Running the Sarasota Half Marathon: 13.1 musical miles

Live bands, a Girl Scout cookie aid station and free beer: Not your mama's half marathon.

click to enlarge Post-race bliss. - Stephanie Waechter
Stephanie Waechter
Post-race bliss.
Sunday morning arrives far too soon. It’s not just the five o’clock wakeup call, though, that feels like a shock to my system. But after four months of training — four months of blood, sweat and tears; blisters and black toenails; pushing through every single block and barrier — race day was finally here. Am I really capable of running 13.1 miles? I’m about to find out.

I stumble to the starting line, begging for my two cups of hotel-room coffee to kick in. I’m not yet awake, but full of race day jitters. It has been five years since my first half marathon; shortly afterwards I hurt myself and my doctor told me not only should I not run, I shouldn't exercise at all. Five years, full of ups and downs, physical therapists and further injuries.  For a long time, I doubted I would ever be able to run again. Yet here I am, tired and terrified, standing at the starting line of what will hopefully be a successful second half marathon. I am a nervous wreck.

The first few miles are a blur. I attempt to simultaneously wake up my legs and calm down my nerves as I move forward. It is not until I see a pair of Catholic priests, dressed in collars and full vestments, that I finally feel alert. This is definitely a surprising sight: they are standing on the sidelines, sprinkling holy water on each passing runner. I approach them cautiously, my short hair and tattoos giving them pause, then I smile and wave. They smile back and wish me good morning as they sprinkle holy water on me. This is going to be one crazy race.

I pass by the live bands more than 40 times throughout the course. I picked this half marathon for the music — for its light-hearted, beginner-friendly, non-competitive spirit. This race is about having fun, jamming with bands and enjoying the run.  

The musicians do not disappoint: Many of them smile at us while playing, dancing and cheering. A high school marching band gave out white-gloved high fives in between numbers, and I am brought back to many of my own little sister’s band performances. I am grateful for those memories, grateful to be reminded of them today.  

This is why I run.

At mile nine, we are greeted by Girl Scouts. Though I knew to expect their station at some point during the race, I was still half surprised to see them. Several girls hold large trays of cookies. I choose a Thin Mint to keep me fueled and speed up my pace a little, having boosted both sugar levels and morale.

Next up is Selby Gardens. I’d heard wonderful things about the botanical gardens and its exotics, but had not yet been to see them. A group of women holding paper cups and a large sign bearing an arrow welcome us. I have to read their sign twice before I realize what the cups are actually holding: Fireball shots. I had almost passed them by, having taken water at the last few aid stations, but when I read their sign I loop back towards them.  

“Oh, hell yeah!” This race is spectacular. The ladies cheer as I turn to continue through the gardens, my body being warmed by the whiskey. I am overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding me and taken aback by the spirited generosity of the volunteers.

The Fireball gets me through the next couple of miles; I'm feeling stronger than ever. I begin to realize I am actually going to finish this. When at last I hit the Beer Mile, I know I am close. I slow down a bit to show my wristband and pick up my beer, laughing at how awesome and crazy this is.

I decide to save most of my beer for after the finish line; it’s crunch time and I want to finish strong. I pick up my pace, beer sloshing over the sides of my plastic cup, and start to feel everything at once: shock, hope and relief. I did it. Gratitude is what I feel the strongest, though, and I silently put my thanks out there to mix with all of the other energies surrounding me. I cross the finish line, crying and laughing as my medal is placed around my neck.  

This has been one hell of a race. 


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Resie Waechter

%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="5bccb9c0b38df12e008b45d6" data-embed-element="span" data-embed-size="640w" contenteditable="false" ]}%Resie Waechter is a recent USFSP graduate who majored in English literature and cultural studies with a minor in history. She is a fumbling fitness junkie with a special...
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