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Rock 'n' roll propels runners in St. Petersburg, even on a chilly morning

Rapper Flo Rida performs after St. Petersburg’s first Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon on Sunday. Tunes along the course ranged from blues to rock ‘n’ roll to country.

TYLER TJOMSLAND | Times

Rapper Flo Rida performs after St. Petersburg’s first Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon on Sunday. Tunes along the course ranged from blues to rock ‘n’ roll to country.

ST. PETERSBURG — By mile 6, Liza Geist was running out of juice.

Awake well before the 7:30 a.m. Sunday race start time, and whipped by frigid wind chill, the 29-year-old Apollo Beach woman was still less than halfway to the finish line. Then she heard music.

"Every time there was a band, it gave a little more energy," she said. "It made the miles go a little faster."

Geist was among 7,006 runners who finished St. Petersburg's first Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon from Tropicana Field to North Shore Park before an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 spectators.

Held several times a year around the country, this road race has a twist — live bands jamming at every mile and a finish-line festival with a major headliner.

Dan Cruz, spokesman for Competitor Group that organizes the rock 'n' roll races, called St. Petersburg an ideal location.

"We brought the race, but the city of St. Petersburg really delivered the experience. It was a gorgeous day and the city shined with a scenic downtown and a gorgeous waterfront," he said. "Our organization is ecstatic and looking forward to coming back bigger and better next year."

Cruz said Sunday's half-marathon drew folks from 49 states and 12 countries.

Among them was Greg Hudgins of Columbus, Miss., who loved gazing out over the Pier and seeing spectators with signs who cheered things like "way to rock!" The 33-year-old, running in his second rock 'n' roll race, was expecting warmer vacation weather, but said "colder is always better" when running.

"The course was awesome. It was prettier than I had expected. It was perfect to me," he said. "All the fan support and music is just motivation."

Band genres along the 13.1-mile course ranged from blues to rock 'n' roll covers to country.

That provided a pleasant surprise for northeast St. Petersburg resident Polly Findeison, who strolled over with her dachshunds, Ernie and Teddy, to snap a photo of her daughter-in-law, Heidi Valdes, at mile 11.

"Pretty awesome," said Findeison as she paused to watch an act, Shane Meade and the Sound, rock out. "It kind of almost makes you want to run."

Spectators cheered and danced as chart-topping rapper Flo Rida gave an hour-long concert at the end of the race. He briefly invited fans to dance on stage and threw items, including roses during a love song, and several articles of clothing into the crowd.

At one point, Flo Rida, by now wearing a white tank top after taking off his shirt and tossing it to fans, quipped about the cooler than usual weather, saying "It's not even cold out here no more. St. Pete, Tampa, make some noise because you're hot!"

Around noon, the last runner crossed the finish line. Many runners walked back to their cars, but at least some stopped inside restaurants along the route.

Employees at a few of the businesses said road closings meant disruptions for regulars, but that race participants had stopped in earlier in the morning.

But Max Hayajn, owner of Central Deli and Milano's Pizza on Central Avenue, estimates he lost business based on calls from customers who didn't realize road blocks had been removed by the time he opened at 10 a.m.

Hayajn said he hopes race organizers communicate better with merchants next year.

"I support events like this," he said, adding that he and others could have opened earlier and maybe offered discounts or passed out free water or food.

"We're part of the road and the city," Hayajn said. "It would've attracted more people on the side of the road, having a good time, shopping and watching."

If Spring Hill couple Ann, who ran Sunday, and Chuck Boldt are an indication, his idea might work. The Boldts said they typically visit St. Petersburg only for the Rays. Their overnight hotel stay gave them a chance to see the city, Chuck, 61, said, turning to his wife and adding: "I found two antiques stores. If they're open today, we're going."

. Fast Facts

By the numbers

66: Percent of female runners

1 in 4: Runners who participated in their first half-marathon Sunday

1 in 5: Runners who traveled from out of state

50: Percent of Florida runners who traveled from outside Pinellas and Hillsborough counties

49: States represented, along with the District of Columbia (only Alaska was missing)

12: Foreign countries represented

Source: Competitor Group

Rock 'n' roll propels runners in St. Petersburg, even on a chilly morning 02/12/12 [Last modified: Sunday, February 12, 2012 11:16pm]

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