Preparing for Gasparilla Distance Classic: How running helped one woman change her life

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) — The Gasparilla Distance Classic races are just a few weeks away. News Channel 8 is helping you get ready to run with tips and inspirational stories. One of the many faces that run down Bayshore Boulevard during the annual road race is Barbara Neel.

“A lot of things slow down for me. I tend to be a little hyper, a little spastic. I can actually slow some things down that I need to resolve,” said Barbara Neel, an ultra-distance runner, speaking about running.

Neel cannot even recall how many distance races she’s run in the past decade, but she remembers when it began.

“I did my first 5K in 2005,” said Neel.

Back then, Neel felt like a different person. “I was a pack-a-day smoker. I suffered from depression, anxiety, anger issues,” said Neel. Her mom asked her to go for a run with her, and Neel’s reply was “No, running’s horrible.”

Since then, she’s run half marathons, full marathons, 50-mile races, even a 100-mile race.

“The running actually said, you can do this. Look what you can do with your life. It showed me, you can quit smoking. You can deal with all the other issues in life if you can go out there and run 100 miles,” Neel reflected.

Neel always enjoys running in the Gasparilla Distance Classic. She typically runs multiple distances during race weekend. Those races are run down beautiful Bayshore Boulevard, but many runners train in other great parks and trails across the Tampa Bay area.

For Neel, she often chooses to prepare for races at Flatwoods Park. This 5400-acre park has two entrances: one off Morris Bridge Road and one off Bruce B. Downs. The park is best known for its seven-mile paved loop trail. The park even offers four rest shelters with water coolers. As Neel prepares for her next races, she’ll take it on as she has all her challenges. She’ll put one foot in front of the other.

The Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K and 15K races are Saturday, February 25. Runners will line up for the half marathon and 8K on Sunday Febsruary 26. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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