On Saturday, I ran the James Island Connector Run, one of my favorite local races, for the third time. The race is in its 17th year, and the organizers consider the runners top priority- which is key to its success. The James Island Connector Run made every runner feel like a winner- whether they received a cash prize as a top finisher, an age group award, or a finisher’s medal.
Runners can choose from a 5K or 10K run, and cyclists can do a 10K bike ride- so there’s something for everyone. The 5K is point-to-point, and the 10K is out and back.
The James Island Connector Run is the most difficult road race in Charleston. Race day is the only time you can legally run the connector, but I’ve driven over it enough to know it’s a tough race. The 5K route includes 3 inclines, so if you run the 10K, you run over 6 inclines (we don’t have hills here- only bridges and connectors). The connector’s concrete surface is tough on the joints because it’s a large bridge, and the course includes a small portion of flat road/streets downtown.
On the other hand, the iconic Cooper River Bridge Run 10K features one incline and only 3 miles of bridge. Once you’re at the top of the Cooper River Bridge, the rest of the race is downhill. At the top of the first incline of the James Island Connector, you have at least 2 more inclines to run.
Sounds scary, but the view is worth it. At the finish, you are handsomely rewarded with bling!
After chugging my coffee, water, and eating my granola bar, I showed up at the Connector Run at 7:30 and parked two blocks away from the start and 10K finish at Cannon Park. Parking was free, plentiful, and convenient in the nearby MUSC lots and garages. I said hi to a couple of friends and before heading off on a 1 mile warm up to Colonial Lake and back. I got back, waited in the fast-moving potty line, and headed to the start just after I heard the National Anthem.
Once the Connector was closed and all volunteers were in place, the cyclists started, followed by the runners. Both the 5K and 10K start at the same time, and with no timing mat at the start, starting in the first few rows is important if you’re contending for an award.
After starting about 3 rows back, I tried to settle into a groove over the first quarter mile before we reached the Connector. I spotted some of my OnShore Sunday run crew, who I hoped to keep in my sight for most of the race. Since this is a difficult course and I did several speed workouts and strength training classes the week of the race, I wasn’t shooting for a PR, but wouldn’t complain if it happened.
The first two inclines and first two miles were not too bad. I silently thanked myself for begrudgingly running repeats on the Cooper River Bridge and hilly routes when I was vacationing in NC the weekend before. The inclines were hard, but I was prepared for them and my first two mile splits were close to my flat racing pace.
My friend Mariana was racing the 10K, and while we usually run together on Sunday, she knows how to race and is a bit faster than me- so I used her to pace.
My first two miles (6:58, 7:00), were on pace for just under 22 minutes, but approaching the third incline, I kind of fell apart. I made the mistake of looking up at the incline and trying to see the finish line. I couldn’t. Thinking back, I wish I’d kept my head down and not looked at the incline in mile 3 (7:25). From then on, I wished I had music or something to distract me. I could only hear my own breathing and was ready to depart the Pain Train.
When I finally saw the finish, it seemed much more than .1 away from the 10K turn!
I finished the race, logging 3.14 miles in 22:17. I ran a 22:17 in the Bohicket Marina 5K a few weeks ago, which was on a flat course and cooler day, so I haven’t gotten any more out of shape.
My time this year was 79 seconds faster than last year’s 5K, which had much worse conditions with wind and cold weather. It wasn’t a time PR, or the finish time I wanted, but it was a course PR- and I can live with that.
I collected my finisher’s medal, drank some water, and saw a few friends finish before running the other side of the Connector back to Charleston. The run back was at a much easier pace and more enjoyable because I was talking with friends- I enjoyed the scenery and looking over the Ashley River to see my beautiful city. I’m grateful to live and run in Charleston and for the community I’ve found here. It’s like no other.
After the run back, I cheered some 10K finishers in, then enjoyed the after party. The refreshments are typical race refreshments, but people said the hot dogs and beer were good (I don’t eat them). A few vendor tables were set up, but I didn’t look around much.
This is also one of the few dog-and-stroller friendly 10Ks, and my friend Maria travelled from Columbia with her dog, Elijah, to run it. Elijah is a well-behaved and well-trained dog, and he was a big hit on race day. Everyone on the course loved him, and the volunteers gave him a medal (they had more than enough finisher’s medals for all the runners).
At the after party, I noticed that some of the race beneficiaries were mingling with runners. The race proceeds benefit the Gavalas Kolanko Foundation, which provides scholarships for special needs and disabled students to attend local colleges and universities. This is a great cause and I loved seeing the students who would benefit from the race proceeds. It’s always fun to see where your money goes.
A few of my friends won overall or age group awards. Larry won grand masters- he is a speedy man to be in his 60s. I can only hope I’m still running them. Emily won the 10K for females and Mariana was 3rd overall. I placed 2nd in my age group and Theresa, who I run with on Wednesdays, was third. It’s fun sharing age group placing with friends, knowing you help each other earn those awards by running strong in workouts and encouraging each other.
Michelle completed the 10K pregnant (baby still intact at the finish) and earned another finisher’s medal for her baby that’s due this week. Her tank top is the cutest shirt ever for Halloween.
If you’re a local, the James Island Connector Run should be on your “do not miss” list. The 2015 event had 1,248 finishers, so it’s still growing and going strong even after 17 years. Although I received a complimentary entry, this race is a great bang for your buck, especially with all the discounts offered, finisher’s medals, pictures from Tag Your Pix, free parking, and after party. It’s an event I plan to run each year I can.
As an ambassador of the James Island Connector Run, I received a complimentary race entry- however, all opinions are my own. I received a discount code to share and promoted the race to local running groups and on social media.
Race Name: James Island Connector Run 5K and 10K
Location: Charleston, SC
Date and Time: October 24, 2015, 8:30 AM
Terrain: Paved, closed streets and connector/bridge. The 5K route is point-to-point over the connector from Cannon Park to James Island- you can ride a school bus shuttle back to the start or run back. The 10K is out and back from Cannon Park.
Entry fee: $35 for either distance or for the bike ride. Ambassadors shared $5 off discount codes. $40 at packet pick up or on race day.
Swag: Cotton t-shirt, Finisher’s medal for all runners and walkers.
Post-race Food: Fruit (bananas, oranges), hot dogs, bagels, water, free beer trailer.
Weather: 64 degrees, 94% humidity, sunny and calm. Beautiful Charleston weather for October, but hot running weather!