JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Gate River Run Expo opened Thursday morning for runners to start picking up their race packets and browse related items.
As Saturday's 37th annual event approaches, organizers said it's possible this year's expo and 15K race will break a record, with about 20,000 runners.
Jane Alred organizes the expo, which has grown leaps and bounds since it started years ago. She said it wasn't last year but the year before that set a record number for the amount of people in the run, and this year is at pace to beat it.
"It could be a record," Alred said. "The weather is going to be perfect, it sounds like at this point. I don't want to jinx it though."
"The expo is an integral part of the race," Alred added. "We have all of the major shoe companies coming and [will be] having all of their latest and newest product here."
Companies like Nike and Adidas will be among the 100-plus vendors showcasing their latest products and technology, but a couple smaller, local companies are also setting up shop, iincluding a new one out of Fernandina Beach that makes sweat bands.
"Really innovative, new little product, a little accessory for running," Alred said. "It's nice to see a small company like that kind of get launched at the expo, too."
The Gate River Run, the country's largest 15K, will take off Saturday.
It's a growing event all around. The number of race participants and companies looking to showcase their products at the race expo, which started in a small hotel room, gets bigger every year.
"We've tried to create more spaces, but you know, it's just so hard within the confines of the booth," Alred said. "We've had to turn people away for about a month now, but we just don't really have anywhere to expand."
In addition to the vendors, runners also got a chance to meet running coach and best selling author Hal Higdon. His latest book 4:09:43 tells the story of 75 people running in the Boston Marathon during the bombings last year, in a single narrative. It's a story he believes every runner can connect with.
"I think I want them to meet Boston, because in some respects, the book is less about the terrorists and the victims and it's more about the runners in the race, how they experienced that day," Higdon said.
Of course Higdon is always asked how to best prepare for the Gate River Run. He has two words: Start slow. He tells runners not to get too excited.
"The bands are going, the people are there, everybody's cheering, high-fiving, and there's that tendency to get out too fast, particularly if you've seated yourself too far in the field," Higdon said. "So you really have to relax until you get over the Main Street Bridge."
The expo is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday for a few hours during the race as well.
The expo is located at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds, 510 Fairgrounds Place, across Duval Street from EverBank Field. Event organizers ask that visitors park in the stadium parking lots across from the Fairgrounds.
"It's very exciting to come and get your race shirt and your mug. It's just a great race," runner Brianne Toole said. "There's so much merchandise and all the gear and everybody's just all excited, and yes, it gets you all excited for the race."
In addition to products being sold, several medical vendors will be there to answer questions, too.