JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two-time Olympian and American record holder Molly Huddle crossed the finish line first Saturday morning in the 41st annual Gate River Run, four minutes and hundreds of yards before the defending champion and fastest man, Kenyan-American Leonard Korir.
But she and the other elite runners did get a six-minute head start.
While they and dozens of other elite runners crossed the finish line in near-record time in what were described as ideal conditions, more than 10,000 recreational runners took much of the morning to complete the 9.3-mile course. Some were trying for a personal best. Others were just trying to finish their first 15K run.
For the first time ever, two of the Elite women runners crossed ahead of the first man. In addition to $10,000 in prize money for Huddle and Korir, her 47:50 finish earned her a $5,000 "equalizer" bonus.
"I never saw her. She was too far ahead. Maybe I'll catch her next year," Korir told Sam Kouvaris.
"I was just running and thinking they could catch me at the end. You still got to push. You don't know whose back there," Huddle said. "It's cool to have people all along the way cheer for the women."
Korir crossed the finish line of his second Gate 15K with an unofficial time of 43:06, besting Saturday's field and his 2017 winning time by 16 seconds. Korir said knowing the course helped.
"Running last year, knowing the course, it helped me a lot. I know where to push. I know the toughest parts and what to expect," he said.
The 15K championship features a total of $60,000 in prize money, but 95 percent of the people on the course are not professional runners.
"I love the Donna and I love this race. Ever year it just seems to get a little bit better. What other venue can you line up with the best in the world?" said Julie Stackhouse, a Jacksonville athletic trainer who runs for the 1st Place Sports Running Elite Team.
Other familiar faces in the Gate were the 38 "streakers," those who have run in each of the race's 41 years.
"I started doing it, and once you get started, you just don't want to stop. The people that watch this and are on the side, they cheer you on. They say, 'Go streaker,' and things like that" George Martin said. "We're getting old, but we're still hanging in there."
The races, including a 5K, challenge mile and Junior River Run, were expected to draw more than 20,000 runners and walkers, all starting and ending in the sports complex area near EverBank Field.
The 2018 River Run, which also serves as the USA Track and Field 15K National Championship, began at 8 a.m., 30 minutes earlier than in past years, to allow the runners to avoid warmer temperatures later in the morning.
The men’s record of 42:22 was set by Todd Williams in 1995 while the women’s record of 47:00 was more recently set in 2014 by Shalane Flanagan.