Cooper river Bridge Run: Magic still happens

On Saturday, I ran the Cooper River Bridge Run, a 10k run from Mt. Pleasant, SC, to downtown Charleston, SC, over the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge. It’s been almost two years since I’ve run a formal 10k race. Yearly, my speed declines, my endurance falters, my recovery takes longer. I love running, though. I try to run five days a week (with some recovery or cross-training, like swimming or biking or hiking on the off days). Yet, racing is my nemesis, causing me undo anxiety (my husband truly believes I’m a little crazy worrying about things like the elevation gain/loss of a course, my potential pace, my training block leading up to a race). I can’t disagree with him; still, I register for these events.

Live Oak Tree, Daniel Island, Charleston, SC

This run had all those anxiety stressors plus high wind (20mph or so on the bridge), a one-mile 5% grade incline to the center of the bridge, 27,500 participants (crowded), and high humidity (which slows my pace considerably especially after our colder-than-normal winter here in Asheville). I tried to calm myself by reading previous runners’ reviews: “It’s such a fun race! The crowds are amazing! Live music along the course! Don’t worry, you can’t PR (personal record) because there are too many people. A big party post-race!”

The Bridge!

With that background, I tried to change my attitude: enjoy the early morning, near dark walk from the hotel to the shuttle buses (truly a feat to transport thousands of runners to the start), the excitement of runners and walkers, many having done this race numerous times, the almost one-mile walk from the back of the race (the walkers and strollers) to my corral (Wave A: I’d run a previous race to qualify for this corral, closer to the start, with less chance of being trampled), enough port-a-potties for that one last stop, having time to warm-up in my corral, listening to the boisterous music, the emcee announcing elite runners, the celebratory messages by the mayors of Mt. Pleasant and Charleston (this is the largest annual event for both cities), a moment of silence for the National Anthem (which always sends tingles up and down my spine, especially with the huge flag flying almost horizontal due to the wind), and then the two-minute count down to the start.

Wave A, minutes before the start of the race

I wore my running watch but decided–somewhat unintentionally–to run by effort instead. I really didn’t know what to expect with the temperature (70 degrees rising to 80 degrees by mid-morning), the humidity (close to 90%), and the high winds (which almost blew off my visor on top of the bridge). There were so many people yet no one tripped me and I don’t think I tripped anyone. The incline was long but not as steep as my daily runs on the trails and streets in Asheville (sea level altitude helped). Before I realized it, I was at the nadir of the bridge. The slight (3.1%) decline for the next mile was perfect, then onto the very flat streets of downtown Charleston past centuries-old buildings, open bars, cheering friends and family, to the finish line and the finisher medal.

Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge (courtesy of Cooper River Bridge Run)

The race organizers have been doing this run for 46 years. They know how to put on a huge, loud, action-packed post-race party. While I didn’t stay long it looked like it would be an all-day affair.

Race expo on Thursday for bib pick-up

The results, still important for my own internal competitiveness, surprised me. My pace, as expected, wasn’t what I’d hoped, but I placed first in my age group of 275 women, who want to run and walk, to move, to show up (as Des Linden would say), to see what we can do. Of course, I can justify that the competition gets less as I get older, but still, we are doing it and that is the beauty of all of this.

Bib and finisher’s medal

Another lesson learned: take opportunities, push past your comfort zone, be surprised, and enjoy life.

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