April 5, 2009
The 32nd Annual Cooper River Bridge Run
I've heard about this race for a long time. "Have you run the bridge yet?" and "10Ks? yeah, they're great. Have you ever done the one in Charleston?" and "Hey, instead of jumping off this here bridge, mister, maybe you could learn to enjoy life again, take up running, and try running OVER a bridge - maybe the big shiny new one that goes over the Cooper River in Charleston!"
I arrived in Charleston on Wednesday, flying in under grey, wet skies. And boy were my arms tired! Mom and Dad picked me up and we had a nice sushi dinner at a local restaurant. I got Dad to try a wasabi roe, which he hadn't had before.
Thursday was ID card day, and Dad and I took care of that quickly, thanks to the groundwork laid by Mom. She worked the Susan G Komen booth at the race expo all of Thursday and Friday. I took Mom there Friday morning and stayed so as to talk to Scott Eisley, the reporter from ABC 4 News. While killing time, I ran into Bart Yasso, runner extraordinaire and Runner's World race liason. I chatted with him a little bit, saying how much I'd enjoyed his book. I hope to meet him again someday. [edit: I need to call him, actually, and see if he'd like to join a particular episode of the Runners' Roundtable that Toni Harvey and I have been chatting about.]
I went for a short jog around in the area while waiting for Scott. After the incredible rains of Wednesday and Thursday, Friday turned out simply beautiful - warm and breezy and a bright blue sky. I didn't go far, but appreciated the warm-up the jog provided and the stretching afterward. While stretching, I talked to the guys from Force Protection, which also sponsored the race, and who were showing off one of their new vehicles (they provide armored vehicles to the military). I also met the race director of the Marine Corp Marathon when he came out to get the Force Protection guys to hang the Marine Corp flag on top of the vehicle the right way up (they'd hung it upside down in the dark in the early a.m.)
Scott showed up, we did our thing, and he put together a very nice segment you can see in the post below this one.
Packet pickup was, for me, a breeze, but only because I did so early. By late Friday, however, the line to get in was literally around the block, even as Dad and I were picking up Mom at nearly 9:00, an hour after the expo was "closed". Frankly, they could use a massive reorganization on the packet-pickup end of things. If anybody from the race director's office is listening, here's my basic recommendations:
1) Put the number pickup on stage - more boxes, more volunteers.
2) HUGE number range signs on BOTH sides of the table.
3) The number lookup boards can be on the steps down on the way into the auditorium, and the goodie bag pickup on the steps on the way out. Move those particular expo vendors to where you had bib pickup.
4) ID check.
Race day was great. It was somewhat chilly starting out - high 40's - and I wore shorts, long sleeve running t, and a disposable poncho mom had gotten at Niagra Falls. This turned out to be a GREAT thing to have - I kept much warmer than I would have been otherwise, while waiting for the race to start. Other people were envious.
Now, I will say that even though the whole event is great and worth running, the course also needs organizational improvement. While waiting in the red bibs area for the start, I noted that despite repeated announcements to the effect that bib separation would be enforced and strollers are strictly prohibited, that there were, in fact, no real barriers to people starting where they wanted, which was to cause problems later, and plenty of people with strollers - including one triple-wide Mom and I spotted long after my race was over.
But these small things aside, the start area was OK. Nothing fancy, but the traffic had been cleared out, there plenty of police officers in sight, and lots and lots of portajohns, even though the lines for such were about 45 minutes long! Coffee was readily available at various regular businesses that opened early for us. Baggage is not something that seemed to be taken too seriously. There were trucks which would take your crap to the finish line, but most people simply didn't bring anything to put on the truck. And for a simple 10K, they shouldn't. Most people who had bags were walkers and they simply carried their bags. (BTW, the race bag is great - high quality and very colorful.)
There was music through the speakers for a while, but then some lady started talking and the music cut out. In NY, the talking happens over the music turned low. And there aren't any pauses. It's either race announcements or music or both continuously. Not the case here. I missed the UP ENERGY of continuous music and our professional announcer. I guess my point with all this is that for any point-to-point course, you need 50% more organization than an out-and-back. And for a race with numbers rivaling the NY Marathon's...you really have to bring your A game.
The first two miles were my best. I can't post a graph from my watch right now. Technical difficulties. But I can say that those first two miles, on a slight downgrade, were done without walking, at about an 12-minute/mile pace. I started walking in the third mile, when the bridge uphill started. The bridge is the new one over the Cooper River and is no joke. It isn't as long as the Verazzano - felt a lot like the 59th street bridge, actually. Almost all of us slowed to a walk in the upper half of the bridge. (This is where I stopped to get the picture of myself at the top of this post.) I started jogging again before the crest and fell into a rhythm of running a quarter mile, walking a minute, for the rest of the race. Somehow, I just couldn't string more distance together. But my overall pace stayed at about 11 min/mile.
The downgrade was breezy, easy, beautiful. I started to see a lot of characters - girls in tutus, Gumby on his horse, not one but FOUR Richard Simmons, and the like. I also saw two Marines carrying the colors. This is also the point I began to wish there were some actual course marshals as the walkers I was STILL passing were not obeying the "runners to the left, walkers to the right" rule.
Towards the end of mile 4, we reached the bottom of the bridge and turned into downtown Charleston. This was a bit of a funnel effect here. The course was never not crowded, but now it was once again elbow to elbow. We made several turns onto different streets and then finally passed the six mile marker and had only .2 to go. I ramped up my speed a little and then really finished strong once I saw the finish line.
I crossed with an elapsed time of 1:14:28, exactly a 12-minute-per-mile pace. I must have slowed quite a bit in the last two miles. I feel I did a fair effort.
The finish area is pretty good. Plenty of distance to keep walking, but not too much to HAVE to walk. People could split out pretty quickly, and they had a whole park reserved for finishers to meet up with family and get water and fruit. I met up with Mom and we ducked into a bar to have a celebratory beer while we watched a lot of the other people finishing. The bar was just before the sixth mile mark and Mom and I cheered on a lot of the walkers coming in even an hour after I'd finished. In fact, this is probably my best place finish of all my races. I came in 19,284th place out of about 31,940 finishers.