I would have to say that this is Jacksonville's premier race. Hosting more than 20,000 between the USA Championship 15K, the 5K, the Junior River Run mile and the Brooks Rehabilitation Mile, this is a huge race, and definitely one for the bucket list.
2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the event, and my 4th attempt at it. As always, it's one of my favorite races of the year.
The registration fee provides a customized bib (up to a certain date), a gender-specific t-shirt, logo string bag and a logo pint glass. The swag bags are also usually full of coupons, samples and other goodies. The medals have been absolutely gorgeous since I started running the event, and this year was no exception.
There are official water stations at almost every mile on the course, which is nice considering that this race has a late (8:30 AM) start, and is generally hot. There are also two first aid/med tents on the course, as well. Plenty of portapotties are stationed throughout the course, as well.
This is, perhaps, one of the best courses I have ever run. The race starts between Metropolitan Park and Everbank Stadium, and travels down the streets of the city until the runners cross over the Main Street Bridge and into San Marco and Riverside. From there, they weave through some beautiful little retail and residential areas, until popping out on Atlantic (the worst part of the whole thing), and beginning the climb to the top of the Hart Bridge (the Green Monster). The view of the river and the city is phenomenal, and then it's a straight downhill shot to the finish line in the parking lot of the stadium.
In addition, support is on point. There are tons of spectators, cheering on the runners, for almost the entire 9.3 miles. The spectators also spray water hoses, hand out water, mimosas, beer and bloody mary's, ring cow bells, and pass out orange slices, bananas, popsicles, donuts and other treats. It's like a giant running tailgate and it's amazing. Several bands play along the course, as well.
The GRR expo is perhaps the best one in Jax. It's huge with tons of booths, vendors and giveaways. First Place Sports has a huge installation with tons of shoes and merchandise on sale. It's pretty easy to spend a few hours there, checking out the deals and offers.
While 9.3 miles isn't a particularly tough distance, the addition of two bridges (at mile 1 and mile 8) presents a challenge. The Main Street Bridge isn't too high or steep, but it is slippery and treacherous with its grated surface (and looking down and seeing water can mess with those who are afraid of heights). The Green Monster is another story. It's high, steep, and can be quite windy. It's always quite humbling.
If you arrive early, there are no issues with parking. Runner have access to the lots at Everbank Field, the Fairgrounds, the baseball stadium, and everything else in the area. Problems arise for those that don't want to get there in advance - then spots become more limited and traffic restricts access into the area. There are also several groups that offer reserved parking passes for a fee or sponsorship, which allows access to some of the private lots in the area.
For such a massive event, I am always incredibly impressed with how smoothly it runs. From the seeding and starting of the corrals and waves, to the finisher's chute and the afterparty, it's always so well done. Plenty of beer, refreshments and live music post-race. The after-party is almost as much fun as the race itself.