Traveling Saturday morning? Make plans to avoid the Seven Mile Bridge early in the morning.
That's when the 35th annual running of the Seven Mile Bridge Run is scheduled, and the bridge will be closed from 6:45 to 9 a.m. -- no exceptions except for emergency vehicles. So if you need to be on Big Pine Key or south from points north, or perhaps need to get to a mainland airport from south of the Seven Mile Bridge, plan early travel.
The Marathon Runners Club event sells out every year. It's limited to 1,500 participants to ensure the bridge can reopen in a timely manner. The race is based at Knights Key.
Runners can expect comfortable conditions, says Bill Cottrill, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Key West.
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"It's likely going to be a crosswind with 15 knots out of the north," he said, "upper 60s. It'll be dry, too. That's why it's going to drop down to the 60s."
At 7:20 a.m., the wheelchair racers start at Knights Key. Runners go off at 7:30. Finishers will be picked up at Veterans Park at mile marker 40 and brought back for the awards ceremony. Those who don't finish will be picked up on the bridge and brought back to Knights Key.
For the 6.8-mile run, nearly 500 of the runners are from the Keys, organizer Ginger Sayer said. She opened early registration for Keys runners only.
The race attracted runners from 35 states and eight countries including Ireland, Sweden, Great Britain, Finland and Switzerland.
"Our youngest registered runner is Cullen Koleman, 6, from Marathon," Sayer said. "Our oldest is Jim Lynch, 85, from Boca Raton."
Sayer doesn't know how much money was raised yet this year. Last year, organizers gave away more than $81,000 to youth programs in the Middle Keys, including nearly $52,000 to the athletic department at Marathon High School and $10,000 for Stanley Switlik Elementary School.
Ten race entries were auctioned on www.ebay.com Feb. 11, raising about $10,000. Regular entry fee was $65.
Pre-race packet pickup for runners is Friday from 6 to 9 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Express, 13201 Overseas Highway. Packets can also be picked up starting at 6 p.m. race day at the caboose on Knights Key.
Runners will have no problem with recovering as organizers will have 10 cases of oranges, 800 gallons of water and 12 cases of bananas. There will also be more than 1,500 individual water bottles.
The top returning male runners are Josh Peterson of Boca Raton, John Reback of Jupiter and Michael Stone, also of Boca Raton. The top returning female runners are Laura DiBella of Jacksonville and Helena Bursa of Big Pine Key.