I arrived early, the crisp morning air jolting me out of my weekend sleepiness. I knew the event would be popular, but I did not expect the sea of people assembled in front of the Harborview Center. According to an event coordinator's estimate, 1,700 runners participated this year, 600 more than in previous years – an increase of nearly 55%.
With a final turn-out of nearly twice the number that early-registration figures had suggested, it was understandable that I found myself among the few runners still receiving their numbers even as Hana Li Winters sang the Star Spangled Banner and a small army of runners waited for Lt. Dimmer of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to blow the starting whistle. Event coordinators Chris Alexander and Sue Minkoff assure me that with this year's experience, they will be fully prepared to handle the enormous crowds next year – including the opportunity to pre-register and receive numbers the day before the race in addition to the morning of.
This being my first race, I paced myself along the course, from the starting line in Coachman Park to the steep incline of the Memorial Causeway leading to Clearwater Beach. Pushing myself up the arch of the Causeway was a challenge; it is no surprise that it features in many other races throughout the year, including both Ironman and Iron Girl. The course doubled back just after the bridge for the 5K runners, while the 10K continued out to the beach.
Participants represented all levels of the running scene: From the professional competitors leading the pack, to amateurs like myself who enjoy running for fun and fitness, to those who chose to walk the course, many coming out just to support the Say No to Drugs theme of the event. I found it to be an excellent race for a first-timer like myself, with a friendly and very supportive field. As the first of the 10K runners overtook some of us just rounding the bend on the 5K, words of encouragement met the athlete: “Finish it man! Finish it!”
Crossing the finish line, we were greeted with an all-you-can-eat breakfast of homemade organic spelt pancakes courtesy of volunteers led by Kitty Magness, and complimentary massages from Sun State Massage Academy and adjustments by Family Life Chiropractic – welcome rewards after the morning's exertion.
As the name implies, the Say No to Drugs Holiday Classic aims to raise awareness and spread a drug-free message. At the post-race breakfast in the Harborview Center, children pledged to live their lives drug-free and were sworn in as Drug-Free Marshals by the Youth for a Drug Free Florida, while runners viewed the DVD “The Truth About Drugs” or read the accompanying educational pamphlets.
Nathan Holden from Jacksonville and Melissa Todd from Kansas City won the men's and women's 10K, respectively. Daniel Geilman and Christa Benton of St. Petersburg took the men and women’s 5K races. Awards were also presented to top finishers in a range of age groups; including 90 year old Jane Bussman of Clearwater, in the 5K.
The Say No to Drugs Holiday Classic was started 21 years ago by world class runner and local resident Sandra Johnson, member of the Dianetics Athletics Association of the Church of Scientology. The idea was to promote an anti-drug message by raising awareness through a road race. From there it has become one of the premier races in the Tampa Bay area.
For more information, including race-times and results, visit www.saynotodrugs.com.