RRCA Says, “Sarasota County Is A Runner Friendly Community

rrca-says-sarasota-runnerSarasota County has been lauded for many of its feature attractions and quality of life amenities: best beaches, cultural attractions, neighborhoods, shopping and dining, to name just a few.

In 2013, the area received another distinguished honor as a Road Runners Club of America’s Runner Friendly Community®. Only four communities were named that year, having met the program’s criteria of community infrastructure, community support and local government support for running. A proven track record that organizations and business work together to promote running as a healthy exercise and sport is key to winning the coveted designation, with the goal of shining a national spotlight on runner-friendly communities.

The Sarasota Athletic Association, an RRCA Club, submitted the area’s application. The area is also home to The Manasota Track Club (MTC), which was founded in 1975 and consistently has approximately 700 paid members. MTC hosts 11 races as part of their racing series; including the annual Sarasota half marathon, sanctioned events and summer beach runs, which collectively raised more than $25,000 for area beneficiaries.

Local races often feature Sarasota middle school or high school students competing-a testament to the area’s long-standing commitment to youth running. In fact, many of the local running coaches have been active in the community for more than two decades. Also noted in the application were the hundreds of miles of trails and sidewalks that wind their way along the Gulf Coast and Bayfront and into the interior portion of Sarasota County, including Myakka River State Park, Legacy Trail, and Oscar Scherer State Park.

Former county commissioner Joe Barbetta was one of the government officials to support Sarasota’s nomination for the award. “Sarasota enjoys a well-deserved reputation as being committed to developing and maintaining safe pathways for runners while respecting the integrity of environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife habitat,” he wrote as part of the application process.

The business community is also actively involved in the competitions and fun-runs within the area. Business partners rise early on Saturday mornings to strategically place hydration stations along the popular training routes. Public works employees open public restrooms by 6 a.m. to accommodate runners and walkers. The City of Sarasota works closely with organizations to secure permits in a timely manner and is extraordinarily responsive on all requests. Local law enforcement officers are regulars at our running events, many of them runners themselves, but always cheering on our runners and supporting us by working or volunteering. Some of our local races are led by motorcycle officers, and you always find officers aware of the event.

Community leaders who provided support and letters of recommendation for the designation include Molly and David Jackson, Owners, New Balance Sarasota & University Park; Barbetta; and Patti Brustad, Past President of the Manasota Track Club. Brustad notes that Felicia Cox of the MTC was also instrumental in spearheading the nomination process.

The Jacksons were strong proponents of the Runner Friendly Community designation. Besides owning New Balance Sarasota and University Park, they also own Fleet Street Feet and Molly’s Too!, and sponsor the Team New Balance running club. Their stores employ more than 40 shoe fit specialists and three certified pedorthists.

David notes that the benefits of the designation include a strong tourist draw. “Our locale is very welcoming to runners from throughout the country,” he says. “The terrain is flat, the scenery is beautiful, the tracks are well-maintained and safe, and the weather is unbeatable.”

Affiliated with New Balance since 1994, David states, “Our investment in the community, both the running community and the area at large, is the key to our success. “We look for ways to co-market the business and try to give back on every level. In fact, 67 cents of every dollar we take in is spent in Sarasota County. We welcome opportunities to share our brand strength and financing to support the continued growth of running in Sarasota and Manatee counties, and the RRCA designation underscores that support.”

In their letter of support, Molly wrote, “Our commitment, which mirrors what we see in Sarasota, spans our retail stores and includes sponsorship and support of more than a dozen local races and organizations. These include title sponsorship of the New Balance Ringling Bridge Run, which raises money for our local YMCA recreation centers and Girls Inc. Girls on the Run 5K training program; a third through fifth- grade training programs at more than a dozen elementary schools; and an active supporter of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure programs.”

“In addition, New Balance and/or Fleet Feet Sarasota also provide in-kind and financial support to the MTC and its annual race series. We were also on the planning committee to establish the Phillippi Shores 7K, which raises money for this local elementary school and arts and special needs programs not currently funded by local tax dollars.”

David’s favorite event was the 2015 inaugural Sarasota Music Marathon. “The course was just stunning,” he says. “We ran through neighborhoods, Selby Gardens, the Ringling Bridge… the response was overwhelming. More than 550 volunteers and a full hot breakfast catered by Mattison’s City Grille, as well, of course, as the outstanding music we heard along the way, made this a true standout event.”

Sharon Jacobson, Fit2Run’s marketing brand director, notes that a primary benefit of the Running City designation is that it attracts runners from around the country to visit Sarasota and surrounding communities. “This is great for increasing tourism, as it showcases our beautiful area and its assets.”

She continues, “Running is safe and environmentally friendly. Fit2Run, as well as other running specialty stores in the area, participate and get involved in many community races and sponsor many area charities, raising a lot of money and support for our community.”

Jacobson says that her favorite venue for running, both for individual enjoyment and for competitions, is the Robinson Preserve. “Robinson Preserve 7th Annual 5k and 10k Run (March 27th this year) with 2,000 participants running through a cross country type trail is just an amazing event. The Ringling Bridge Run (2,500 participants) through downtown Sarasota, The Suncoast Half Marathon through Lakewood Ranch, The Sarasota Half Marathon Course, Oscar Scherer State Park, The Legacy Trail between Sarasota and Venice which covers 10 miles, and Emerson Point that has a special location at the mouth of the Manatee River where it meets Lower Tampa Bay are many of the area’s favorite places to run.”

Kimmy Collister-Sterns, President of the Manasota Track Club, invites readers and visitors to visit ManasotaTrackClub.org. “The ‘Training’ link can help you find a group run to fit your schedule, or select the link to “Map My Run” to make your own,” she says. “If you are an out-of-towner, we are perfect ‘Sarasota Ambassadors’ always willing to recommend a local favorite restaurant, hot spot or entertainment venue.”

The area’s top running routes, as designated by Visit Sarasota County, are Nathan Benderson Park, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Downtown Sarasota and the Ringling Bridge, The Legacy Trail and Oscar Scherer State Park, and the Ringling Museum. VisitSarasota.org showcases these routes and provides additional information about running opportunities in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

The RRCA’s recognition of Sarasota County as a runner-friendly community simply underscores what thousands of our area’s runners and race supporters already know: running is great for the mind, body and spirit; and it doesn’t hurt our reputation as a tourist mecca, either. Supported by business, government and community alliances, the races and events add just one more jewel in Sarasota’s multi-faceted crown.