The Gate River Run 15K is one of Jacksonville’s premier running events. It’s the largest 15K in the country, and features a 15K, 5K, Brooks Challenge Mile, the Junior River Run, and the Diaper Dash. The race attracts athletes from all over and in 2022, we welcomed Emily Sisson and Galen Rupp to the start line.
If you’ve been following along, you would know that my knee has been bothering me, and I haven’t been training properly. I went back and forth about showing up to this race, and finally decided that since I paid, I could go and walk the 9.3 miles. It is a walker-friendly event, and while it wouldn’t be pretty, I would feel better for having done it.
About The Gate River Run 15K
The Gate is the country’s largest 15K. It is famous for the two bridges at the start and finish of the course. In addition to a medal, the fastest runners compete for a Top 10% hat, and it’s a huge honor to earn one. My personal opinion is that one should take on the Gate a minimum of two times: once for speed, and once to enjoy the spectators and experience. More on that later.
Leading up to the race, we received a few emails with important announcements. One was a change in the finish line. Instead of coming off the Hart Bridge and wrapping around the whole stadium, we would take a steeper route and find the finish line closer to the parking lot. We also learned about the addition of Galen Rupp.
Finally, the race directors shared that the second order of medals was delayed by supply chain issues. The inference made was that there would not be enough medals on race morning. This shook my confidence a little. I know the medal isn’t the most important thing, but I was already feeling down on myself for walking, and I didn’t want to walk away empty-handed to boot.
Packet Pick Up
This year, upon registration, we also had to choose a time slot to attend the expo. I selected Friday morning between 10AM and 12PM. Just before I was supposed to leave, I got an email that stated anyone who missed their Thursday time slot could just show up anytime Friday, so I guess the time slots were no more.
I arrived at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds, to find that parking was a zoo. There is a lot of construction around the area, which would figure into race day. I had things to do and places to be so I cruised into the expo, donating an old pair of shoes on the way.
Once inside, I got my bib, shirt, and bag, as well as my commemorative cup. Usually, GATE supplies all runners with a pint glass, but this year, they had coffee mugs, too. I took a mug to mix it up.
From there, I checked out the booths and vendors. The expo wasn’t anywhere near as filled out as in years past. Our local running store took up the bulk of the space, with a few other smaller booths soon the way to the exit. I ended up buying new Brooks tank top that I planned to wear on race day.
The Night Before
Back at home, I worked my way through feelings of doubt about going. I had tons of reasons not to. After a while, I told my inner voice to zip it, and chowed down on a sushi dinner.
I set out my flat runner, and headed to bed.
Even though I didn’t have to take the puppy out in the middle of the night, I didn’t have the best night’s sleep. I woke up at 5:30 and quickly showered and dressed. The race wouldn’t start until 8:00, but parking is always hairy, and I didn’t want to have to worry. I had everything packed to go right by the front door, and snuck out without waking the dogs.
I snagged a small coffee and bagel to eat on my drive, and arrived in plenty of time to snag a prime spot. Was I incredibly early? Yes. But I was able to use the portapotty, get all my gear in order, and chill out at my leisure.
One of my friends was also at the race, so after a while, I decided to leave the car and meet up with her. We chatted for a few, and then we started to get in position. I got in one more bathroom break, and wandered into the back of my corral. For a moment, I thought about bailing and going home, but I shook it off and got myself together.
The wheelchair athletes, and male and female elites got moving, and then we paused for the National Anthem. Before I knew it, the crowd was moving up and the 2022 Gate River Run was a go.
Miles 1 – 3
The starting mile of the Gate River Run had changed since last I ran. Instead of starting by Metropolitan Park, runners got underway on Gator Bowl Boulevard. The first mile always wraps through downtown Jacksonville, but this time the streets were certainly different.
Despite my knee, I ran that first mile. I stuck to the right side of the course to stay out of the way, but I pushed. It twas a little uncomfortable, but not painful, and I took that as a good sign.
At Mile 1, the Main Street Bridge appeared through the fog.
We had been warned to go easy as the grating on this structure was super slippery. I slowed to a (very fast) walk, and started pumping my way up and over the vertical lift bridge.
The first obstacle cleared, we moved into the San Marco neighborhood. These first three miles were sort of quiet, as far as spectators and people cheering. There were bands positioned on the route, but I was feeling a little discouraged.
A strange thing to note: as I was turning a corner, a woman ran up behind me. She put her hand on her shoulder, scaring the hell out of me. She looked me dead in the eye and said “You are a leader in this community.” And then she was gone. Pondering that encounter took me to the 5K mark of the race.
Just as I was really regretting everything, we turned on to River Road, and the mood lifted. Historically, there is a group of residents who cheer for the runners with music and signs and donut holes. They throw what must be thousands of munchkins into the crowd, and the runners have to catch them midair.
Friends. I have never caught one until this day. And at that moment, I decided that i was going to walk as fast as I could, and enjoy every single thing offered on that race course.
Miles 4 through 6 did not disappoint. This part of the course incorporates some gorgeous residential area, as well as the industrial and boring Atlantic Boulevard. Along the way, I had Bailey’s Irish Cream, a Maple Street biscuit, beer and oranges. I was the happiest of happy walkers.
These miles are always tough. First runners pass through the St. Nicholas area, and then they come out on the other side of Atlantic for the file trek to the Hart Bridge. At this point, everyone is tired and run down. I was still snacking away on more beer, a popsicle, rummy gummies and a pickle shot.
And then it was time for the ascent. I texted Mr PugRunner at the base of the bridge to let him know I was on my way up.
Mile 9 – Finish Line
The Hart Bridge is called the Hart-Breaker or The Green Monster. It is steep and long, and there is actually a competition for the fastest downhill mile (the summit of the bridge is Mile 8.3). There is a sizable ascent to the actual bridge and then the bridge itself is a bit of a climb.
However, it also means the end (of the race) is near.
Once again, I dug in. Running or walking, the Hart Bridge is no joke.
Paramedics spanned the end of the bridge, warning runners about the slippery and jagged grating. It was a nice service, because it’s easy to step wrong and trip or fall.
And then we were going downhill, headed for that finish line. Downhill bothers my knee, so I wasn’t able to turn up the speed like I wanted. I figured I could run through the finish when I got to flatter ground.
Truth be told, I like the new finish. You can see it from the bridge, and even though the steeper descent is more treacherous, it’s so nice to be able to beeline to the end. I was so happy to be done.
And 9.3 miles were done!
Did I score a medal? Yes. Yes, I did!
Was I happy? You know it!
The Gate River Run boasts a huge after party with beer and music. I also saw lots of food trucks lined up and ready to go. I thought about heading over but my car was literally right outside the finisher’s chute, and the party was ALLLLLLLL THE WAY on the other side of the sports complex. I had a ton of plans for the rest of the day, so I opted to skip it and get on my way. There’s always next year.
In the meantime, please enjoy this TikTok of my culinary tour!
I’ll be back next year, for sure!
What’s your most famous local run? Ever have a strange encounter during a race? Pickle shots: yes or no?
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