28 hardy ultra-marathon runners will wake up – some as early as midnight – to make a literal trek around the western portion of the Choctawhatchee Bay on Saturday, December 31st, to mark the last distance race of the year. 


The 36.8-mile race, called the Round the Bay Relay, takes place on the roads of Destin, Bluewater Bay, Niceville, and Fort Walton Beach, so if you are traveling on the morning of New Year’s Eve – watch out for runners and the caravans of cars and trucks which are following them along the race route. 


The inherent dangers of the course are the very reason why there are no ‘winners’ of the race. “People just do it for fun,” says race co-founder Dennis Samac, “We don’t give prizes. We don’t give awards. We don’t want anyone trying to jump across Palm Plaza between traffic so they can win an award. We recognize those who finish, but don’t give anything for that.”


More than 300 runners split amongst more than 30 teams, will be on the area’s roads. The organizers hope to have everyone back at the Elks Lodge and off the roads before 12:30, to ensure the highest level of safety for runners and drivers.

*route may not be exact. Please watch for runners near the route. 

How did the Round the Bay Relay in Niceville Start?

In 2010, three area marathon runners, Dennis included, decided that there needed to be an ultramarathon race in the Niceville area after looking into a competitive event called a Ragnar Relay.


The event has had as many as 60 teams and individuals competing in the race over the years, but has narrowed the number of teams that are able to participate. “I want to have fun, too,” chuckled Dennis as he explained the culling of teams. This year, there will be around 40 teams and individuals participating. 

“The Funnest Race of the Year”

Although the race started as a six-leg event around the Bay – some teams will split up the run in to even tinier pieces so that more casual runners can participate as well. Dennis explained that has allowed the most fun per person – as everyone can participate at their skill level. 


“The biggest feedback we get is that It’s the funnest race of the year,” Samac said.


Teams are self-selected. Individual runners cannot sign up for a part of the race or be placed on a team. They must come to the show with their team intact and ready for participation. 

Teams from as far as Ohio and Indiana have come to participate this year. Last year, the race had a team from Wisconsin who traveled down to avoid the chilly northern tundra and get a race under their belts in slightly warmer temperatures than they might be used to up north. 

A runner completes the Round the Bay Relay
A runner completes the Round the Bay Relay on Okaloosa Island in 2021. 📸: Round the Bay

Competing, but not Competitive

Finishing the race is the only thing that matters, not the time. But some teams and individuals have stood out in the last couple of years. 


A “Fort Walton Dream Team” comprised of cross-country runners from Fort Walton Beach High School and Choctawhatchee High School completed the race in about three-and-a-half hours. Stephen Cornelius, an individual competitor, placed fourth overall and first for individuals last year. 


11 Niceville-area teams will compete in the race this year. The names are awesome. They include:


  • Sole Sisters
  • A team from the 3rd Planet Brewing Wednesday Running Group
  • Bluewater Elementary teachers, staff and parents
  • ‘Kicking Asphalt’ – a team of former Niceville High School Cross Country teammates
  • ‘Rocky Road’ – a team from Rocky Bayou Baptist Church
  • ‘Red Solo Cups’ – a team that likes… Red Solo Cups.

After the Race

Race day serves as one big party. Runners in teams run their legs and then spend the rest of the time behind the runners on their team in a caravan of cars and trucks, cheering their teammates on as they finish their part. 


Once everyone is back at the starting line on the Elks Club property on Okaloosa Island, Cajun food is served, and runners listen to B.T. Turner play live. Beer from 3rd Planet Brewing finds its way into glasses, and everyone celebrates another year of racing.

Sign up to Participate

While the individual sign-up is already closed, “the ultra community has known about this race for months,” Samac explains; there is still some time to register full teams for the race on December 31st. 


Team captains must register with Samac at dennissamac@gmail.com and pay a $35 fee for the race. 


Children aren’t allowed to participate in the race, as it uses bike lanes, roads and busy sidewalks. 

🏃‍♀️36.8 mile run around Choctawhatchee Bay

📅 December 31st, registration ends December 29th

⏰ Runners start as early as midnight to 6:50 AM

💵 $35/person for sign up 

📍Elks Lodge on Okaloosa Island

📧 dennissamac@gmail.com

Gallery: Photos from past Round the Bay Runs

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