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The Gate River Run is One of My Favorites!

In all, 16,656 participants lined up to experience the 45th15K Gate River Run on Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Jacksonville, Florida. Other events that day included the Synovus 5K, the Brooks Rehabilitation Challenge Mile, and the Junior River Run.

I was among the enthusiastic thousands, ready to experience this popular 15-kilometer (9.3-mile) road race that attracts a diverse group of runners, walkers, and a wheelchair division. Whether you are a competitive runner participating or want to enjoy the beautiful scenery, the race supports all ages and abilities, which is one of the reasons this event is so special. The Gate River Run was started by JTC Running in 1978, and it has grown to become one of the largest 15K in the country. It also has been a US National Championship 15K since 1994. The proceeds stay local to support running and community initiatives.

Photo Credit: Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union - Start of the Race.

I recommend getting to the event at least two hours before the start if you want a close parking place. My husband and I arrived one hour before the start and consequently had to park far from the venue. Kudos to the race organizers; they did a great job directing the massive number of cars to open parking spots, and the lots were marked.

I had already planned to run/walk due to a minor running injury that required me to take it easy. Once in the venue, I found my assigned wave (determined by predicted finish time) and was amazed by the thousands of runners moving in an orderly and deliberate path to their waves.

My wave was packed with runners. I thought it would be nice to have a running partner, but as soon as the thought crossed my mind, I heard this beautiful voice come over the loudspeakers singing the National Anthem. Silence quickly fell over the crowd as the voice echoed across the sea of participants, and a feeling of togetherness was palpable. I quickly appreciated that I wasn’t alone. The sense of brother and sisterhood found in most races is probably one of the main reasons I keep lacing up my running shoes after all these years.

Photo Credit - Bob Self/Florida Times-Union - Elite men runners Eduardo Garcia and Sem Sultanov stand with others for the National Anthem.

After the National Anthem, the anticipation was over. The roar from excited participants and spectators was deafening, signaling the runners were off, starting with the wheelchair division, then the elite runners, and finally the rest of the waves.

Photo Credit - Bob Self/Florida Times-Union - Push Assist Team, Elite Women's Start, My Start in Wave 3.

Miles 1 to 3.2

My usual race strategy is to break the run into 5K’s (3.2 Miles). It didn’t matter that I planned to walk/run; breaking the miles into 5K's helped me get a rhythm and judge if I needed to adjust my pace. The first three miles took us down Duval Street and over the St. Johns River on the Main Bridge. The bridge is high and steep with a grated surface that is slippery (looking down may cause problems for those afraid of heights), so as clumsy as I am, I took the cement walkway and made it over the bridge fine, but I observed a few people catch a toe on the grates. The course took a left off the bridge onto RiverPlace Blvd, then to San Marco Blvd., where a fantastic band was set up at Treaty Oak Park playing stimulating music for a needed pick-me-up.

Miles 3.2 to 6

These three miles were my favorite as the course weaved through the picturesque street of San Marco. Hundreds of cheering spectators lined this spectacular neighborhood, and residents offered various food items like donuts, oranges, bananas, hard candy, and water.

Refreshment Area!

The race course had many unique twists, but this was the first time I had experienced serving alcohol during a race. There were alcohol shots stations along this stretch of the course, and it was a popular stopping spot for the runners that were not worried about their time. I thought it was a hoot, and those in line were having a good time.

Miles 6 to 9.3

I glanced at my watch to check my pace, then mentally noted that many runners had already finished, and I still had the most challenging three miles to go.

As I looked up, I was inspired by what I saw; a uniformed soldier carrying a full pack and an American flag. I picked up my pace and followed behind the soldier for a while and found he had a walk-run pace that was comfortable and sustainable for me.

I ran up beside him and asked if he minded if I used him as my pacer; he responded with a simple nod, and off we went. The soldier showed up at the perfect time and was the exact motivation I needed to stay positive and appreciate that I could participate in this fun-filled event.

There is a slight incline at mile seven; right on queue, an upbeat band awaited the runners to help prepare us for mile eight and the Hart Bridge, fondly called “Green Monster."

As the course approached the bridge climb, loudspeakers that lined both sides of the bridge rang out motivational music, creating renewed energy and the knowledge that I was almost at the finish line.

The final stretch over the bridge took us up 186 feet as the rain poured down on us. The rain made the bridge slick, but it was a welcome change from the muggy hot weather, and it helped cool things off.

Photo Credit: Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union."The Green Monster"

Top of bridge - Lee Ann & Soldier

Top of Bridge-Lee Ann and Soldier

Once we reached the top of the bridge, the last mile was all downhill from Gator Bowl Blvd., leading to the finisher's chutes on the west side of TIAA Bank Field. Music seemed to come from everywhere, and spectators cheered the finishers on, providing that extra boost to finish strong. All participants received a t-shirt, cup, and a finisher’s medal, and prizes were also awarded to the top finishers in each age group.

Photo Credit: Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union - Finish

I found my husband among the spectators, and we headed to a fabulous post-race celebration, where we found food booths, vendors of all kinds, music, a beer garden, and numerous free food items. Unfortunately, it was still raining when I finished, so we took a quick tour of the event and returned to the car.

This is one of my favorite races for many reasons. I think it is incredible how smoothly a

race of this magnitude ran. From the pre-race and packet expo to the after-party, it was an excellent experience. The race organizers sent out numerous reminders and race details before the race and on race day; the course was well marked, there were perfectly timed and staffed water stations, and the spectators and bands were vital in creating the feeling that the race was flying by quickly. The police and medical teams were available throughout, and best of all, I took the time to slow down and enjoy the day.

If you haven’t participated in the Gate River Run and it’s on your bucket list, or it sounds like something you want to experience, sign up with a friend or friends in 2024 and enjoy the experience.

Photo Credit: Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union

Congratulations to the Winners:

*National record holder Emily Sisson wins her 3rd straight title in the women's division in the time of 48:27.

*Hillary Bor won the men's divisions in the time of 43:11, the 12th fastest in race history.


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