I want you to watch this video, courtesy of Spartan Race, before reading further. Pay close attention to the men in military gear.
Beaker. Pokey. A man in a dress. Thor. Spiderman. Captain America. A female Forest Gump. A team of mentally disabled children. A father pushing his disabled son in a wheel chair. Friends. Family. Church groups. Firemen. A half-dozen multicultural men and women dressed in Irish gear.
These are a sampling of what you might have seen if you were in downtown Jacksonville today for the 36th annual Gate River Run. According to the Florida Times Union the total number of runners for the 15k was 15,388 and they benefitted from a cool, sunny day with no wind. Beyond the visual entertainment and natural calm it was the first time my entire family participated. While Kerry and Sara traversed the course together, I had the benefit of running with my son Evan. The goal was to finish in under 90 minutes, a target which we just missed.
Historically my companionship has either been Brian Thompson, Philip Hughes or my iPod. This year the competitive nature normally driving training and participation was muted by the desire to see my son compete and experience the joy of Gate. His confidence turned to anxiety as we pulled into our parking space this morning. Having never gone further than 6 miles, and with the Hart Bridge looming, quite possibly the reality overwhelmed the bravado.
With my friend Brian unable to make the trip we leveraged his seeded race number and found an early home in the black corral. Being one of the first 5,000 means you are with those who run at your pace. The Easter Egg was the foresight of the race organizers – they staggered the seeded runners which meant we were near the front of the second seeded stage. Every year I struggle not running a sub 8:00 first mile because we work hard to find a less crowded race pack. This year the road before us was wide open which meant Evan and I could focus on a consistent 9:30 pace.
Could we have run faster? Probably. But discretion demanded discipline as we had no idea how Evan would handle the Hart Bridge. Cresting what some call the “green monster”, passing a good number of participants, I realized our planning had rendered the bridge an afterthought. For me it was my most aggressive attack and for Evan a well-earned feeling of accomplishment.
The last few yards showed that youth was king and his kick was a bit better than mine making him the winning Fullford for 2013.
While I did not run with my daughter I could not have been more proud of her as well. Leaving her mother early on because she wanted to push herself a bit more, she fell victim to the seams separating the concrete slabs on the Hart. Coming just past mile marker 9 I saw tears welling in her eyes due to a sprained ankle that had all but ended her ability to run across the finish line. Finding a break in the security gate I helped her cross under the banner and take ownership of her Gate River Run medal.
Every year the Gate becomes more of a family event and less of a personal challenge of where my aging body is. My in-laws from Melbourne and Tampa Florida came up – local in-laws and nephews were also there – Neighbors were present along with old high school friends. Billed as the largest 15k in America, the race really is a community gala with the 15k, 5k and a 1 mile fun run for children. You can see all shapes and sizes on the course as well as a wide range of ages. For me there is something to be said about a fitness event that affords you great memories and an extended community.
I look forward to the Gate every year and I am grateful for my family and friends who make it so special. Running or walking, competitive or casual, you can find a local event wherever you live which can be just as life affirming.
If you have ever considered tackling a marathon the 26.2 With Donna is a great race for a worthy cause. Traversing Jacksonville’s beautiful shoreline and winding through a variety of neighborhoods lined with supportive folks sharing not only their support but also their bacon, Bloody Mary’s and an assortment of fruit, the physical pain and effort is easily overcome by the sense of community and purpose. OK, “easily” is a poor user of the language, especially if you are not a seasoned distance runner. You will hurt but when surrounded by those running in honor of loved ones they have lost or those presently fighting to survive, your pain is a little less relevant.
My first “Donna” was this past year and while my responsibility was the first leg of a relay team (I along with my friend Vicki Schoonmaker tackled the first 5 miles), hearing the stories told by those who had run it in the past of how beautiful the experience is, I had to continue beyond my task. Gutting out 15 miles, roughly 7 beyond what I had trained for, left me aching through a good portion of my lower extremities. Adding to the pain was the unseasonably cold Jacksonville day which never topped 36 degrees during the run. Having run a New Years Eve 5k in Vermont where the temperature was 8 degrees the cold was not a shock. The wind was another story, especially along the beach where the tranquility of crashing waves illuminated by a cloudless sky fought hard to mask numbing breeze.