Team RunnerGirl won the Gasparilla Marathon Relay for the fourth year in a row on February 28, 2010. While this is extremely exciting news, I also felt a little let down once crossing the finish line for the final time. 2010 marked the tenth and final running of the Gasparilla Marathon and along with it, the marathon relay ended with the highest number of teams participating in the event’s history.
I am sure that the increased participation was partly due to this being the “Final Voyage” (embroidered on the back of the marathon and relay shirts). Out of 118 relay teams consisting of all male, all female, mixed, and masters teams, RunnerGirl was second across the finish line behind only an all male team. The RunnerGirls won the overall female division for the fourth year in a row in a time of 3:03:00 which was over 30 minutes ahead of the second place female team. RunnerGirl has dominated the team events at Gasparilla. I know this might sound like bragging, but I want to give credit to the incredibly talented and hard working women who have made up Team RunnerGirl over the years.
In 2005 Gasparilla added a team element called the Chick-Fil-A Team Trio where times were combined from the 5K, 15K, and half marathon. Kelly Fear ran the 5K, Rachel Chambers ran the 15K, and Rae Ann Darling Reed ran the half marathon for their first Team Trio victory. In 2006 Team RunnerGirl again brought home the gold, which was not gold at all, but a giant stuffed Chick-Fil-A cow and a year’s worth of free Chick-Fil-A for each team member. Melissa Reifschneider ran the 5K, Rachel Chambers ran the 15K, and Rae Ann Darling Reed ran the half marathon.
Then in 2007 Team Trio was replaced by the Gasparilla Marathon Relay where four runners cover 26.2 miles by running 7 miles, 7 miles, 8 miles, and 4.2 miles. The runners exchanged an ankle strap with timing chip on it at each of the relay exchange points. The team then met the final leg at the Davis Island Bridge so the four could run the last quarter mile together and cross the finish line as a team. RunnerGirl won the female division of this inaugural event in 3:09:12 with team members Cherie Coston, Rae Ann Darling Reed, Rachel Chambers, and Pam Chaffin. In 2008 Team RunnerGirl defended their title with their fastest marathon relay time of the four years: 2:59:44. This team featured two professional triathletes from Southwest Florida which helped the team run its personal best marathon relay time. The 2008 team was Rae Ann Darling Reed, Heather Gollnick, Heather Butcher, and Pam Chaffin. In 2009 RunnerGirl won again in a time of 3:12:59 despite windy and rainy conditions. I was set to run the first leg this year but was diagnosed with a stress fracture just a few weeks before the event. Luckily the fastest distance runner on the high school cross country and track team that I coach was available to take my place. Responsible for Team RunnerGirl’s 3-peat were Jessica Pate, Melissa Reifschneider, Heather Butcher, and Pam Chaffin. Then 2010 brings us to the 4-peat for Team RunnerGirl with Rae Ann Darling Reed, Shana Bickel, Heather Butcher, and Diana Nelson.
As I mentioned, it was very exciting to win again this year, but I also felt the disappointment knowing it was the final year of this event. I am hopeful that Gasparilla will come up with some new creative team or relay event in 2011.
But getting back to “How to 4-Peat.” When putting together these teams over the years, I kept it really simple. I looked for runners who were faster than me. That’s it. That’s my secret. Using this simple method to put together racing teams, I found that I stepped outside my comfort zone and did not just ask friends or people I already knew to be my teammates. In doing this, I have met some of the most amazing runners and triathletes in my area. I mean, how cool is it to say that I ran a relay event with teammates who have competed at and won Ironman Triathlons, Triathlon World Championships, National Triathlon and Duathlon Championships, and so many others.
Team RunnerGirl has been so incredibly rewarding with the team titles we have won but even more rewarding with the amazing athletes I have gotten to know and now consider friends.
A sincere thank you goes out to all the amazing women who have run as part of Team RunnerGirl over the years.