TAMPA — Georgia Malpartida celebrates five holidays each year: “Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic.”
“Those holidays are by far the most important,” said Malpartida, a 50-year-old Tampa native. “You have to have your priorities.”
Her love for the annual Gasparilla races began in 2015 when Malpartida joined thousands of runners behind the starting line for the half-marathon. At that moment, she said she still didn’t consider herself a real runner: “I didn’t know what it was all about. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
In the prior few months to that fateful half-marathon, Malpartida’s friends had encouraged her to join their running group, which started her jogging several days a week on the Dunedin causeway: “But I was just doing it for the social aspect, for the breakfast and to get a little exercise.”
After the training miles piled up, her friends suggested she run in the Distance Classic, and the next thing she knew, there she was … running the 13.1-mile race.
You could call it love at first sight.
“You see all the banners and people cheering along the course, and the people running in costumes with the pirate theme, and the families together and it’s so beautiful running down Bayshore Boulevard, and so many great stories people have to tell,” Malpartida said. “There is so much energy and it’s so well organized. I was blown away. I was hooked.”
After crossing the finish line and collecting her medal, she moved over the bridge toward the convention center, discovering several tasty food choices and drinks in kiosks along the way. She met up with her friends, who looked up her time on the phone app because she said, “I had no idea what it was.”
When they told her she finished in just over two hours, tears welled up. “I just started crying when I heard them say my time. I was so happy.”
In the following years, she always ran the half-marathon, then beginning in 2017 she added the 5K and the 15K to her race weekend.
In the 5K, she recruited her sister, Charlene, Charlene’s husband, Brian Cleary, and their two kids, Carina, 10, and Christian, 12, to run with her. In the half-marathon, she recruited her friend, Tara Sharum Lewis, a sorority sister from the University of Florida. And in the 15K she traditionally runs with friends from her first running group.
This year she added the fourth race, the 8K, filling out her Distance Classic race weekend for the Ultra Challenge, which amounts to 30.5 miles of running.
In this weekend’s “virtual format” where runners can complete their races at any time in any place, Malpartida said there was no way she was going to run the race anywhere but on Bayshore Boulevard.
“When I saw they were shutting down the streets for the race on this weekend I said, ‘I’m going to take full advantage of the opportunity the race is providing,’” said Malpartida, who works in construction project administration. “I was so, so happy that they offered this opportunity to run on the course. I’m so thankful to the race.”
Thanks to the pandemic, however, some of her traditional running buddies couldn’t make it this weekend, leading her to switch some things around with her running schedule: On Saturday she ran the 15K and 8K, then finished Sunday with the half-marathon and 5K, running with Carina and Christian.
Her friend, Sharum Lewis, ran the Ultra Challenge virtually in Virginia.
In the end, despite the race weekend not being its normal self, Malpartida said running the Ultra Challenge “on the traditional course” Saturday and Sunday with her family and friends “was awesome!”
She did struggle with some soreness and aches after the half-marathon on Sunday. “I’m so tired, but I’ve never felt better.” She took about 30 minutes in the medics’ tent, propping her feet up and drinking down some electrolytes, then went out and finished her mission.
“There was music, the weather was amazing, the police were all there watching over everything, people were cheering — it was beautiful to see,” Malpartida said. “I thanked all the police and all the people. Doing the race this way showed everybody nothing is going to keep us down. We’re going to keep doing great things. That’s the spirit of this race.”