I’m losing count of how many times I’ve posted how the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston is one of my favorite races and this year’s race was confirmation of that sentiment. There are a lot of reasons this year’s 10K race was awesome. The ‘tradition’ has been that every year my husband and I drive down on Friday, run Saturday morning, and drive home Sunday. The whirlwind trip is not an ideal way to visit one of my favorite cities. So this year we switched things up. We corralled a group of friends to join us for a long weekend in a beach house and convinced them to sign up for the Bridge Run.
For once we would be able to enjoy Charleston. We had four nights at an oceanfront house on Folly Beach and we were spending the long weekend with our best friends. I was also excited because for a couple of them it would be their first race. I spent a lot of time sharing my enthusiasm for the race and the city and couldn’t wait for everyone to experience the Bridge Run.
The Friday before the run was picture perfect Charleston in the spring; a breezy 70 degree, sunny day. We picked up our packets, identified the post-race meeting place, toured the city, ate outside, walked the beach, and cooked the requisite pasta dinner. We mapped out our morning plan which included a 5 a.m. wake-up call for the group and a two vehicle caravan to the race start. There were seven of us running and one cheerleader who would meet us at the finish.
Race day morning was cold. One of the colder Bridge Run mornings I can recall as a matter of fact. And it was windy. To put this in perspective it was about 45 degrees with around 15 knots of wind. I’ve run in worse but it wasn’t the ideal weather for my friends running their first race. I was adamant that we be at the start line an hour before and though no one else agreed this was necessary they went along with it. Being a morning person, and high on my typical race day buzz, I was amped up and chatty. Let’s just say my enthusiasm wasn’t exactly contagious at before sunrise hours.
Our caravan to the race start went very smoothly and we got one of the best parking places to date. In the past we’ve had to walk a mile just to get to the starting corrals but this year we were a few blocks away. We huddled together for a while and then divided into our various corrals. My bib had the “49 and under” stamp so I got to be in a corral closer than I’ve ever been to the starting line. When I entered it was not very full and we had a solid 45 minutes until the gun went off. I spent a lot of time rubbing my legs and arms, jumping, shuffling, squatting, stretching, and generally just trying to keep warm.
When the gun went off I was pleasantly surprised to be able to start out at a jog rather than the typical walking shuffle I’ve experienced in corrals farther from the start. Almost immediately I could feel that my pace felt too fast. My goal was to run 8 minute miles and as usual I got swept up in the excitement of the crowds and my competitive edge lead me out at a fast clip. I hit the first mile at 7:44 and wondered what I could sustain.
We were very lucky that the wind was to our backs. The run up the bridge itself is only about a 1/2 mile and from there it’s a steady straight and then downhill. With the wind behind us it was a fast run over the bridge. I don’t recall all my splits but I know that at mile 3 I had a faster pace than what I’d just finished the Denton 5K with. Plus, I was comfortable and happy. I believe I covered the first 5 miles in 39:44 and I remember thinking at that time that the last mile would be brutal. And it was.
The last mile is through town and normally I spend that mile looking up and noticing what has changed since the last time I was there. This year it was a blur. I was covering the 10K at the fastest pace I had known. I happened to look up as I was passing the finish area (you have to run around Marion Square) and saw the support man of our group. I screamed to him, he saw me, and we waved–and I had the motivation I needed to push hard to the end. I have not often run to the point of thinking I would puke but by the time I crossed the finish line it was all I could do not to throw up. I covered the last quarter mile or so at a full out sprint, pumping my arms, and pushing my stride as hard as I could. My finish time was 48:20.
Not only had I lived up to my “49 and under” prediction but I beat my 8-minute race pace goal. Once my breathing calmed down the elated feeling of accomplishment set in. I found my friend so we could cheer on the rest of our group as they finished the 10K. As each of them made it to our meeting place I felt a little more sentimental and excited at having shared my favorite race with them. Though not each of them loves running the way I do I was so proud to have my friends cross that 10K finish line. And the best part is that there was talk of “next time.”