JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new women's 15K record was set Saturday in the 37th Gate River Run -- Jacksonville's largest participatory sporting event and one of the city's biggest annual community events.
Organizers say 15,488 runners completed the nation's 15K championship and thousands more gathered to run one of the day's shorter events or to line the 15K course to cheer on their family and friends -- some of them taking the longest runs of their lives.
The scheduled 8:30 a.m. start was delayed by six minutes due to a wrong-way crash on Interstate 95 near the Fuller Warren Bridge that caused major traffic backups and many runners to arrive late.
The delay didn't disturb the elite runners from around the country who travel to Jacksonville for the race. Shalane Flanagan -- a 32-year-old Olympic bronze medalist from Portland, Oregon -- jumped to a huge lead early and ran solo the rest of the way to cross the finish line first at 47:03 -- a new American women's 15K record.
At 43:04, defending Gate River Run champion Benjamin True was the fastest man.
This year's field included four Olympians, both 2014 U.S. Cross-Country champions and three past Gate River Run champions, including 2013 defending champions True and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom.
The top 5,000 seeded runners start at the front and the elite women's gun sounded six minutes before the first men began. An Equalizer Bonus of $5,000 is given to the first man or woman to cross the finish line.
Flanagan did that Saturday, becoming only the second woman to win the equalizer prize. Cherobon was the first to cross in 2012 with a time of 49:41.
In addition to the prize as the first to cross, Flanagan also receives a $5,000 bonus for breaking the American record.
More than 23,000 runners and walkers participated in one of the day's five events, and many of those stayed for the large post-race party held at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds.
Of those who completed the 15K race, 53.8 percent were women, continuing a trend of more women then men competing in the Gate River Run.
The honor of the youngest participants to finish the 9.3 miles was shared by five 7-year-olds: Cole Breuer and Maura Madigan, of Jacksonville, and Sophia Versage, Emma Ottosen and Railey Nolan, of Orange Park.
The oldest person to complete the course was Brenda Tucker, of Jacksonville. She crossed the finish line at 2:36:02 -- just over an hour ahead of the last person to finish the course. (Remember, you don't have to run to participate in the Gate River Run.)
Due to construction of new scoreboards at EverBank Field, the finish line was moved this year to the Tailgate Zone near the southeast corner of the stadium, which actually provided a better view for spectators waiting for the runners to finish.