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home > community > viewpoint > road racing in paradise

Road Racing in Paradise
Do you ever just get fed up with winter? I certainly do and every year I threaten to do something about it. Well this year I did!

Road Racing in Paradise

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By Dave Camire
Posted Wednesday, 17 January, 2007

I wanted to escape from the bone chilling weather of the northeast, so I set my sights on the warmer climes of the Florida coast for a weekend race getaway. My destination was the sunny shores of St. Pete Beach for the 4th Annual St Pete Beach Classic.

St Pete Beach is located on the Pinellas Peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico on the west and Tampa Bay on the east. Here you will find lots of palm trees, miles of white sandy beaches, warm gulf water, spectacular sunsets and a tropical climate. It is a true paradise!

St. Pete Beach (a.k.a. Paradise)
The St. Pete Beach Classic is in its fourth year and is directed by Wendy and Al Johnson. I met Wendy last year at a race directors’ conference and she invited me to the race. After about 10-seconds of thought, I decided that it was a very good idea.

The Johnson’s do a superb job organizing a race weekend that merges vacation with sport in a setting that puts winter into the rear view mirror. “We try to make our [race] as well organized as the Boston Marathon,” says Wendy. From everything I witnessed that mission was accomplished.

Upon arriving in St. Pete the skies were sunny and the temperature was a balmy 77-degrees. According to the event’s website St Pete Beach experiences “approximately 361 days a year of sunshine and an average temperature of 73 degrees.” During our stay, daytime highs reached the low eighties and nighttime lows never dipped below the mid-sixties and as advertised the sun shined brightly every day in paradise.

Great Race Volunteers Never Die – They Just Move to Florida
If you are from the Northeast chances are you know someone who has moved or retired to the sunshine state. Two friends of mine, Ben and Pat Fudge, had retired to St Pete Beach and they were assisting with the race. When they lived in Massachusetts the Fudges were tireless race volunteers. So I was not surprised when Wendy told me they were doing the same work in Florida.

The Friday prior to the race Wendy invited us to a gathering with some of her race lieutenants at a local restaurant. Of course Ben and Pat were there along with several other dedicated volunteers. Dinner table conversation swirled around race logistics and race preparation. It was obvious that this was a group that takes tremendous pride in putting on a quality event. I’ve always felt that it is a universal truth that a good volunteer group usually guarantees a well-organized event and this is certainly the case for the St Pete Beach Classic.

On Friday a health and fitness expo took place at the Tradewinds Sandpiper Hotel. The Tradewinds Sandpiper Hotel is a four star hotel located in the center of all the action. Here runners could pickup up their race packet and look at the goods of the many vendors in attendance. The Expo was followed up with a spectacular beach side bon fire.

Race Day
The race start time was 8:00 AM for the 5K and 8:30 AM for the 10K. I opted to run the 5K for the earlier and cooler start. As we lined up the temperature was a comfortable 65 degrees. Standing at the start it was easy to pick the Northerners from the Floridians. The Northerners were the folks wearing singlets while many of the Floridians were clad in long sleeves and gloves. Once the gun fired, we quickly all became just runners.

The traffic free and certified course started on a wide avenue then it passed through a beautiful beachside community before returning to the Tradeswind for the finish. The course was as flat as I’ve ever seen with absolutely no change in elevation. This course has PR written all over it. As you would expect the course management was superb with ample aid stations, large mile markers and plenty of spectators and course monitors along the way.

Chris Hough of Tampa won the 5K race with a time of 16:57 and St. Petersburg’s Ali Crabb took top honors for the women in 18:40. The 10K race served as the Road Runners Club of America Southern Championship. In that race, Judson Cake of Blowing Rock, NC finished first in 32:30 for the men and Sonja Friend-Uhl of West Palm Beach finished first for the women in 35:20.

The finish was chipped timed by Event Tech and there were plenty of refreshments awaiting everyone. The post race refreshments included a buffet of fruit, bagels, pastries, yogurt, sushi, grilled shrimp, teriyaki and rice. There was also an abundance of adult beverages for those wanting to get an early start on the day’s celebration. The award’s ceremony was held poolside and included a live band.

With moderate temperatures, beautiful scenery and superb organization that makes you feel right at home, the St Pete Beach Classic is the perfect winter race getaway. The event is still modestly sized (just under 1200 finishers), so the race weekend maintains a comfortable, local feel that is personal, intimate and fun. So put the 2008 St. Pete Beach Classic on your race calendar and take a break from those winter time blues..

Editor’s Note: If you are in search of a late winter getaway, you may want to consider the Bay to Bay 12K held in St. Petersburg on March 18. The same folks who organize the St. Pete Beach Classic also run this event. You can get additional information for the Bay to Bay at



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