Under a bright moon and a light breeze, about 600 runners gathered on the Midpoint Bridge for Tuesday's Midpoint Madness 5K.
As they waited for the starting gun, the elite runners felt confident they could dethrone the race's perennial favorite, John Biffar.
Better luck next year.
Biffar, 25, torched the field en route to winning his fifth consecutive Midpoint Madness race. The Cape Coral resident ran the 3.1-mile course in 15 minutes, 58.68 seconds - about 56 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor.
The fastest female, Fort Myers' Tiffany Chartier, crossed the finish line in 19:05.57.
The race, which has been held on Veterans Day for the past 12 years, holds special meaning to Biffar because his mother, Irene, was a pediatric nurse in the Navy.
"A lot of our veterans are forgotten," Biffar said. "This helps bring light to them because there's still people in Iraq. We're still fighting."
Kenneth L. Stafford, who served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, could only grin as he crossed the finish line. Stafford, 51, was wearing a white T-shirt of his group: the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C.
"When I came over the bridge (toward the finish line), people saw my shirt and said, 'Go 82nd, Go 82nd,' " Stafford said. "That gave me an extra boost."
Stafford, who took the day off from his job at a local Wal-Mart processing facility, said he always makes sure to run in the Midpoint Madness race. He said he was a drill sergeant for six years and a paratrooper for 14.
He said his division was sent to Haiti, Somalia and Panama.
"This race kind of brings the community together to understand what veterans do for this country," Stafford said. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, it's veterans asking for benefits.' But they have to understand that there are things I saw that I can't forget. My best friend got run over by a tank. I'll never forget that."
Like many others, Stafford said running over the Midpoint Bridge was taxing. The bridge was closed to traffic for two hours for the race. Portions of nearby Colonial Boulevard and Veterans Parkway were also shut down.
Biffar, however, had no problem with the bridge. He does most of his training at Estero Community Park, which features a hill.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, my gosh. I've got to run the bridge, what am I going to do?' " Biffar said. "I don't think about it that way. I just think about running a mile at a time, whether I'm on a flat surface or on a bridge."
Chartier, a physical education teacher at Oak Hammock Middle School, said the bridge was challenging even though she won the female division.
"The bridge and the wind weren't fun," said Chartier, who won the female division at two other local races: Cops and Joggers and Susan G. Komen. "I wanted to go under 19 (minutes). I didn't have a lot of kick in me."
Phyllis McCormick, 65, had a strong finishing kick. The Cape Coral resident, who walked Tuesday's race, pumped her arms in the air as she crossed the finish line.
"I'm a walker, so I usually shy away from run races, but this was fun," said McCormick, who represented Southwest Florida's chapter of Team in Training - an organization that raises funds for blood cancer research. "I loved the bridge. I used to train on the Edison Bridge but this was better."
MEN: 1. John Biffar (Cape) 15:58.68; 2. Patrick Ryan (FM) 16:54.50; 3. Jon Williams (Coconut Grove) 17:33.69; 4. Perry Small (Cape) 17:37.97; 5. Rob Strong (FM) 17:49.55; 6. Andy Beile (unknown) 17:58.20; 7. Tyler Stowall (North) 18:00.37; 8. Jeffrey Tait (North Miami Beach) 18:04.55; 9. Robert Scarpantonio (North) 18:27.53; 10. Oscar Corredor (FM) 18:31.32
WOMEN: 1. Tiffany Chartier (FM) 19:05.57; 2. Sarah Candiano (Cape) 20:35.11; 3. Anne Burdine (Cape) 20:47.69; 4. Karen Miles (FM) 21:08.01; 5. Lisa Buohler (Lehigh) 21:14.90; 6. Megan Crorey (Cape) 21:33.63; 7. Lisa Moss (FM) 21:37.87; 8. Armandina Broomwell (Cape) 21:40.13; 9. Melissa Ippolito (Estero) 22:36.96; 10. Stacey Persinger (FM) 22:44.62