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Modified version of Gasparilla Distance Classic still set for May 8-9

The Bayshore Boulevard courses will be open only to registered runners, who must time themselves.
Runners start the 8K race on Bayshore Boulevard during the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa on Feb. 23, 2020.
Runners start the 8K race on Bayshore Boulevard during the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa on Feb. 23, 2020. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Feb. 23
Updated Feb. 23

While the revelry associated with Gasparilla has been called off for 2021, the race is still on.

At least a scaled-down version of it.

Amid mounting fears that the recent cancellation of the various Gasparilla parades would signal a similar fate for the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic, longtime executive director Susan Harmeling announced Monday evening a modified race weekend — minus most of the bells, whistles and even official timekeepers — still is slated for May 8-9.

“We’re really trying to take everybody’s needs, concerns, safety and love for the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic into consideration, and do the best that we can under these circumstances,” said Harmeling, who announced the changes on a Facebook Live session Monday.

“We’re not going to make everybody happy, we know that.”

Part of the traditional course along Bayshore Boulevard (Platt Street to Gandy Boulevard) will be open that weekend — from 5 a.m. to noon both days — only to registered runners who appear with an official racing bib. Those who choose to run a 5K, 15K, 8K or half-marathon can run or walk their race along the course any time between those hours.

“Suggested” start and finish lines will be outlined at the spot of the normal staging areas. Tampa General will provide a small medical tent at the finish.

On both mornings, the southern portion of Bayshore (Bay to Bay Boulevard and south) will open to the public at 10 a.m. Participants still on that portion of the course at 9:45 a.m. will be moved to the Bayshore Boulevard sidewalk.

Participants must time themselves, and upload their time to the race’s official results platform. Once results are verified, runners can pick up their post-race goody bag (including a finisher’s medal, towel and snacks) at the front of the Tampa Convention Center. Portable bathrooms will be available, but water stations will not.

The race’s annual health-and-fitness expo also will be held inside the convention center during the weekend.

“That’s still all going to happen,” Harmeling said. “The convention center has a mitigation plan that we’re going to have to follow, but the expo will be just as ... amazing as it has been, and we want our local runners, and anybody that’s still going to travel to Tampa, to come to the expo to pick up their packets.”

Originally set for Feb. 19-21 (with a limited field for each of the four races), the 44th edition of the event was postponed last December. At that point, organizers and city officials hoped the COVID-19 positivity rate would be well below 5 percent (the guideline established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and vaccines more widely dispersed by May.

But the state’s single-day positivity rates have remained slightly above 6 percent, negating the chance of the city issuing a large-gathering permit. Additionally, staging the race under normal conditions also could put the health of the sprawling volunteer crew — normally about 1,500 people — at risk.

“So exponentially it can impact thousands of people, so we have to take that into consideration,” Harmeling said.

Registration continues on the event’s official website until early May. Harmeling said unlike normal years, the registration fees won’t increase as the race draws closer.

Refunds or deferrals won’t be offered, Harmeling said, primarily because registration money has been used to pay for race expenses such as T-shirts, medals and food. A complete refund at this point “would literally kill the Gasparilla Distance Classic Association,” Harmeling told the Facebook Live audience.

“We are a non-profit that is doing this to raise money for charity,” Harmeling said. “... We need runners to register, and we’re hopeful that this will give them the news that they’ve been waiting on to come out and take advantage of Bayshore Boulevard being closed, and run their race (there).”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls