we could easily see why it was voted best Cuban sandwich in Ybor. The sandwich also paired well with an iced cranberry tea. Outdoor seating in the front and back of the restaurant was a nice bonus to soak up some rays while dining.
Florida Half Marathon Medals
February 27, 2011: Gasparilla Half Marathon