What a great and humbling experience! Lemme tell you about it.
I couldn’t sleep last night. I tossed and turned until 4:08 AM came around, and I got up. I took my time getting ready and since I got up early, I fixed myself a coffee thinking I had time to “empty out.” Hehehe. I also ate a trail mix granola, practiced a bit of yoga, dressed up, and I was out the door. I had to drive my husband’s car so I was out of the house early and got familiar with the Challenger. Piece of cake.
Drove over to my neighbor, Kellie’s house to pick her up and we were on our way. Kellie’s also a great person for conversation and tips for running. She told me what she remembered from past River Runs and we joked, and then we hit traffic. GRR lesson one: get to the race bright and early. Wow. Gate River Run traffic + bad wreck = stop and go on 95-North. Kellie had convinced me the night before that we needed to leave early, and by this time I was so happy that I listened. We had left our neighborhood at 5:50 am, and finally pulled into our parking spot next to the starting line, at 6:30.
Remember that coffee that I had and that I never have any before my runs? GRR lesson two: Don’t drink coffee before the race when you’ve never done so before. I was nervous because this was my first GRR and the coffee only enhanced my water works problem! Thank goodness the port-a-potty was clean! I had to go again, right before the start but thank goodness the restrooms at my corral were REAL bathrooms, if you get my drift!
Kellie walked me over to my wave corral because hers was so easy to find. Mine, not so much and I was grateful. GRR lesson three: Make sure you know which corral you belong to and once you get there, establish an after-race meeting spot. There are 20,000 people in this race and it’s easy to get lost. Kellie and I decided to meet at the Bud Light truck. 🙂
I found my aunt and her friends in my wave, and we all agreed that it was okay if we separated. The one lesson I took from Princess is that you have to run your OWN race. Focus on your body, your form and your pace. Don’t deviate from your training and your legs will thank you for it!
The Gate River Run is the largest 15K in the USA, and it winds through downtown Jacksonville, FL, over the Main Street Bridge (the blue one), through San Marco and St. Nicholas, and onto Atlantic Boulevard where you tackle the “Green Monster,” the Hart Bridge. I was surprised how soon you get to the first bridge, and when I got there at Mile 1, the race got real. I sneaked a look as I ran on the Main Street and I saw see right past the grating down to the St. Johns River. Holy cow, we were high up. GRR lesson four: Be careful of the grating on the Main Street Bridge, especially if you run with trail shoes or you have small feet like me. You can easily get caught and trip. Try to place your feet as flat as possible when you run here.
This race is NOT flat. GRR lesson five: Focus on running inclines and declines. I found this great video from Runners World that helped me loads today.
Once I got past the Main Street Bridge, I ran through San Marco passing the cool and hip businesses. They were handing out cups of champagne and cheering us on. Lines of spectators were also there and it never ended! At Mile 4, I grabbed my gel shot and consumed it. Drank plenty of water afterwards to wash it down. After about a mile, I passed my sister’s high school, Bishop Kenny, and my brother-in-law’s elementary school, Assumption Catholic Schools. Their priests were sitting on a bench with a sign that said something like “God blesses the River Run.” And that’s when my left leg acted up and I called on God to help me. I asked for God to give me the strength to finish the race pain-free. “I can be tired, God, but please take away the pain,” I asked.
As I got into the neighborhoods of St. Nicholas, I had to take walking breaks to make the pain go away in my left leg. The residents of St. Nicholas knew how to welcome GRR runners. People were outside their houses with signs and smiles, and they were calling people’s names and cheering us on. Some residents were handing out beers, Jell-O shots, hotdogs, muffins, and other “real food.” I gave in and took a Jell-O shot. My leg was killing me. I was walking. I thought my mind needed a break. Finally, I had to pull off and to stretch my hamstring, and as I looked up, a young man saw me, passed me and smiled at me and signaled “c’mon, let’s go” and running beside him was his friend, a lady with a large cross on her shirt. She smiled at me, too, and my leg didn’t hurt anymore. I got up and started running. It was one of the most beautiful moments in my life. I thanked God. I passed “Orange Avenue” where the residents were handing out orange slices. It sure smelled good, but something told me to keep running and don’t stop.
I ran through the rest of the water stations, grabbing a sip and splashing the water on me. I wasn’t able to stop. I was determined to keep this gift from God. Before I knew it, I was on Atlantic Boulevard. I looked left and I glimpsed a look at the upcoming Green Monster. I was almost there. I looked to my right and passed Beach Road Chicken. Man, I wanted some.
I got to the exit ramp to the Hart Bridge and I was prepared for slants this race. It wasn’t as steep as Princess, but I kept my posture and watched the horizon and survived! GRR Lesson six: Watch out for the joints on the Hart Bridge. They are v-shaped and look like teeth, and they are the perfect distance apart to swallow your shoes! I ran up the incline for what seemed like forever. It was pretty steep, and at one point my pace dropped to a 16-minute mile BUT I WAS STILL RUNNING. The Green Monster doesn’t level out for very long. As soon as I got to the apex, the Bridge drops and I had to really focus to keep my posture and to watch out for the “teeth.” It was so steep, but it felt so good.
Down the exit ramp, I ran fully knowing that I only had 1.5 miles left. I could see the finish line and I could hear the crowd through my headphones. That medal is going to be mine, and I’m going to end this race RUNNING, I said to myself. And that’s what I did. My left leg wasn’t bothering me at all, and I was running normally. I waved to myself on the videowall (thanks to my co-workers), looked around for them and they looked busy, ran over the timing pad and I didn’t even look at my time. I was just so happy that I crossed the line RUNNING NORMALLY!
Then I got bumped. It was my Aunt Susan, and we crossed the line together! Hehehe! The two artists/runners in the family finished together! Auntie and I got some waters, then walked over to get our medals. She told me that this year’s GRR was more organized than last year’s (last year was her first GRR). We met up with uncle Scott, and auntie’s friends at their designated meeting spot, then walked over to the After Party to meet with Kellie and the rest of the gang that also ran the race.
The line to get is was LONG. The beer line was even LONGER. Everyone was on their cell phone and so text messages and phone calls were slow, but I got in contact with Kellie. I found my sister and she and I screamed for joy! Auntie, Charry, and I hugged each other for a while, but we had to kiss auntie and uncle bye-bye so they could hang with their friends.
We got in the long beer line. I was excited. Kellie missed the elite 10% hat, and I was feeling for her because it was pink this year. My sister was just seconds ahead of Kellie and she was one of the last to get one. And then, the pain hit… Remember that Jell-O shot I had in St. Nicholas? GRR Lesson seven: Don’t take a Jell-O shot from the nice man in St. Nicholas. Well, you can take it IF you didn’t eat a GEL SHOT, TOO. Take the hotdog instead. I excused myself from the beer line and hit the port-a-let, twice. Damn. This lesson was learned, hard. Oh well. My GRR After Party was now a really memorable one!
Kellie and I had a great time even after the tummy aches and missed hats. We both agreed that these things HAD to happen. Now we have something to aim for. Goals for next year have been established. Next year, we will register early and we will work our butts off for the highest seed possible. She will get that hat (hopefully it’s still pink) and I will run a sub-90!
Did you run the Gate River Run this year? How did you do? How did you feel afterwards? I look forward to hearing from you, and I wish you some happy running!