For those who follow along at home, you probably already know about the Gate River Run.
It’s the largest 15K in the country, and perhaps one of the most well-known and well-attended races in the Jacksonville area. I have an intense love-hate relationship with it. The Gate is hard. Freaking hard. But oh, so much fun. It’s one of the those things where you really have to have the right mindset going in.
What makes the Gate so challenging is the later start (8:30 AM, although they did move it up to 8:00 AM this year, which was a huge improvement), the huge crowds of runners leading to lots of course congestion, and the two ginormous bridges, right at the end of Mile 1 and again at about Mile 7.5.
But on the other side, this race is fun. There is an incredible vibe and the course is lined with spectators. Even more importantly those spectators are cheering holding signs, offering high fives, and handing out all kinds of things from beer and mimosas to grilled sausage and popsicles.
I do love a good buffet.
Due to work, I wasn’t able to attend the expo this year. S was kind enough to pick up my bib, shirt and commemorative pint glass (it’s easy enough to pick up a packet for a friend with a signed form). I did miss getting to see some of the vendors, but I also didn’t mind avoiding some of the craziness.
On race morning, S, A and I all had a plan to meet up. With the race start being 30 minutes earlier, I left the house at about 5:30 AM so ensure a good parking spot. For the first time, I hit some traffic driving into the stadium parking lot, but was rewarded with a space right by the start line.
It was freezing that morning and I really struggled with my outfit. I was wearing shorts and a tank because I knew it would warm up and the sun was going to be out, but I toyed with a long sleeve shirt, and even with capris. I finally ended up just deciding to be cold at the start line, supplementing my outfit with gloves and an ear warmer. I wasn’t sure how windy it was going to be at the top of the bridges, and wanted to be prepared.
We got to our Wave at the start line. The sun was at full power and it was already starting to get warm.
After the National Anthem, the corrals began to be released. It still took us a few minutes to get through the crowds and start running.
Miles 1 -2
The first two miles of the race take runners on a path through downtown Jacksonville and up and over the Main Street Bridge. The elevation on this bridge, isn’t awful, but it’s early in the race when adrenaline is high. Footing can be treacherous because it’s a lot of metal grating, and I confess that I just can’t look down to the water below. It makes me a wee bit nauseous.
Ono the plus side, we ran right up that bridge! Yay for us!
After the Main Street Bridge, we come into the San Marco area. This is full of music and people and local businesses. We plugged along, enjoying all the spectators, and still feeling pretty good. It was definitely warmer. I had stripped my gloves off earlier, and my ear warmer was no longer needed.
The businesses gave way to residential areas – there are some truly gorgeous homes along this route, and most of the neighborhoods are lined with lovely shade trees. The shade was a welcome relief. I regretted not having a visor but it wasn’t a race-breaker for me.
Miles 6 – 7
The party started here. We were now in the Atlantic Boulevard of the race. This is comprised of more pretty neighborhoods, sandwiched between two uninteresting stretches of highway.
I had been pretty good about not taking anything besides water along the way, but my friend K was spectating and had made me a giant mimosa. When I saw her and her brother and sister-in-law, I hustled right on over! I sipped on that mimosa for a full mile, and then I moved on to a nice popsicle. It was perfect.
After that, I snagged a ziplock of rummy bears! Which are exactly what you would think. And they were magical.
Thus fortified, we began the final trek to the Hart Bridge. The Hart-Breaker. The Green Monster.
This bridge is always so hard. The curved onramp is tough on the knees and hips. And at this point in the game, I’m always just done.
From the highest point of the bridge, it is one mile down through the finish line. There is actually a separate competition to see who can complete the final mile the fastest.
I was really ready to be done, and I think that was pretty clear on my face throughout the last bits of the race.
I still had enough for one more smile, though.
We collected our medals at the finish line and then started waiting for other friends to come through.
My finish wasn’t as strong as I would have liked, but I had a darn good time – we had so much fun out there it almost didn’t seem like racing.
S had to leave for some other family events, and I ran into A at one of the hospitality tents. She had separated from us in the last mile and I was so glad to give her a huge before I had to go.
The race post party is a lot of fun with tons of beer, music and people, so I had a celebratory drink and made my way home. It had been a really busy week and I missed my guys so I wanted to spend some time with them.
Another year of River Run in the books.
Is there a race by you that is famous either nationally or locally?
What’s a feature of races that you find most challenging?