Maybe it’s the view.
The Ringling Causeway rises and curves as it leaves downtown, treating runners to a series of panoramic scenes on Sarasota Bay.
“The top of the bridge at sunrise — I always stop when I do that, just to take it all in,” says Tom Flanagan of the Manasota Track Club. “It’s definitely a destination run.”
Maybe it’s the timing.
The Ringling Bridge Run comes in the middle of January, just in time for the New Year’s resolutions of walkers, joggers and racers.
“We market over the holidays,” says Molly Jackson of New Balance Sarasota, “as the gift to give people interested in good health.”
Maybe it’s the mood.
The Bridge Run, sponsored by the Sarasota Family YMCA, offers face painting and bounce houses to draw the children and school groups that help make it the most popular race in Sarasota County.
“To grow this race,” Jackson says, “we had to cater to families.”
Summer to winter
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Ringling race, which started off as a celebration for the opening of the bay bridge.
Jackson, who started her New Balance store the same year, saw the potential right away.
“I could see in the photos how picturesque it would be,” she says. “The barriers are nice and high, so runners feel safe. And you can run on either side.”
In the beginning, the Bridge Run was a summer 5K. After a few years, Jackson and other organizers moved the race to winter and lengthened it to 4 miles, so there would be a more logical turning point after the soaring causeway.
The race begins and ends at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
More than 2,600 runners are expected to enter the Bridge Run this weekend. This includes groups, clubs and schools such as Brentwood Elementary, which often brings more than 100 students, teachers and parents in matching red T-shirts.
Lots of local runners train on the bay bridge, which is jokingly called “Mount Ringling.” In a land without hills, it offers a place to run up and down.
“We do what’s called bridge repeats,” Flanagan says. “You can do two or three or four trips across the bridge and get a half-hour workout.”
For the Bridge Run, lots of people will be making their first run up and over the causeway. The 4-mile race is also longer than the 5K distance of most local races.
Jackson shrugs. Most runners aren’t obsessed with running a certain time under certain conditions.
“Maybe 100 or 150 people are racing competitively,” she says. “The rest are there to brave the bridge and enjoy the beautiful scenery.”