Runners expo serves as a one-stop-shop ahead of race day

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Runners from all over the world are gearing up for one of Jacksonville's premier athletic events.

On Saturday morning, more than 20,000 people are expected to participate in the 37th annual GATE River Run.

"I think it [the turn out] is going to be our second best year ever," said race director Doug Alred with 1st Place Sports.

Alred is feeling encouraged this year to see participation in the race growing after he said numbers dropped off in 2013.

He attributed the re-growth to a combination of runners who want to live healthier lives and folks who just want to have fun.

"I don't know the percentage, but it would be interesting to see how many people do this just for a dare," Alred joked.

The 9.3 mile race is the largest 15K in America and serves as a national competition that regularly attracts Olympic athletes.

Runners will begin on Gator Bowl Boulevard next to First Coast News and finish at EverBank Field. In between, they will go over the Main Street and Hart Bridges and weave through parts of the San Marco and St. Nicholas neighborhoods.

Alred said construction at the football stadium forced organizers to come up with a new finish line this year.

Before, runners came off the Hart Bridge Expressway and finished on Duval Street. Now, they will hang a left off Duval St. before running along the east side of the stadium and finishing in parking lot D.

Alred equated the difference in distance to about two city blocks and said some runners could be thrown for a loop if they are not prepared.

Runners gear up for 2014 GATE River Run First Coast News

"Yeah, that can be an issue. You do not want to go into that [final] sprint too soon. Wait until you get passed the nine mile marker. You can still see the nine mile marker," he said.

To make up for the extra length, Alred said part of the course will be shorter through the downtown area. Runners will now go left onto Adams Street from Newnan instead of turning from Newnan onto Monroe.

Two-time defending champion and U.S. Olympic athlete Janet Cherobon-Bawcom does not appear phased by any the changes. She told FCN she has trained hard and will be okay even if she does not win a third time.

"I have done the work. Somebody else might be sharper than me. But, you know, I'll give it all I can and if it gives me first, it would be awesome. If not, it'll still be awesome because I've done the best," she said.

Bawcom joins a small, but competitive group of GATE runners known as "the elites." Another group eyeing the finish line carries a more comical name.

"The streakers" are a group of GATE runners who have competed in every single race since its inception in 1978.

Currently, there are 42 people remaining in this group. All but two of them are men and some live as far away as Colorado, but fly back year after year to compete.

Streaker Bill Longenecker said the group never set out to run every single GATE.

"You never thought about it when you started that day back in April 1978. It was in April back then. You didn't think about how many there were going to be after that," he said.

But as any streaker will tell you, the love of competition and running keep them coming back.

"We love running and we did lots of it in our younger years. We're die-hard runners and we're going to continue to do it. And, since we have the streak going, we have to get here. We have to do it," said streaker Carol Newby.

Patrick Gaughan is one of the last remaining streakers who puts a particular emphasis on their time. Most of the others admit their emphasis now is on finishing.

"I definitely care about what time I get. I'm the fastest streaker and still try to make it into the top 10 percent. So, it's important to me," he said.

Runners who still need to pick up their race materials can do so at the GATE River Run Expo at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds. It runs Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon.

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