JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three weeks out from the Gate River Run, some runners got a chance to test themselves on the biggest challenge of the 15K course: The Hart Bridge.
The southbound lanes of the bridge were shut down for two hours Saturday morning so runners could take a practice run over what has been called "The Green Monster."
Running for more than a minute can be a daunting challenge, especially if you've never done it before.
Jackie Culver organized this event for the PRS Running Club, one of several to help prepare people for the River Run.
"Nine-point-three miles of the whole race. It starts down here, downtown, and finishes across the Hart Bridge," Culver said.
“It was beautiful here. I got to see the stadium and river and everything," said Gabby Valerio, a sophomore at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts who will tackle her first River Run next month. "Just being able to be on top of the bridge makes me feel like I was on top of the world.”
Gabby has been practicing with her coach with the Marathon High program since October, running twice on weekdays and taking longer runs on the weekends.
“It’s hard to be (a) teenager these days. They are very over-programmed. It’s a lot more difficult (than) maybe when we’re younger, so a lot of them don’t have any time for themselves -- to just do something else fun and challenging and meet people not in (their) classes.”
Marathon High is a regional non-profit that works with teens and trains them to run a half marathon, a 13.1-mile race, developing athletic skills, healthy lifestyles, and positive attitudes. Saturday's practice run was a fundraiser for Marathon High, raising more than $5,000 for the organization.
Gabby said whatever the challenges will be, she’s grateful for her biggest supporter.
“My mother, she survived from kidney cancer. Then she got more medical problems. She just wanted me to be healthier and happier, not having the same thing as she has," Gabby said.
Valerio will be among the expected 25,000 participants for this year's Gate River Run on March 9. The race, which draws runners from the Jacksonville area as well as elite runners from around the country, begins at 8 a.m. near TIAA Bank Field. The course winds through Downtown, San Marco, and St. Nicholas, before continuing over the Hart Bridge, and ending back at the stadium.