On Saturday, I ran the Cooper River Bridge Run, which is Charleston’s largest race, South Carolina’s largest race, and the third largest 10K in the United States.
While the Cooper River Bridge Run is a competitive event that draws international runners, elites, and tourists from all over the country, it’s also a bucket list item for many runners and walkers.
After crossing the finish, runners and walkers see a large banner that reads “Congratulations! You got over it!”. Many recreational runners and walkers’ only goal is to “get over” the fears of a 10K run involving a bridge. My friend Noah has a saying that fear and limitations are overrated. Maybe after “getting over” the Cooper River Bridge, runners and walkers can tackle other scary situations in life.
The Bridge Run course takes runners and walkers from Mt. Pleasant into Downtown Charleston, over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The new bridge was completed in 2005 and has a pedestrian lane for runners and walkers to train on year-round. It’s one of my favorite places to run.
The Bridge Run had almost 30,000 participants this year and uses corrals. When I registered, I submitted some race finish times for a white competitive bib (projected finish under 45 minutes). Elites, seeded competitors, and those expecting to finish between 45-50 minutes can also submit times for those corrals. Make sure you register for the proper corral and submit a time so you can actually race and not be stuck behind people.
Bridge Run day was a long one and started at 4:30 AM! I got up, dressed, drank some coffee, and left my house at 5:20 to make it to Mt. Pleasant by 6 AM.
I parked at the Sea Island Shopping Center (Harris Teeter grocery store), which was a great decision. If you take I-526 into Mt. Pleasant, it dead-ends at the shopping center, which is where the walkers begin. The Harris Teeter was open at 6 AM for us runners to go to the bathroom and stay warm/dry. The sweat shuttle is just outside this shopping center, and the walk/jog to the start line is a great warmup.
Since I got to the race early, I ate a pop tart in my car and played around on my phone. It was drizzling rain and humid, so many of us were sporting trash bags (myself included!). I left the car at about 7:10 to drop my bag off, jog to the corral, and warm up in the Mt. Pleasant Old Village.
The rain stopped and the sun came out for the race, so I was excited to ditch the trash bag and see what I could do! I set a few goals, with my “A” goal being 44:30, my “B” goal of sub-45, and my “C” goal of PRing (under 45:48). My fastest 10K was last year’s Bridge Run and all of my race times have dropped since then, so unless the weather was terrible, I was expecting to at least PR.
We started exactly on time (8 AM), with no real delay between the first three corrals. With such a big race, the start was exciting, and that’s not a good thing for me. I was in the 40-45 corral, but I know my finish times are closer to 45 than 40, and others in the corral were starting at a more appropriate pace since some of them were probably closer to 40. I ended up starting too fast (feeling good) and hit the first mile in 6:46– way too close to my 5K pace.
The first few miles of the race are flat and through Mt. Pleasant, until you hit the bridge near the end of Mile 2. I hit Mile 2 in 7:14, which included a little of the bridge’s uphill. I still felt good and settled into the pace. A lot of runners were ahead of me, so I tried to tuck in behind some bigger guys to block the headwind up the bridge. The bridge always has a headwind, but I wanted to use the crowd to power me up it. I saw a friend, Curtis, and tried to stay close to him since he was encouraging me and telling me I was doing great.
Mile 3 and the 5K split are at the very top of the bridge. I could tell some of the runners around me were gassed from the uphill, so I passed a few people. My Mile 3 was 7:43– slower than my half marathon pace…ouch! Since I started too fast and “banked time”, I paid back those seconds with interest in this mile. The Bridge Run has clocks at each mile, and I was still on track for sub-45 and a big PR, so I didn’t get discouraged.
Mile 4 (6:52) began our downhill trek back into Charleston, and I was thankful for the downhill. A few weeks ago, I ran a 12 mile route that included running over and back on the bridge twice, and I was so thankful I only had to run over it (and not back) on race day. I thought about that training run and mentally assured myself that if I could run the bridge twice in a long run, the race would be the easy part.
Miles 5 and 6 were flat and through downtown. A few medians in the road and water stops in Mile 5 slowed me down a bit, as it wasn’t as smooth as the bridge. The humidity from the rain that didn’t happen hit the runners like bricks, so almost everyone stopped for water. In Mile 5 (7:05) we turned on a side street and onto King Street, where most of the spectators and supporters were. Despite the threat of rain, a lot of people came out to cheer!
Mile 6 (7:16) is an evil trick. First, you run past Marion Square, where the finish is. Then, you run under a photography arch. First-timers *think* this is the finish and veterans *wish* it was the finish.
The last mile was the pain train for me. The spectators are great, and the cheering offers a boost, but I was so ready to be done. No matter how many 5-8 mile easy days I run, a 10K still seems so long when racing. Finally, we made the left turn to cut the block to the finish line on Meeting Street. This is where you see the *real* finish arch and start your kick!
I “got over it” in 44:40, a 68 second PR and met my “B” goal of a sub-45 finish.
Once I finished, I grabbed my bag from the sweat shuttle (we had to wait for them to unload the bags), grabbed a reusable bag to “shop” and fill with bagels, fruit, and muffins, then headed over to the Charleston Running Club tent for breakfast.
I joined the Charleston Running Club in December, and so far it’s been worth it for the race discounts and the breakfast after this run. The food was delicious and included shrimp and grits, quiche, scrambled eggs, meats, fruit, yogurt, and granola. I raced a 10K but ate like it was a marathon.
After breakfast, I stood around King Street and cheered for some walkers and runners, then walked around downtown for a bit and went to Bay Street Biergarden to meet up with some friends. Every restaurant downtown hosts an after the bridge party with food and drink specials, so plan to hang around downtown for a few hours and celebrate- after all, you “got over it” and have lots to celebrate!
Once the bridge reopened, I hitched a ride back to Mt. Pleasant (where my car was parked) with my friends Cindy and Ed. The race offers shuttles that take you back to the start or any of the other shuttle locations around town, though.
Post Race Thoughts
While the 2016 Cooper River Bridge Run wasn’t my best executed race (hello, going out too fast and riding the pain train!), it is still a personal best for a 10K, and I have a lot to be proud of. PRing by over a minute is pretty significant, even if it has been a year since my last 10K.
I won’t lie that I was a little bummed not to run closer to 44, especially after a few solid 5Ks recently (21:27 at the Charlie Post Classic and 21:34 at the McLeod Sports Medicine). I felt okay the day after the run and recovered well, and while I was happy for that, I wonder if maybe I had more to give on race day and just didn’t tap into that extra gear. My mind wandered a bit in the later miles.
With that said, I *am* extremely proud of my training. I only missed two runs, and both of those were when I was sick with a stomach virus and definitely too sick to run! I ran on some sort of incline each week and strength trained, so training-wise, I was ready for the bridge. I do not think I should have trained harder. If anything, I should’ve run fewer miles two weeks before (50 mile week) to recover a little.
Running and racing are all one big experiment with yourself- and I can’t wait to take what I learned this year and run a sub-44 Bridge Run on April 1, 2017.