The Perfect Running Event is Back

Runners take a selfie or stretch-out as they wait for the start of a 2017 race.

The Perfect Running Event is Back

By Betsy Judge

Photos courtesy of St. Pete Beach Classic

Keeping it local is the mantra for this year’s St.Pete Beach Classic; a series of runs hosted by the Sirata Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach that combine to make a marathon.

The Rays mascot Raymond help kids warm-up for the Synovus Kids’ Classic, a free series of dashes for kids 8 years old and younger.

“We’re trying to keep it all local as much as we can this year,” says Al Johnson, race director. “We’re using a local t-shirt guy, local beer. It’s a little tougher when you do more local, because your rarely find someone that can do the whole event, you get small pieces here and there, but that’s what we want to do.”

Billed as the perfect running event, the weekend kicks off January 12 when the Health and Fitness Expo opens at 11 a.m. It is free and open to the general public.

Attendees which include local residents, tourists and runners will be treated to a wide array of vendors, health care professionals and service providers. Great deals can be found on health and fitness related products and gear as well as information concerning life-improving services. It closes at 7 p.m. Friday and re-opens at 6 a.m. on January 13 for race packet pick-up and late registration.

Runners hit the beach for the Classic Beach Fun Run. Runners can get a total of 26.2 miles for a marathon if they run the Waste Connections Duo, the fun run and the half marathon.

Runners take your marks at 7 a.m. Saturday for the Classic 10K and the Waste Connections Duo (the 10K and 5K as one race), followed by the Synovus Kids’ Classic and the St. Pete Running Co. 5K start. The awards and post race party are at 10:30 a.m. and the expo is open from then until 5 p.m. when the Classic Beach Fun Run kicks off. On Sunday the Maddie Zolfo Half Marathon begins at 6:45 a.m. with 10 a.m. awards.

“We have the Big Brother Band coming back for entertainment on Saturday night after the bonfire,” says Mimi Chavin, director of “Run, Fun and Happy,” about the concert at 6 p.m. which is open to the public. They have a kids band or two warming up the crowd before Big Brother in following their keep it local theme. “We are very excited about the St. Pete Beach classic this year.”

The Sirata is looking forward to it. “As always the Sirata is honored to sponsor the St. Pete Beach Classic,” says Cricket Wagner, Sirata’s director of sales.

“We are looking forward to runners staying in some of our newly renovated rooms along with get- ting to show off our newly renovated ballroom. This year everyone started early and we have exceeded the number of runners staying with us. It’s an unbelievable site to watch hundreds of runners take off”– I will be there and I hope lots of residents come out for the free events and to cheer on the runners.”

Governments and area businesses should be excited as well. A 2016 post-race economic impact study put the total impact at $840,650 with an estimated tax revenue for state and local governments at $73,600, reports Johnson. “For 2017 we did not do a formal study, but the Sirata says they sold 383 room nights because of the race, generating $51,000-plus in room revenue alone. That’s up from 2016.”

Weather can be dicey in January. “I try,” says Johnson when asked if he’s ordered good weather. “I keep telling Doug from the chamber (Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce) it’s his job. It’s the chambers job,” he says laughing.

This map shows the roads that may be impacted by the half marathon which starts at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday, January 14.

As is always the case, it takes hundreds of volunteers to put on a successful race.

“You can’t do a race without volunteers,” says Chavin. “The runners think it’s all about them, but it’s really about the volunteers. We try let them know how much we appreciate them. We throw a great vol- unteer party the week after the race and take care them all weekend; there’s always plenty of food and fun. We try to let them know that without them we couldn’t do it.” Volunteers get a special shirt too.

“We get a lot of repeat volunteers and most of them are local,” says Johnson. About 80 percent come from the 33706 zip code.

They need help stuffing the goodie bags, setting up the expo, feeding the runners and keeping them on the course. There is also clean-up and expo tear down. Volunteers must be 15 years older or accom- panied by an adult.

In addition to volunteers, sponsors are also key to a successful race event. Johnson pegs the total race cost between $160,000 and $180,000. He says he heard a long time ago at a race conference that registration will only every cover about half of the costs. “Everything else has to come from sponsors whether it’s cash or in-kind,” he adds.

Good sponsorship support also benefits local char- ities. Back when Walgreens was the title sponsor they gave away about $15,000 to local nonprofits.

There are monetary sponsors and in-kind sponsors like Fit Life Foods, The Hurricane, Skidders and Leverocks and Cody’s Roadhouse who donate food.

Runners recuperate after a race. Much of the food is donated by local restaurants.

“We also have Palm of Pasadena hospital com- ing in and providing the medical people,” says Johnson, “and the city (St. Pete Beach) has increased their support.” As the sitting mayor, he recuses himself from any votes related to the race.

New this year are virtual runners. “It’s all the fun without the run,” adds Chavin. Virtual runners pay a reduced fee and get the T-shirt, goodie bag and finisher’s medal. “Virtual runners do not come to the venue, they just put on Facebook that they were virtual runner. It’s becoming quite the thing,” she says.

“We want everyone to have a good time. We want everyone to know what a wonderful community we have. We want everybody to really just enjoy,” says Chavin.

For more information go to www.stpetebeachclassic.com.