Buck Fannin fell in love with long distance running long before all of the running hoopla.
Pre-River Run: Jacksonville, 1977. Buck met runners on the streets and soon joined the newly formed Jacksonville Club. The club was interested in having a downtown race associated with the Gator Bowl game, but the club could not get the Gator Bowl Committee interested. With the help of Times-Union sports reporter, Chris Hosford, the club’s officers sat down with J.J. Daniel, Editor of the Times-Union, and other newspaper executives; all agreed on the idea of a major downtown race, much like Atlanta’s Peachtree Classic. Fannin was appointed the race director.
“We were starting with a clean slate and so we set about dreaming of what was possible. The NYC Marathon emerged in my mind as an ideal model for our race, which we called ‘River Run 15000,’” recalls Fannin. It was to be 15,000 meters.
A full-page color ad with a cut-out registration form in Runners’ World Magazine yielded a flooded post office box five days later and soon Fannin’s overflowing dining room table where Ginger, his wife, put the entries into a computer.
“We had about 2,500 to 2,600 entries, and we knew a lot of the runners signing up,” recalls Fannin.
For Buck’s son, Richard, who was nine when the race was being put together during 1977, his excitement and memories remain part of his adrenalin for each race since. Richard carries on the family’s identity with the event, handling invitations and arrangements for the championship runners.
Over the years, the race has grown in stature and commands a grand presence in the road-racing world.
For many of those early runners in April 1978, it continues to be an annual spring break ritual.