JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Thousands of people were out early Saturday for Jacksonville's biggest running event of the year and the nation's largest 15K race.
While more than 15,000 laced up their sneakers for the 42nd annual Gate River Run or one of the day's shorter runs, hundreds more were there to help, or just show their support.
"We have tons of people cheering us on, so it’s just a great experience," Michelle Thomas said. "It’s an amazing race."
Elite runners were there to compete for prize money or challenge a record. Recreational runners and power walkers were challenging themselves and enjoying the camaraderie. All who completed the 9.3-mile course encountered the Hart Bridge -- nicknamed The Green Monster.
"I love it. It is great. It makes me feel good to finish," Robin Allerding said.
Eight-year-old Gavin Clewley was the youngest runner to complete the run (averaging a 6:41 mile), while 86-year-old Elmer Schroer was the oldest. Four hours after the opening gun sounded, 12,616 people had crossed the finish line.
"I am 70 years old. I have had a double bypass and my daughter had to catch me," Randy Payan said.
Most run for fun or a sense of accomplishment. There were runners in costumes, in groups, carrying American flags and in all manner of dress
Along the way, there’s no shortage of music, drinks, food and support – even from strangers.
"We’ve got to cheer on everyone, send out the good vibes," Siobhan Christmas said.
"Cheering on the community is what is important," Josh Frasure added.
Ali Griffin has run the race twice but said she has more fun cheering on others and helping them get through it.
"Everybody just seems happy and they are enjoying the day, whether they are on the sidelines ... or they are participating for their first time or their 10th time," Griffin said. "They’re just having a great time doing (it). It makes you love Jacksonville that much more."
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