Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Phones in hand, runners capture the moment at Skyway 10K

ST. PETERSBURG — It arrived fashionably late, well after thousands of runners and walkers had been transported by literal busloads to the rendezvous point, at the southern foot of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

But arrive it finally did. At roughly a quarter past 6 Sunday morning, the sun finally appeared over the horizon.

A sunburst of selfies followed soon thereafter.

Welcome to the inaugural Skyway 10K, which might have set a Florida road-race record for cell phones on the course.

[ ALL EYES Photo Gallery: Runners conquer the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in inaugural 10k run ]

"One of the things they said early on in all the briefings and all the live feeds was, 'Don't stop and take a selfie. Run and take a selfie,'" said Thaddeus Foster, board member for the Armed Forces Families Foundation, the nonprofit group which received all race proceeds.

"Just watching (the live TV feed), everybody was stopping and taking a selfie … or even taking a picture of the bridge spans."

Who could blame them? Sunday's race, which began with winds producing feels-like temperatures that dipped into the 40s, was equal parts exhilaration and novelty. No road race had been staged on the Skyway since January 1987, roughly a month before its formal dedication.

And while organizers hope to make this race an annual event, there are no guarantees in life. Hence the selfie spree.

One runner toted his phone on a selfie stick. Many participants noted a couple had gotten engaged near the bridge's apex.

"I probably could've finished a little bit sooner if I hadn't taken so many (photos)," said Tampa's Lisa Shell, scrolling through the assortment of snapshots on her phone. "I mean, being one of 7,000 people that can say they've run down the Interstate."

Michael Rodriguez, a St. Petersburg-based staff sergeant with the U.S. Army National Guard, agreed he never had seen anything like it.

"Some people I think run for the novelty," Rodriguez said. "I was in it for the competition. So it depends on what you want to come and run for, I guess. I didn't take any selfies …"

"I did," said Rodriguez's fellow guardsman, Sgt. Fraicor Terrero.
Actually, he confessed to doing a brief Facebook Live video.

"They didn't have this many cell phones in '87; they didn't have cell phones then," quipped Rob Mason, who participated in the '87 Skyway race and is one of only six people to compete in all 41 Publix Gasparilla Distance Classics. "How often do you get a chance to do this?"

Sunday's pageantry began just as the first slivers of sunlight were giving a purplish hue to the horizon. There was a bagpipe, a color guard, the national anthem, even the firing of a Howitzer to signal the race's start.

Maj. Joe Borg of U.S. Central Command, a 37-year-old married father of one, was the first to finish.

Despite the winds, which he said buffeted him "back and forth" throughout the race, the former Eastern Michigan distance runner completed the 6.2 miles — which featured a 4-percent grade on either side of the bridge's main span — in 34 minutes, 43.9 seconds.

Tampa's Leandra Osborne, 11th among all females at the previous weekend's Gasparilla 15K, was the top women's finisher, in 43:01. Osborne, 29, edged Heather Gedeon of Pittsburgh by less than a second, according to the official results.

They were among roughly 7,000 participants (registration was capped at that number) shuttled by dozens of yellow school buses from a Tropicana Field parking lot to the Terra Ceia starting point. Those same buses, on loan from several bay area school districts, awaited runners at the finish line.
Foster estimated 600 total volunteers were needed for the event, which began with an expo outside the Trop on Saturday.

"For it being the inaugural, I think they did a lot of great things here, but there's definitely some things that could be worked out," Borg said.

"Coming off the highway was pretty rough this morning, just with getting everybody through, onto the parking lot. But I think they did a lot of great things, busing everyone over, and then managing the clearance of the highway."

Roughly three hours after the race began, Foster said "a minor bus problem" had been the only hiccup reported, but that was quickly resolved. Because this was the event's first year, registration was capped to ensure it could be managed efficiently.

But Foster envisions the race growing in size and perhaps securing a major sponsor.

"It was awesome," said 59-year-old New Port Richey resident John Marron, who ran the race in a Spider Man costume. "The organizer has been obviously doing this before. To move this many people logistically from a parking lot to a bridge and back … it was a very smooth operation."

Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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