The Gate River Run

On March 11th, people will line up in Jacksonville, Florida for the 40th running of the Gate River Run.

40 YEARS!

40 years of continuous commitment to this being a race that draws the best runners in the USA.

40 years of leadership by Richard Fannin and his family.

We asked Richard, the Elite Athlete Coordinator, as well as Amy Begley, Neely Gracey, Tara Welling, Esther Atkins, Kaitlin Goodman, Todd Williams, and Meb Keflezighi to talk to us about the event.

Richard Fannin on how the race got started

“My Dad founded the race in 1977. It was a boom period for launching great road race events with Gasparilla and Bloomsday and others starting around then. It was a priority from the beginning to make a truly elite level race. Bill Rodgers and Kim Merritt won the inaugural event. I was 10 years old at the time. This race is in my blood! I’ve been involved as a runner or Elite Athlete Coordinator from the beginning. Doug Alred has been the Race Director for the past 32 years.”

Fun Fact: Richard still holds the record for the fastest time ever on the course….for a 12-year-old.

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Left to right: Benji Durden, Bill Rodgers, Barry Brown, Chris Stewart, Jerome Dayton, Ken Misner Last year’s lead group at same spot on the course as 1st year photo
Richard on how Prize Money worked back in the “Amateur” days

“Well….we paid some money under the table. For example, my Dad secretly slipped $1000 to Bill Rodgers in a bathroom stall that first year of the race.”

Richard on the course records

“Deena Kastor won the race six times (!) and set an American Record for 15K in 2003. Shalane broke that record in the 2014 race and her 47 minute flat time is still the best ever for an American.

Todd Williams won the race 5 times and ran a remarkable time of 42:22 in 1995. Todd’s time has stood as the American record for 22 years! Will it get broken this year?”

Richard on the “legendary final mile of Ben True”

“In the 2014 race Ben True and Chris Derrick were locked in an epic battle over the last mile, which is downhill. I had marked the one-mile-to-go spot on the road and from the lead vehicle I hand timed Ben in 3:59 as he pulled away for the win. This led to a hot debate on the LetsRun message board about whether Ben had really closed that fast. We decided that, from then on, the race would have a timing mat at the mile-to-go spot so every runner could see what their final mile split is. For the record no one has finished faster than 4:08 since the timing mat has been in place.”

Amy Begley recalls her 2009 win

“I wanted to run the Gate River race but my coach didn’t really want me to.  However, I was training with Kara Goucher and we had a great 10 mile tempo.  This convinced my coach that I was fit and should go race.  It really was a last minute decision.  My coach loved to design my race plans to work on certain aspects of training, so he decided that for this race, I should not lead but could make a move with 400 meters to go.  He said he would be watching the feed and if I didn’t do as he said he wouldn’t coach me anymore! That was his favorite phrase for me because I was a very stubborn athlete. So I sat with the leaders and waited until the top of the bridge…..and won.

I remember that my flight home was canceled and I got to spend an extra night in Jacksonville. I sat in a hammock by the pool the rest of the day.  I loved my experience with Gate River Run and it added to the magical year that was 2009 for me.”

Tara Welling on winning both the women’s race and the “equalizer challenge” last year

“Gate River Run is a fantastic Championship race and Richard Fannin goes above and beyond to assemble top fields on both the men’s and women’s side. The equalizer last year was probably one of the closest in history and it made for an exciting race the last 200 meters with fans screaming and cheering. An equalizer is very difficult to achieve because if it comes down to the last 400 or 200 meters the female has to be slightly ahead, as a male can typically close faster. Last year, my main goal was to win and I never thought about the equalizer until I had 400 meters to go and the guys had not caught me. At that point, I looked back and saw Stanley, Shadrack and I think Chelanga all hunting me down. With 200 meters to go I still had a about a 3 second lead and was running scared! Luckily, I was able to hold off Stanley, but it made for a very close race, which is very exciting after 15km of racing.

Best of luck to everyone competing this year, enjoy the course and atmosphere. Jacksonville puts on a great event and I look forward to returning in the future.”

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More praise from Esther Atkins (who ran in 2012) about the elite athlete experience

“The Gate River 15k Championships have become the place where the track world and road world meet. Richard has done such an incredible job of seeking out every good runner in the country and making everyone feel invited, included, and welcome. The distance training lifestyle can be very isolating at times, but events like Gate River allow us to all come together as like minds and share not just a race, but an experience together. I treasure every race that prioritizes the experience as high as the race itself, and as a result, the 15k is almost always the deepest American field on the roads outside of the Olympic Marathon Trials. Richard has done a fantastic job of showing the rest of the world what can be done when you invest in the all of the athletes’ collective experience in addition to the race itself.”

Gate River veterans Neely Gracey (2015) and Kaitlin Goodman (2012, 2014, 2015) anticipate the infamous “Green Monster” and “Downhill final mile”

Neely – “I remember the green monster well, but it’s the downhill last mile that hurts the most. I’ve designed my workouts to help me prep for the course… it’s nice having run Gate River before so I know what to expect. “

Kaitlin – “In years past, the Green Monster has gotten the best of me. But I’ve spent all winter climbing the hills of Providence (they don’t call it “College Hill” for nothing!), so hopefully 2017 is the year I conquer the Green Monster!”

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Todd Williams on his numerous experiences lining up for the event

“The memories I have for the Gate River Run are many (94 – 1st, 95 – 1st, 96 – 1st, 97 – dropped out, 98 – 1st, 99 – 1st (BEAT MEB 🙂 ), 2001 – 3rd) ….of course the one that sticks out is the 42:22 in 1995. The conditions were perfect and I was at the top of my game. I’ll never forget the feeling of breaking an American Record and coming within 10 seconds of world record at the time. I think even more than that though was all the great friends that I met through the race. Jacksonville and the River Run will always be one of the best experiences I ever had as a runner and I tell anyone they need to experience once in their career. Best of luck to all that compete in the 40th!”

Todd during his record run in 1995. Photo: Florida Times-Union/Don Burk

Todd Williams during his first Gate River Run in 1994. Photo: Florida Times-Union/Don Burk

Meb Keflezighi particularly remembers his first Gate River Run experience – the only time he lost!

“I really wanted to take a shot at beating Todd Williams in 1999. Todd was already a four time winner, so I knew it would be a big challenge. We contacted Doug Alred the Race Director seeking some assistance with the cost of the plane ticket to get there. The truth is that it required some begging on our part but Doug eventually relented.

I hadn’t ever run the course before but my training partner told me that if I was in the lead at the bridge I’d win. I executed that plan perfectly and took the lead before we got to the bridge….BUT….Todd ran me down and beat me to the finish line. It was Todd’s 5th win and he was just better than me that day.

Needless to say I never had to beg to get funding support to come to the race again and thoroughly enjoyed the race (and victories) in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 & 2007. The 2007 race was particularly satisfying when I beat a very fit Ryan Hall who was coming off his amazing half marathon record at Houston.

I am forever grateful to Doug Alred and Richard Fannin for their exemplary support to me and to all of the elite field every year.”

Richard on this year’s race

“Not only is this the 40th anniversary race it also the 22nd consecutive year that Gate River has served as a USA National Championship event.

We may actually have our strongest elite fields ever.

On the women’s side we have Jordan Hasay, Kim Conley, Emily Infeld, Aliphine Tuliamuk, Laura Thweatt, Neely Gracey, Liz Costello, Esther Atkins and Kaitlin Goodman. (Additional AthleteBiz athletes include Samantha Bluske, Meghan Peyton and Sam Rivard)

On the men’s side an assault on the American Record is planned. Up front will be defending champ Stanley Kebenei, Shadrack Kipchirchir, Luke Puskedra, Sam Chelanga, Christo Landry, Hillary Bor, Paul Chelimo, Leonard Korir, Ryan Vail, Sean Quigley & more. (Additional AthleteBiz athletes include Donnie Cowart, Robert Molke, Jonathan Peterson and Abbabiya Simbassa).“

It should be a good one.

Here’s to 40 more years!

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Fun Personal Fact: This year is also the 40th wedding anniversary for AthleteBiz founder Jack Wickens and his wife Judy.

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