Two years ago I made my first trip to the largest city (by area) in the contiguous US. Entered into the longest road race of my career, I toed the line at the Gate River Run not knowing what I was getting myself into. The race, while painful, ended up going better than I could have expected, and I was able to finish second with one of the fastest times ever run in the thirty-odd year history of the race. Beginner’s luck. But besides my running success, I fell victim to a few unsettling experiences, clouding my views of the city of Jacksonville and causing my desires to never return.
Luckily, time has a funny way of muddying up one’s memory and this year after being asked to return to the 15k race, I decided it fit perfectly into my schedule and was excited to race. Returning to Jacksonville would never have occurred had I not remembered the wonderful race organizers and the fantastic event that is the Gate River Run. Being able to forget my misfortunes of before, I drove up the coast of Florida Thursday evening in preparations for Saturday’s race.
The race, which winds its way through much of downtown Jacksonville is extremely flat, with the only hills coming from running over two bridges. The first bridge is located just after the first mile and is a relatively gradual and short. The second however, is a monster. Located in the final mile of the race and spanning over a half mile in length, it truly is a wall. The race is set in a “chase” format where the women’s field starts 6:35 minutes ahead of the men. Whoever crosses the line first (male or female) wins the equalizer bonus of five-thousand dollars. This chase format usually leads to faster times and a more spectator-friendly finish. This year however, the men’s race went out relaxed. Everyone, including myself, were waiting for the three-time defender, Mo Trafeh, to put in his signature early race surge. When it didn’t happen, the field stayed relatively bunched together late into the race. When the real racing began after the seven-mile marker, the field quickly dwindled down to five guys cresting over the final hill. When the dust settled at the finish line, I was lucky enough to be able to come out ahead and win. However, our early race tardiness extinguished all hopes of catching the lead women and the extra equalizer bonus, as three women were able to hold us off by mere seconds.
I am very happy that my earlier vows to never go back to Jacksonville were ignored and I allowed myself to return to such a great event. My second visit erased all previous ill-will, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent there. Thanks to all who made the Gate River Run such a wonderful event, and one I hope to race many more times in the future.
Until next time,