ST. PETE BEACH — It used to be that runners were not the only ones racing at the St. Pete Beach Classic. Behind the scenes, volunteers were in a scramble of their own.
The 10 volunteers distributed electronic bracelets to each participant at the start of the runs, then collected them at the finish in order to log start and finish times. This year, in its sixth incarnation, the St. Pete Beach Classic is using a disposable electronic chip that will allow organizers to rely on fewer volunteers.
Runners will find a horseshoe-shaped strip containing a microchip attached to their race bib, race director Wendy Johnson said. They simply attach the strip to their shoe, disposing of it afterward. A bright blue and orange marker at the finish line does the rest.
And as a side benefit for tourism in the area, the makers of the new timing chip, called ChronoTrack, will hold a convention here, with 100 participants staying for three days, Johnson added.
"Tourism has been hurting in Pinellas, like anywhere else," said Johnson, president of Motion Sports Management, the company that puts on the charitable race. "This is how we're going beyond this year."
Johnson said that a study conducted with funds provided by the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Visitors and Convention Bureau showed that 25 percent of participants come from outside the state or country. The visitors bureau also provided dollars for national advertising for the event, Johnson said.
About 1,500 to 2,000 runners are expected to descend on St. Pete Beach for the races and related events, which begin Friday and end on Saturday. The convention begins on Sunday and runs through Jan. 21. Both events will be based at the Sirata Beach Resort and Conference Center.
The events include a health and fitness expo and a free community beach party and bonfire behind the resort on Friday evening. On Saturday, the races and walk begin at 7 a.m., ending with a "beach fun run" that morning. Information is available at stpetebeachclassic.com.
Recipients of charitable support this year include Tampa Bay Youth Running and St. Jude Heroes Charity Athlete Program, which supports children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. The St. Jude's partnership honors Emily Lester, a young woman who lost her battle with cancer last year after leading an effort to boost the National Bone Marrow Registry.
Luis Perez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2271.