Runners, vendors meet at Gate River Run expo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Players Championship Runners’ Expo opened Thursday at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds so that runners could start picking up their packets and shop for items ahead of the 43rd annual Gate River Run Saturday.

Volunteers, runners and even vendors told News4Jax it’s something they don’t want to miss.

“It’s happening in Jacksonville every year. This is a great run," said Ken Bendy, a 20-year volunteer.

Taylor Figura, a third-year runner, said the River Run stands out.

“It’s always the ‘Green Monster,’" Figura said. "It’s the best challenge in the run, because I’ve done races all over the U.S., and it’s just the best.”

Inside the expo, volunteers could be seen stuffing juice, shaving cream and crackers into thousands of bags for runners. Meanwhile, vendors were showing off their products. There was even an air compression therapy booth.

"It’s to help them with recovery. It gives them good circulation to their blood. It also helps them stimulate lymphatic drainage,” said Mariangel Poleo with Air Relax.

From food to running gear, shoes, headbands, and much more, there's something for every kind of runner.

“High-performance headbands. They work really well with the sweat,” said Matthew Lamb with Junk Brands. “We also have really cool designs. We have college licenses. We have Gators. We have solid colors, pretty much anything you can think of.”

The expo wouldn't be complete without the runners who all have a different reason to come out to the start line.

"I did 31 years in the Air Force, three tours in the Middle East. It could take its toll on your body,” runner Darryl Johnson said. “I’ve always been good about staying in shape, but toward the end of my career, I had my second back surgery. And the VA surgeron said not to run anymore, and I said, ‘Well, I have to run races.’ He said, ‘Well, you can jog. No more racing.’ That was 2010. Since then, I’ve done over 300 races.”

A big change to the race this year is a new location for the starting line. Early work on the demolition of the Hart Bridge ramp forced organizers to move the starting line two blocks north -- from Bay Street to Duval Street.

“We haven’t had a lot of questions on it, quite frankly. I think everybody just resigns that’s where it’s going to start it," Bendy said.

Runner Patty Johnson added: “That’s going to be a little different but, you know, change is good."

Runners from out of town can check-in from 7 a.m. until 8 a.m. Saturday at the three-day expo. The expo will also be open from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday.

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