Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gate River Run

Once a year, in March, one of the biggest road races in America descends upon Jacksonville, Florida: the Gate River Run. Doubling as the USA 15k National Championships, the race brings out some of the world's top elite runners to stride alongside 20,000 participants.

This is an event I would highly recommend to any runner: elite or recreational. It boasts great March weather and a cool town perfect for Spring Break.

•All-around wonderful organization, encouragement and hospitality by Richard Fannin
•Also thanks to Bill and Heather Johnson, BRC/Adidas and many more
•Visit to Sanctuary on 8th Street
•Pre-Race talk by Craig Virgin
•Equalizer race and finish over the Hart Bridge
•Picnic diner hosted by race directors Doug and Jane Alred•After Party at 1904 Music Hall

First off, I owe enormous thanks to BRC/Adidas, Richard Fannin and all who helped in getting me to Jacksonville! I have never felt so welcomed, encouraged, and well taken care of, as a runner, as I did for the US 15k championships. So seriously, THANK YOU!

Friday, March 8, 2013
One of the great events Richard and all assembled was a visit to the Sanctuary on 8th Street.
This is an after school program for children living in poverty, often without even one parent to support them. The program offers food, help with school work and outdoor recreation. We as runners, visited the sanctuary to have a little Friday afternoon exercise with the kids. Lee Troop, a local Boulder, CO and Australian marathon legend, showed his amazing education skills organizing some games and stretches and really getting everyone involved. It was a sincerely hartwarming day, just seeing how excited many of the kids were to have a little one-on-one attention, even for a short time.

Friday night culminated with a USATF meeting and pre-race talk by Craig Virgin. Craig is a great motivational speaker, and true American hero. If you ever have the chance to meet him, do it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013
-The Race
In the hubbub of a cool spring break morning, I found myself, wondering through crowds reminiscent of Disney World. Navigating out of the fairgrounds, by kegs of beer, palm trees, port-o-potties; the ride is about to begin. If, like this runner, at this exact moment, you have never been in a road race the size of a small city: get ready for a do-it-yourself sporting event, parade and city tour rolled into one!

The gun goes off, signaling the massive start, traveling down Bay street on the North side of the St. John's River. The catch is that the elite women have already started, 6:35 ahead, leading to an all-out battle of the sexes and a chance for the equalizer bonus of $5,000 to the first person, be it man or woman, to cross the finish line.

After a crowded 4:40 first mile, the pack takes three 90 degree turns and heads onto the Main Street bridge. After a quick introduction to the far bank of the St. John's, you enter San Marco and what remains as a blur that I can only describe as "the neighborhoods". I hit the fist 5k in 14:40 just behind the lead pack of 13. Another couple twists and turns and we head onto Hendrick's Ave. With a long straight stretch, Michael Eaton and I push to make up the gap, in a confusing tornado of long-haired, blonde Adidas runners. We begin to catch the first elite women.

I still can't bridge the gap (not a pun). At 8k, I'm 23:40, one of my fastest times ever, running solo. I blend into the chase pack, and cross 10k in 29:29. Now, here is what Craig Virgin, the honored pre-race speaker and two time World Champion, would refer to as a moment of truth. I could tough out a couple miles with the chase pack or I could ease off and hope for a couple stragglers near the end. Rookie mistake, I let them go.

The climax of the race, culminates with a race grinding up and blazing down the 150 foot tall, mile-long Hart Bridge and a sprint around the Jaguar's stadium. With all my strength I push through the remaining kilometer and sprint in at 45:09, 22nd place, glad to be done, disappointed, but wiser.

It was a great experience for my first road race. Not the place or time I wanted, but a learning experience to help me sharpen up for the rest of my spring season. Next time I'll have to make a few subtle changes, and I'll be pushing the top 10.

After the race, I was lucky enough to spend time with my Dad and travel down to the coast. That's the great part about racing in at 8:30am: you still have an entire day post-race. The weather cooled, but Atlantic beach was nice enough for a quick knee-deep dip in the salt water. Fish taco's at Poe's Tavern near the beach, completed a lazy, well deserved and restful afternoon.

At 6pm, a huge group of the elite runners bussed over to the race director house for a catered outdoor picnic. This was a great chance for me to meet many of the other elite athletes.

Being a professional runner isn't like other professional sports. Many people have other jobs to support their running. For instance, I am in grad school, teach and tutor to earn enough to almost cover the month's rent. Thats it. I still need my parent's support just to make it through day to day. So, it was really interesting to see how, dedicated and talented runners all over the country make their way in life. Some are on teams that pay for housing and more, others are engineers, mothers and PhDs. In general, it is amazing and encouraging to see so many bright, and kind people that work really hard for the small (really small) amount of money and (trivial) fame involved in being a pro runner.

Some of the fantastic people I met include the magnetic Tim Richie, blonde charmer Michael Eaton, bearded Scott Smith, tree-tattooed Michael Crouch, master's all-star Kevin Castille, future prom king Anthony Solis, Jeff Sadler, the charismatic Giliat Ghebray, the illustrious Morgan Haws, Sarah Crouch, Katie Di Camillo, Addie Bracy, and D2 all-star Tyler Pennel. These guys and ladies are AWESOME. Cheer them on, make them your new best friend.

To kick off the weekend, we finished our night at 1904 music hall. Enjoyed a beer with Richard in congratulations on a weekend to remember. Not to mention, celebrated Brandon Birdsong-Johnson's birthday.

All in all, an awesome weekend and a great first encounter with big time road racing. Much more to come soon, from this young runner.

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