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Big COVID-19 safety protocols coming to the annual Gate River Run

People will have to wear masks at all times except when running, a virtual option is available, and no post-run activities will be held.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The annual Gate River Run is the largest 15K in the nation, but the tradition is changing due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I’m picking up my race packet for the 15k," Rebecca Arnold said Wednesday afternoon.

Running enthusiast Rebecca Arnold can't wait for the race this coming Saturday. 

“It’s my fifth year running it," Arnold said. "I was never a runner until I started into fitness. My son was 10 months old when I started working out.”

This year's expo looked much different for Arnold and more than 8,000 other runners with masks required at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds. 

“Every two hours, it’s limited to 1,000 people that can come to the expo," Doug Alred said. 

Race director Doug Alred says the expo is three days instead of the usual two days, and changes are coming to race day.

“We cut the field in half. We only allowed 8,000 people to sign up for the 15k, which is normally about 16,000," Alred said. "We have two starts, so now we only have 4,000 people starting from each line. Then on each line, we divide 4,000 people into four different groups of 1,000.”

Other changes include requiring masks at all times except when running, no post-race activities, and a virtual option. 

“I work for Baptist as well, so anything we can do to minimize any kind of spread is good. I think it’s good for the community to bring back the race," runner Stacey Wright said. 

Runners are preparing to bring their masks and to hit the ground running with a different look to this year's event.