JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On Saturday, the Gate River Run will be held for the 46th year, and for the first time in recent years, runners won’t have to adapt to a new course.
In 2020, the race was held before the pandemic took hold so when the 2021 race arrived, adjustments were needed. Two start lines were utilized for a limited field.
In 2022, the finish line was moved after changes to the Hart Bridge ramps were completed.
This year, the same start line. The same finish line. And a chance to see some history.
As of Tuesday, over 14,000 runners had entered the 15K or the 5K.
On the women’s side, two-time defending champion Emily Sisson is back. She can become the second woman to win three straight Gate River Runs in the history of the race.
Deena Drossin Kastor won four straight races from 2000-2003. She won two more in 2007-2008.
Sisson won each of the last two years in impressive fashion, running away from the field early. Her times rank fourth (2022) and sixth (2021) all-time at the race. The Olympic 10,000-meter runner would have to cut 28 seconds off her best time at the race to match the River Run record held by Shalane Flanagan (47:00).
Sisson is the clear favorite. But there is another former winner in the field. Erika Kemp took the title in 2019 in her first competitive 15K race. Kemp has finished fifth in the River Run twice since (2020 and 2021). She’s one of three women in the field to have run a 15K in under 51 minutes. The other is Annie Frisbie, who finished sixth last year. She has experience in big road races, taking the bronze medal in the US 10K Championships at the Peachtree Road Race in 2021. She also led the New York City Marathon in 2021 midway through the race before finishing seventh.
The lone local in the elite field is Kelsey Pontius, who has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials for the second time. Pontius’ best 15K time is 51:16 and she usually runs half marathons and marathons. Pontius said she loves to run this race in her hometown and that she always looks forward to her favorite part of the course.
“I love getting off the Main Street Bridge, from the time that you start to incline before the Hart Bridge. So like miles seven to seven and a half,” Pontius said. “There’s the music at mile four and a half. It’s flat. I love going through St. Nicholas. I think that part of town is really beautiful. And so that’s kind of the part of the race where I really feel like I find my rhythm. And that’s the part that I feel like I really start competing and start to like pick people off that might have gone out a little bit too hot and are starting to pay for it.”
Pontius also said experience on this course makes a big difference in how runners perform.
“If you’re not careful and you go out too fast, the Main Street Bridge can get you,” Pontius said. “I always like to break it up into three 5Ks. And think about that first 5K, like find your rhythm, don’t go out, go out competitively, but realize there’s a bridge there and then really find that rhythm in the middle 5K And then do what you can on the bridge.”
Many a race has been decided by the Green Monster, including last year, when Nico Montanez outkicked a pack of runners up the bridge, including Galen Rupp, to win.
On the men’s side, two-time River Run champion Leonard Korir, who won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018 is in the field. He finished second in last year’s race. He’s likely to be pushed by fellow U.S. Army runner Hillary Bor, a two-time Olympian in the steeplechase who finished second to Korir in 2018 and placed third last year.
One local man will run with the elites. Sem Sultanov, 25, was the winner of the First Coast Cup last year as the first local man across the line. He has finished in the top 50 each of the last two years.
Over 10,000 runners finished the race last year — the final runner crossing the finish line in a time of 3 hours 35 minutes and 31 seconds.
There are 22 runners who have run every year — they’re called the Streakers. At last check, 20 of them are registered to keep the streak alive this year.
Some aren’t streakers but have put in some serious miles. Augie Leone, 93, is back to run the race again. Last year, he set a record for the fastest — and first — 92-year-old in the race.
As of Tuesday, the forecast for the race called for a chance of thunderstorms and low temperatures of 52 degrees in the morning and warming as the race unfolds. Runners typically prefer to run in cooler weather and overcast skies so if the lightning stays away, we could see a fast time posted.
Our coverage of the Gate River Run begins at 7:30 a.m. Saturday on The Morning Show. Former Florida Gator and U.S. Olympian Keith Brantly will join me in the studio. Jamal St. Cyr and Justin Barney will be on the course with five-time First Coast Cup winner Julie Stackhouse and former Jaguars head athletic trainer and Ironman competitor Mike Ryan.