After two turbulent years that featured virtual runs, vaccine proof and varying degrees of discontent among entrants, the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic is returning to normal.
Race organizers announced Tuesday that no COVID-19 mitigation measures are planned for the 2023 event, set for the weekend of Feb. 24-26 in downtown Tampa. Unlike this past winter’s race, anyone running or attending the “8 on Your Side” Health & Fitness Expo will not have to provide a proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.
Masks will be optional.
“Currently, there are no mandates or COVID-19 guidelines in the City of Tampa or the State of Florida,” a message on the race’s official web site says. “In the unlikely event either is announced, we will reassess our approach to the ... race weekend.”
The 2021 race, postponed until May, was staged virtually. The traditional Bayshore Boulevard course was open for several hours to registered participants free to run at any time during that window. No official timekeeper was present, volunteers were minimal, and participants were encouraged to keep their own times and provide their own hydration.
This past February’s event was limited to 4,000 runners in each race, with participants required to furnish a proof of vaccination, or proof of a negative test, prior to running. Susan Harmeling, the event’s longtime executive director, said the mitigation efforts elicited venomous feedback in some cases.
“People were very unhappy with us this year,” Harmeling said in May.
“We registered (14,593) people. I think just over 11,000 actually ran the race, and it was because they were mad at us about the COVID protocols. One person tested positive that weekend, and the nurse said it came back really quick. She was like, ‘His viral load is very heavy, you need to get him out of here.’
“That one person testing positive, I knew we did the right thing, but that justified — in my mind anyway — he could’ve infected hundreds of people.”
The race’s return to a conventional setting is expected to attract around 25,000 runners. Registration already is open on the website.
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