The Cow Key Channel Bridge, stretching about 300 feet between Key West and neighboring Stock Island, is among the shortest of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway’s 42 bridges. It’s also the site of a wacky event believed to be the world’s only “zero k” bridge run.
Designed for people who want to compete in an “athletic” challenge without any actual athletic exertion, the event is scheduled for Sunday, April 2. (Yes, that’s just after April Fool’s Day — which is probably not a coincidence.)
“There’s a lot of people who want to cross a bridge and want to get a T-shirt, but don’t want to break a sweat or wake up before noon, so the Cow Key Channel Bridge Run is perfect for them,” explained race co-producer David Sloan, who insists the idea for it was born after he and a buddy attempted to run a 5k with hangovers.
The short distance and noontime start apparently make the run very attractive to “athletes.” About 1,400 people turned up for the 2016 event — many wearing cow or bull costumes inspired by the name of the bridge.
According to David, participants are encouraged to move at their own pace and clock their own times as they travel the “challenging” distance. Some bring their dogs or other domestic animals, though actual cows aren’t allowed.
Five separate heats are staged, including those for relay teams and competitors with pets.
“We also have one for people trying to go the slowest across the bridge while keeping forward momentum,” David advised. “People can win for the best costume, for the fastest across the bridge — for each different heat, there’s different winners.”
In the 2016 race, Key West’s Blake Steinke blazed across the 300-foot course ahead of all rivals, earning a coveted “Golden Calf” award. Other notable entrants in 2016 wore bovine accessories and bright-colored tutus, and one “herd” carried signs reading, “Give Cheese a Chance.” Even dogs sported black-and-white cow costumes (though clearly not by choice).
Competitors in the 2017 race should gather beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday in the “costumed cow corral” at the entrance to Key West — for “grazing,” final registration, race packet pickup and costume judging.
“The great thing about the Cow Key Channel Bridge Run is that it’s very much a family event,” enthused David. “We have people of all ages, people who aren’t normally going to run in a marathon, people who bring their kids.”
The opening ceremony is scheduled for 11:45 a.m., followed at noon by the ringing of cowbells (what else?) to start the stampede across the bridge. Competitors race on the Overseas Heritage Trail beside the roadway to avoid car traffic.
“It’s a pretty grueling bridge crossing — 300 feet — so as a safety precaution, we set up a hydration station right in the middle of the bridge,” David said, trying and failing to be serious. “We have the team from a local bar who makes sure everybody gets hydrated so they can make the next 150 feet.”
A post-race party is planned at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. Live music, food trucks and libations will re-energize any exhausted runners — and glittering “Golden Calf” awards will be presented to all the winners.
“You know, a lot of people say we’re ‘milking it’ with the Cow Key Channel Bridge Run,” David quipped, “but it’s ‘udderly’ awesome.”