a crowd of people walking across a bridge next to the ocean
Spectators line the Old Seven Mile Bridge to watch the finish line of the 7 Mile Bridge Run on Saturday. ANDY NEWMAN/Florida Keys News Bureau

Last Friday night, 1,500 runners headed to bed praying for a northern shift in the winds forecast for the following morning.

Instead, harriers in the 43rd annual 7 Mile Bridge Run put forth a grueling effort as they battled 20-plus-mph headwinds to “Beat the Bus” in one of the most challenging races in recent memory.

Leading the pack were familiar faces, as 28-year-old Pennsylvania native Collin Wainwright broke the tape in 40 minutes, 33 seconds to claim his third bridge run win in four years. Marathon High distance phenom Vance Bursa, the only runner to best Wainwright on the bridge since 2019, crossed the line a mere four seconds later. Twenty-nine-year-old Christian Vazquez rounded out the overall medal podium, crossing in 41:13.

Dallas native Joanna Stevens was first across the line for the ladies in 43 minutes, 13 seconds, but Keys locals formed the rest of the top three, with Tavernier’s Anne Denotter finishing in 43:52 and Key Largo’s Holly Smith finishing third in 44:43.

“That wind was pretty intense. It’s probably the strongest wind that I’ve ever ran into,” Wainwright told the Weekly. “In the first half mile, the lead group had already whittled down to about five of us, and it was pretty much me and Vance for the last three miles.”

The race’s top finisher had nothing but praise for his competition, saying he keeps in touch sporadically with other top-ranking runners who return to the bridge each year. Currently in training for an Ironman, he said a powerlifting regimen incorporated into his routine was advantageous in the face of the high winds, although finishing times across the board were slower than in 2023.

“I think overall the conditions benefited me, because typically by mile four or five I’m starting to believe I might have a heat stroke,” he laughed. “This year, not once can I say I even felt hot, so the main focus was just running through the wind.”


Along with an army of volunteers and local law enforcement partners that make the bridge run a reality every year, finishers will tell you that one of the best parts of the race is the camaraderie of local runners celebrating the annual accomplishment together. This year, the Keys Weekly is proud to spotlight Keys residents who finished the race, from the front of the pack to the back.

Photos by BARRY GAUKEL/Keys Weekly.

Alex Rickert
Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.