Overall winner Thor Kirleis, left, of Boston crosses the finish line with race organizer Jack Schultz.
ST. PETE BEACH – You might think that the winner of a race, any race, would want to talk about himself and what strategy he used, or how tough it was, or who he had to beat to win.
That did not happen at the inaugural Cupcake 5K in Pass-A-Grille on March 23.
Thor Kirleis, 43, of Boston was the winner and the first thing he did was grab the hand of 11-year-old Jake Schultz and the two then ran over the finish line together.
Schultz, a fifth-grader, conceived the idea of the race. Then, with the help of his family, organized and staged it.
“Who would ever think a fifth-grader would be able to organize something like this,” said Kirleis. “When I was in the fifth grade I was worried about different things than this.”
Kirleis is in the area on vacation with his wife and family. In fact his wife read about the race in the paper and encouraged him to enter. He finished the race with a time of 18 minutes, 27 seconds, his personal best of 17:01. He knew why he was slower.
“This is my first time running on sand,” he said. “It is softer and slower, although I do a lot of trail running so the unevenness of it didn’t bother me as much.”
Meghan Cooper, 27, of Lakewood Ranch was the top female in the race. She finished at 23 minutes, which was two minutes off her personal best. She too said the sand was what slowed her down.
“It was hard,” she said. “Going out wasn’t so bad because we were closer to the water and the packed sand, but coming back we were forced into the heavier sand and that slowed us up.”
Cooper runs in a dozen races a year. What attracted her to this one and make the early morning drive from Manatee County?
“I love cupcakes and I love running,” she said. “Put them together and how could I resist. I will definitely do this again.”
Schultz, the fifth-grade organizer, had to back up the name of the race with the goodies. After all, the main sponsor was the Cupcake Company of Sarasota, so every race participant was given a cupcake. Those cupcakes attracted more than just Meghan Cooper.
Before the race began four young women were gathered, chatting and laughing. All were decked out in their race T-shirts. It turns out the cupcakes brought them to the beach for the race.
Heather McDougle of Tampa and Michelle Saxton of St. Petersburg were getting ready to run in their first 5K. Their friends Jennifer Garabrant of Largo and Kelly Reid of Pinellas Park had run before and were telling the rookies what to expect. But it was really all about the cupcakes.
“We run a blog called the Cupcake Militia,” said Saxton. “So when we saw this race we decided we had to enter. And to think we get a cupcake at the end was just too hard to pass up. Besides it is for a good cause.”
The good cause is Rise Up St. Petersburg – an organization that promotes diversity and is intent on bringing together the North side and Southside residents of the city. It is a cause that will be helped greatly by the race.
“We raised over $2,100,” said Schultz. “We had over 200 runners entered, it is awesome, amazing. We had hoped to get 50, then when we got 100 people registered we were happy, then people started phoning and asking how they could enter.”
Among those who entered was 52-year-old David Whiteside who was among the top finishers. He had hip replacement surgery two years ago and said the race was fun for him.
“I began running four months after my surgery,” he said. “There were good conditions for the race this morning; we ran on the hard sand and it was easy on the bones. This race was well organized.”
To organize such an event has to involve a lot of work, and Schultz readily admits it was tough, from getting the word out to finding sponsors. But the toughest thing was neither of those.
“The hardest job was putting the goody bags together,” he said. “We had people over to our house and had an assembly line and stuffed the bags, it was hard.”
Schultz, who organized the race as a community project for his school said one of his teachers was in the race.
“She thought it was pretty cool,” he said.
He says he will definitely do it again. He’d better because as anyone in the running community knows, once runners get to know a race they want to come back again and again; especially the winners.
“How can you not like cupcakes,” asked Kirleis. “Besides I have to come back next year to defend my title.”