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Smiles of victory everywhere on race weekend

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Published:   |   Updated: March 4, 2013 at 05:28 PM
TAMPA -

Some of them arise at 4 o’clock in the morning, in the rain or cold, to get their miles in before the day begins. Some wait until they get home from work. Others sneak off at lunch for a quick dash before heading back to the office. They are runners.

Some might huff and strain to make it a mile. But tomorrow, they’ll go a mile-plus-100 yards, because they are runners.

Some of them might walk a little along the way, but that’s OK. They are runners too.

They can be out there pushing baby strollers. They might wear fancy workout clothes, or just some rumpled shorts and a stained t-shirt pulled from the bottom of the drawer. Some of them look like waifs, some of them are pulling spare tires around their bellies.

You see them along Bayshore Boulevard, or on side streets in Brandon. You see them circling tracks, or passing by your house on the way to one more mile.

It doesn’t matter.

You see them all at the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic. Everybody has a unique story, yet they all have something in common. If they have been doing this for years, or if they just decided a few weeks ago to give it a go, guess what? They are runners.

“We get everything from people wanting to take the first step toward a healthy and fit lifestyle, to very serious runners, to people who had family or friends who talked them into tagging along,” tireless race director Susan Harmeling said.

Take Dewey Slocumb, for instance. He is 29, lives in Tampa, and started running because, as he said, “I wanted to shed some l-b-s.”

He was among thousands of competitors over the weekend, running in Saturday’s 5k event. When I asked why he runs he laughed and said, “I couldn’t give you a good answer. Every time I go out there, I ask myself that.”

He keeps going, though, because that’s what runners do.

“Yeah, I’ll be back next year,” he said. “I’ll do the 15k then.”

His buddy, Doug Charlton, is 32. He was in the 5k too.

“I’ve only been running for a month and a half,” he said. “I was doing a lot of work on the treadmill but when I got out on the street it was an eye-opener. The wind was blowing, it was hard. I won’t go that far (15k), but I’m going to stick with it.”

Chris Capazola has stuck it with it. He is a veteran of six half-marathons since he got serious about running in 2006. He had basically been a treadmill guy, too (nothing wrong with that, for sure) until he got with a group called Team in Training that raised money for cancer research.

That’s when running got inside him.

“You meet people, you keep in shape, and it’s a great stress-reliever,” he said. “It just makes you feel good. I’m always going to try and run, just to be surrounded by good people. I’ll always try to do something.”

This was the 36th running of the Classic and it remains, hands down (or, I should say, feet down) my favorite event on the Tampa sports calendar. Where else could you an inscription like this on a running shirt: In my heart, I’m Kenyan.

Aren’t we all? That’s what keeps them coming to the people’s race, and I got a face full of that moments after crossing the starting line for my own 5k adventure.

To ease overcrowding at the 5k start (think: bumper cars), officials moved the starting point back to Franklin and Brorein Streets. I needed a couple of minutes to reach the starting line, at which point a sea of runners filled the street and were headed up the bridge and around the curve on the way to Bayshore.

I remember thinking, “Wow.”

“We truly care about each one of those runners,” Harmeling said. “If one of them walks away and feels like they weren’t treated properly, I’ve fouled up.”

There are always problems with an event this size but somehow they don’t matter all that much when the finish line is in sight. You’ve got music thumping from your headphones, or from speakers set up along the course, and people are clapping and cheering every one on to completion. It’s a big-time event open to anyone.

Like I said, it’s the people’s race and you saw the smiles of victory everywhere.

They didn’t have to say anything. Just the sweat-soaked look of satisfaction told you what the runners were thinking: “I made it.”

Yes, they did.

At least until tomorrow, when it will be time to run again.


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