Entering its 34th year, the Seven Mile Bridge Run is going as strong as ever.
The run, one of largest in the Keys, closes the bridge Saturday from 6:45 to 9 a.m. For those who need to travel to the Lower Keys from the Middle and Upper Keys, or those traveling to the Middle Keys and points north from the Lower Keys, it means getting on the bridge by 6:30 a.m. -- there will no exceptions to allowing motorists on the bridge once it closes.
After it reopens, it might take up to an hour for traffic to resume regular flow.
Online race registration opened Feb. 12 for Florida Keys residents only, with about 600 signing up. General registration was five days later and the 1,500 slots sold out in less than 10 minutes, said organizer Ginger Sayer.
For those who didn't get in, there was a later chance to do so though it cost far more than the original $55 register fee. That was through an eBay auction of 10 spots, which has been done for four years
Sayer said the online entries raised more than $3,000 this year, with one ticket netting $500.
"We thought this might be the best way to do it because it's open to people from all over who might otherwise not be able to get in," Sayer said. "This gives people a second chance."
One of those people given a second chance is North Palm Beach resident Catherine Billings-Ouellette, who wrote on the race's Facebook page, "Got in by winning one of the positions on the auction site this morning! I am so delighted!"
Runners from as far as Alaska and Europe are running the race. They include one from Slovakia and racers from 36 U.S. states.
Runners looking to break into the top tiers at the finish line face tough competition this year, as the top three male and top three female runners from last year are returning.
More than 700 volunteers are involved and runners will have access to more than 800 gallons of water, 12 cases of bananas and about 1,600 oranges. Michelob Ultra beer will be served. "We have enough. We won't run out," Sayer said.
More than just a chance for people to run the Seven Mile Bridge, the race raises money for local nonprofits. Last year, $62,875 was last year for distribution to the community. The Marathon High School Athletic Department received the lion's share, $14,000. Twelve high school teams received $2,250 each and the football team got $4,000.
The run started in 1982 as a way to celebrate the opening of the new Seven Mile Bridge. It has been cancelled just once, due to lightning.
Go to KeysNet.com to read more.