Biggest storylines for Gate River Run: Emily Sisson and Mother Nature

Emily Sisson, first, celebrates on the podium after the Women's 10,000 Meters Final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 26, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. She enters the Gate River Run looking for her third straight win in the event. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mother Nature and Emily Sisson. And a lost minute.

These are the three biggest storylines heading into Saturday’s Gate River Run, the national championship 15K.

Let’s start with Sisson, the American record holder in the marathon and half marathon and the two-time defending champion of the Gate River Run. The question is, can anybody beat her?

Since winning the race two years ago, Sisson has established herself as one of the two top American women’s distance runners, along with Keira D’Amato. D’Amato is not racing this week, so it’s Sisson and then everybody else.

“Emily Sisson is, on a tear,” said Keith Brantly, former Gators star and U.S. Olympic marathoner, who serves as an analyst for the Gate River Run broadcast on News4JAX. “I thought that she was getting to the point where you wouldn’t see large improvements in her performances, just because of the point of diminishing return. She’s pushing the envelope. But she just continues to do that. And that’s a tribute to her hard work ethic.”

Is the American record in the 15K likely to fall on Saturday? Shalane Flanagan set the mark at the Gate River Run in 2014. The weather could be the biggest factor.

“You know, under ideal conditions, I think it would be,” Brantly said. “The conditions last year, we’re not perfect either. And, you know, again, she just annihilated the course, ran a great time. I think you know, again, every time I say this, she proved me wrong.”

As of Wednesday, the forecast called for temperatures in the mid-60s in the early stages of the race but with high humidity.

Here’s what The Weather Authority’s Mark Collins wrote about the race.

For Florida runners, the heat and humidity won’t be as much of a problem as it could be for those unaccustomed to running here. It can even impact how elite runners approach the race.

This year, the staggered start between the elite women and the rest of the field was reduced from six minutes to five. The past two years, Sisson earned the $5,000 equalizer bonus as the first runner across the finish line. It wasn’t close in either of the last two years. This hope is that changing the stagger will increase the chances of the men’s and women’s champions finding themselves in a duel coming off the Hart Bridge.

As for the men’s field, two-time former champion Leonard Korir, 36, comes to the race as the favorite.

" I don’t know where Leonard is in his training phase right now,” Brantly said. “And, more importantly, has he lost a step from an injury or anything like that recently? In the end, as we get older, we always say age is just a number, and it is in running too.”

Others to watch on the men’s side include Olympic steeplechaser Hillary Bor and Ethiopian-American Teshome Mekonen.

“I think [Mekonen] in that phase now, where his training has gone well,” Brantly said “He’s in his late 20s, still hungry.”