The Cooper River Bridge Run is Charleston’s largest race, South Carolina’s largest race, and one of the largest 10Ks in the United States. While it’s a competitive event that draws international runners, elites, and people from all over the country, it’s also a bucket list item for many in South Carolina.
The Bridge Run is the only organized running event that many locals partake in each year, as it attracts up to 40,000 people, most of whom register to have fun and run without a time goal.
Long before I started running and moved here, I knew the Cooper River Bridge Run was *the* Charleston race, and the bridge itself represents Charleston running. After I’d lived here a week (in 2012), someone asked me if I’d run on the bridge yet. I hadn’t even drove over it at that time.
This was my first Bridge Run, even though I run the bridge’s pedestrian path a few times a month for my own training- after all, it’s the only real hill in Charleston. The course takes runners and walkers from Mt. Pleasant into Downtown Charleston, over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
I always heard stories about how the Cooper River Bridge Run is crowded and a logistical nightmare, but this year, I received a bib number for the competitive corral, which means a projected 45 minute or faster finish. Speedsters can also apply for the seeded corral, which is a projected finish under 40 minutes, and both of these require proof from a previous race result. I submitted my 5K PR in December, received confirmation, and registered ($45 at the time).
My Bridge Run started at the race expo and packet pick up at the North Charleston Convention Center. I’ve only been to a handful of race expos, but if you like race expos, this is one to check out. You don’t have to run the race to go to the expo, and if you’re local , you can pick up your packet in the weeks before the race from the Bridge Run’s store on Shelmore Boulevard in Mt. Pleasant. I met up with friends at the expo.
I was excited to get my bag and race number. I got a shirt (cotton, white, men’s cut), a hand/gym towel, and a lot of free samples.
On Friday, I enjoyed a nice dinner at Parson Jack’s Café, one of my favorite local restaurants, with a group of friends from Fitness World Run Club. That’s the run club I was a part of when I lived in Florence (Fitness World Gyms is there and hosts the club), so it was fun hanging out with old friends and meeting people who started running with the group since I left Florence.
Saturday morning, I left the house at 5:15 to drive to Mt. Pleasant to park at the start (the race started at 8 AM). Hearing about the crowds, I wanted an early start, but when I got there, I realized I could have slept in a little more.
My friend Cindy invited me to park at her workplace, which is at the end of the last corrals. A big group of us drank coffee, ate breakfast, stretched, and watched the Bridge Run TV coverage in the board room at Cindy’s company. It was a great way to relax before such a big race. At around 7:15, I grabbed my gear bag and jogged to my corral.
The Bridge Run offered two gear checks, one at the back of the corrals and one at the start line, and the gear check was the only issue I had at the race. I jogged to my corral to put my gear in the bag check near the start only to learn it filled up at 7 AM. I had to jog back to the end of the corrals, drop my gear off, go to the potty, and get back to my corral before the start. I made it with about 3 minutes to spare and am thankful for those nice people in Corral B who let me ahead of them in the potty line.
Since the race course had bands and tons of people, I ran without music/ipod. The spectators were great, but most bands were warming up when I was running, which makes sense because they want to play for the people in the general corrals. That’s when more people are on the course/bridge itself, and with all the corrals and walkers, the event itself takes over three hours. I heard Taylor Hicks from American Idol was the featured performer, but I’m not sure where he was on the course.
I started out a bit fast but controlled, but my pace slowed on the bridge due to a headwind and the obvious uphill. I didn’t pay much attention to the clocks at each mile marker, but once I reached the top of the bridge, I knew it was all downhill (literally) and flat from that point. My favorite musical act was the reggae band at the base of the bridge (Mile 4) before we ran down King Street, where most of the spectators were.
Since I raced without an ipod, I heard some spectators and friends cheering for me personally, and my friend from the Sunday OnShore group runs, Larry, took this awesome picture. It shows how Tiny Terror-esque I am compared to guys.
Seeing the Mile 6 clock, I realized this race would be a PR unless I slowed considerably. I stayed strong, circled the city block to finish on Meeting Street, and ran through the chute.
When I saw a finish time starting with a 45, I realized that final soul-crushing, pain train, bridge repeat from last Tuesday’s practice was well worth it.
I got some refreshments (watermelon!) and congratulated my friends on their finishes. Many of us started together in the competitive corral and finished within minutes or seconds of each other. Even though we all run distances longer than 10Ks frequently and race often, finishing it in that atmosphere was special- we were all hugging and high-fiving and celebrating.
After the race, I got my gear from the gear check, put on my sweats, and walked around the finish festival- which had multiple vendors, free food, and of course, tons of fun runners. I got to see the fun costumed runners, a lot of friends, and the awards ceremony. Several of my friends won awards or placed, including Rives winning the award for fastest local female, but the spectators and the whole finish line atmosphere really celebrated every runner and walker of all abilities for “getting over it” on the bridge.
In recent years, many local runners have opted not to participate due to logistics and because you can run the pedestrian path for free at any time. When the Bridge Run was founded, the run was on an older bridge that did not have a pedestrian/bike path, so the Bridge Run was the only time you could safely run on the bridge. Plus, runners have more race options in 2015 than they did in the 90s and even the past few years, so many local runners opt to spend their race budgets elsewhere.
The Bridge Run staff and volunteers did a great job with crowd control, and the corrals, finish, and race itself never felt crowded to me- granted I started toward the front and read where the participant numbers were way down (27,000). The price increased $10 from last year, and it was Spring Break in Charleston County Schools, which also kept a lot of people from running.
So, what was my final verdict as a first-time Bridge Runner? I think it’s a great race to do at least once- just to experience the big race atmosphere, the people, costumes, and bands. I’d run the race again; however, I wouldn’t sweat missing it if my schedule doesn’t allow me to run it next year. All in all, I’m proud of my new PR and completing my first official Bridge Run!