JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The First Coast Cup is the symbol of excellence at the Gate River Run for local runners. The top male and female finishers from the Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Nassau and Baker counties not only earns bragging rights, but their names are recorded for history as the winners of the First Coast Cup. So who are the favorites this year?
On the men’s side, Chris McCaffrey is one to watch. He won the Donna half-marathon last month and has finished first in two other races in the past three months. McCaffrey has been pointing his training to the River Run.
"The River Run bring the best out of everybody," McCaffrey said. "I would be lying if I said I didn't want that person to be me, but it really helps showcase the local flavor we have in Jacksonville. To be considered one of the local elites is quite an honor."
Brian Shrout finished second at the Ortega River Run two weeks ago--a 5-mile race many runners use as a tuneup for the Gate. He’s in good form right now, and at the age of 46, is an experienced runner with a big goal.
"My goal is to try to break 50 minutes, which I've never done before," Shrout said. "It's going to be tough and I'll see where that puts me-race the guys I'm around, the local guys, and hang on as long as I can. (Winning the First Coast Cup) would mean a lot."
Marc Burget is the best ultra-marathoner in the area. He defended his title in the Donna 110 last month and is nearly impossible to keep up with over longer distances. But at 9.3 miles, it will be a different challenge. If he, McCaffrey and Shrout are shoulder-to-shoulder coming over the Hart Bridge, what will happen?
"I'll be on their heels, and if I have a kick at the end, that's great," Burget said. "Those two guys are awesome guys who will definitely be up there."
On the women’s side, Lydia McCrae could be the woman to beat. Last year, she posted the second-fastest time among the local women. She won the Avondale 5K in October, beating every man, woman, and child to the finish line. She also ran the California International Marathon in December and was the top female finisher at Ortega.
"That would be so exciting," McRae said. "We have such a good group of women runners here in Jacksonville. I feel like I have to step up my game at every race. It would be an awesome thing for us all to push for. I'll do my best. I think I'm in good shape, but I think everyone else is, too."
Crystal Davis has a unique training technique. She pushes her two young children in a stroller, adding an extra 70 pounds to her load.
"Any time of the day I could possibly get a run in, they are with me, especially if my husband is away on a work-up or on deployment," Davis said. "I've got 70 pounds in front of me. Sometimes to intensify it, since I run on pretty much zero elevation, we'll run in the grass. I'll push them maybe 8 miles in the grass to feel the burn and intensify the workout."
Davis finished just 29 seconds behind McRae last year and could challenge her again.
Kristen Dixon and Carley Glasser have both run around an hour at 15K and said they love the chance for local runners to have the chance to be recognized at the biggest race in Jacksonville.
"I want to run (the) Boston (Marathon) for a time this year, so I've put more effort into it," Dixon said. "I think I have that fire back. It's really going to be exciting to see what Gate is like because there are so many good people around."
Glasser, who ran the Boston Marathon last year and also ran the California International Marathon in December, wants to run under an hour for the first time ever.
"The energy right now is pretty positive in the running community, at least locally, so I think everyone is supportive and drawing other people in," Glasser said.