TAMPA — Joe Gliksman will have mixed emotions today when he heads to the starting line for his 10th and final Gasparilla Marathon.
The 57-year-old business consultant from Valrico, one of six runners who has competed in every Gasparilla Marathon since the inaugural event in 2000, is afraid he won't find another race so close to home. Then again, Gliksman won't miss that last leg down Bayshore Boulevard.
"Almost, without fail, that last 4 miles you have the wind coming off the bay blowing right in your face," said Gliksman, who ran his first marathon on 1985. "And after you have run 20-something miles, the wind is not your friend."
The Gasparilla Marathon, and its flat, fast 26.2-mile course along the scenic Tampa waterfront, has had a small but loyal following over the years. But organizers said this is the last year they will stage a full marathon.
"We just haven't had the growth that we wanted," race director Susan Harmeling said. "But we will still put on the half marathon in 2011, and hopefully, we will see that race continue to grow."
Marathons are on the upswing. Last year was another record year with 465,000 marathon finishers in the United States, a 10 percent increase over 2008.
"This was the biggest increase in marathon participation in more than 25 years," said Ryan Lamppa of Running USA. "The sport is experiencing phenomenal growth."
In 2009, there were 17 marathons in Florida. The Walt Disney World Marathon was the state's largest, and sixth in the country, with 14,948 runners; this year's race drew a record 16,922 finishers.
The Miami Marathon was a distant second with 2,770, followed by Gasparilla with 1,303.
The Gasparilla Marathon's participation numbers could have been hurt by the fact that the race weekend also has 5K, 15K and half-marathon events.
"We will have more than 20,000 people participate in all four races this year," Harmeling said.
Gliksman said the Gasparilla Marathon has been one of the better-run events he has participated in. "I have run Boston, Detroit and every one they have ever held in Florida, and this has always been my favorite," he said. "The community support has just been great. I'll miss it."