Cooper River Bridge Run 2018 - Race Report

A PR in fame!

I do believe this weekend is the longest a cookie cake has ever lasted in my presence. I am a real-life cookie monster. For this past year's holiday mile I brought an entire cookie cake for me to eat. On any given day a dozen chocolate cookies brought home from the grocery store are not likely to see another dawn. When McCrae works late or is gone for the weekend I have been known to subsist off cookie cake alone. And many a long run has been fueled by cookie cake as breakfast. My appetite for chocolate chip cookies and cookie cakes is voracious - you might even say monstrous. And so it is a miracle that any cookie cake can last three full days in my presence.

The cookie cake in question was one created for this past weekend in Charleston. Heather, Lauren and I headed south on Friday morning with Heather's mom "Mrs. J" to help her celebrate her 65th birthday. We ran the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC together, and we surprised Mrs. J with a few birthday gems from matching team tshirts and buttons to balloons shaped as "65" to a cookie cake decorated just like Mrs. J's freshly-minted Medicare card (SSN redacted of course!)

 All of us having fun on the drive to Charleston!

All of us having fun on the drive to Charleston!

Party hard, get your Medicare card cookie cake

Heather bringing out the cookie cake

"Happy Birthday, Mrs. J!"

Mrs. J's 65th birthday!

Certainly the only thing that made me practice some restraint was the fact that it was someone else's cookie cake, and it was so fun to have an entire weekend dedicated to celebrating someone - the surprises, the food, the bridge run, and all our attempts to get Mrs. J on TV! (We managed to convince a news reporter on the bridge to interview Mrs. J, see about 1:30:45 on the live stream!)

I look like a total goober in the video (no surprises there) but in any case we had a hoot in our matching bright green shirts that declared "Mrs. J's 65th Birthday: 2018 Cooper River Bridge Run 10K" on the front and on the back said, "Party so hard, get your Medicare card" plus our buttons with funny pictures of Mrs. J.

Running happy!

Internal dialogue: "Liz, don't look at the camera, don't look at the camera, DRAT! I did it again. Just act cool, don't look at the camera, don't look at the camera, OMG LIZ YOU DID IT AGAIN! Stop looking at the camera! Omg wait, are we actually live? Are people actually seeing this? Omg am I just standing here smiling like an idiot? Oh wait! We're done! Okay, let's run!"

Lauren rocking the selfie on the bridge (since she skipped being on-camera for the interview)

The final tally for the race was about 35,000 runners - easily my largest race to date. It certainly wasn't my fastest race since the four of us stuck together and celebrated with Mrs. J along the course, but then speed and time were not the focus here - we PR'd in fame!

The morning started off great at 5am (okay, whatever, so I woke up at 5:15) for a 5:40am trek from our AirBnB to the bus shuttle. I was last to wake up but first to be ready, but Heather kicked off the morning with a booze pop from a van on our walk to the shuttles (who knew you could get a booze pop in Charleston at 5:45am?!)

5:30am in Charleston before Cooper River Bridge Run = "mixed drink on a stick"

The line to get on a bus shuttle stretched down Calhoun Street, but soon enough we were situated on a bus and driving across the bridge that we would shortly tackle. Now why on earth would we drive over a huge bridge just so we could later run over it? Why do anything hard like this when we could just drive across or even take a water taxi like a proper Charlestonian hipster in the North Morrison neighborhood? Indeed, why would any runner cross the bridge? Besides the obvious answer ("to get to the other side") how else do you propose we get a bus full of strangers to sing "Happy Birthday" to Mrs. J?! Birthday serenade accomplished, port-a-potties visited, and fellow celebrating runner friends found, we all lined up in our corral and waited for the waves of runners to cross the start line.

Mrs. J's birthday crew!

With plenty of training for marathon season this spring and a great running posse, that six degree incline up the Ravenel bridge from Mount Pleasant didn't feel so awful. The weather was perfect with 65°F and cloudy skies and a bit of wind over the river to keep us cool. Once we crossed the bridge and started running on the peninsula to downtown Charleston the wind disappeared and we felt the heat of the day but the gang powered through for a strong finish to meet up with Jill, Kareen, Lewis and other Fleet Feet friends.

Cooper River Bridge Run finish!

Fleet Feet friends...minus Jill? Jill! Where are you?!

The birthday squad! (With Jill this time)

Overall it was a fantastic weekend, and definitely a race Lauren, Heather and I agreed we'd do again. 

Race Recap:

Pros:

- Well-supported big race experience at relatively low mileage

Since it's a 10K (and it happens to be my first 10K race - yay guaranteed PR, ha!) it's a great option for those looking to get their feet wet at a distance other than 5K. It's well-supported with water stations, great crowds, and live coverage from all the local news channels (hence the PR in fame!)

- Great runcation option

Charleston is a fun city to explore and there are so many great foodie restaurants to hit up to sate that post-race appetite! Plus Charleston in March is nice - not too hot but still pretty and relatively warm.

- Big expo

Supposedly this is one of the biggest expos in the country. There were lots of free samples but we found some of the vendors a bit odd. I may not have seen bigger expos out there, but I've seen a few that are better in terms of having booths with a variety of gear specialized for runners.

- Fun route

Yeah, it's a huge bridge, but it's pretty flat other than the bridge. Plus the bridge is iconic to anyone who has visited the city and affords great views of Charleston and the surrounding area. 

- Lots of bands!

With 22 bands along the 6 mile route (!!) it was quite the energizing party! (And I dare say the bands here were significantly better than what I saw along the route of Rock'n'Roll Raleigh...)

- Convenient shuttles to race start

Stay in downtown Charleston for all the post-race fun, and don't worry about getting to the race start! (Unless you're like me and want to sleep in an hour before the race...in that case stay in Mount Pleasant). An army of buses was lined up to take thousands of runners across the bridge to the race start. For an extra $8 you could instead do a water taxi (because why not?).

Cons:

- Unsophisticated bag check

The bag check instructions were vague and there were no dedicated tags. According to one runner who checked a bag, the bag check consisted of putting a "Hello! My name is..." sticker on your bag and handing it off. Plus with the "clear bag" requirement we weren't sure what to expect so we didn't bother checking a bag (not that I ever check a bag anyways, but...🤷)

- Not a very "serious" race

Expect to see a sea of humanity (or rather a sea of cotton shirts) on this race course. Honestly, this is both a pro and a con because there was such a great mix of newbies and seasoned race runners, so it was fun to have an event where everyone could converge to tackle a fun route. Just keep in mind that it's a busy race and you should leave your ego behind or expect to weave through traffic.

- Bridge is tough (but fun)

Eh, it's not that bad really. It wasn't super steep compared to the hill training I've been doing, but then again hills are all a matter of perspective (Raleigh-Durham hills are a nightmare compared to people who live on the NC coast. Asheville is a nightmare to me. Leadville sounds like a death trap. But think how flat all these places seem to be compared to those who regularly train in steeper terrain!)

The bridge! We ran over this!

- Taste of the Bridge Run event is underwhelming

We paid an extra $15 to attend the "Taste of the Bridge Run" event. As an add-on to our race registration we were granted access to a cordoned-off area at the expo or at two other locations (Harborside East or Maritime Center) with the idea that we'd get samples from local Charleston eateries. We opted to go to the Maritime Center location, but were disappointed when it looked like several booths were empty (either because the vendor never showed up or they already left after less than an hour into the 3-hour event). Most of the vendors were chain stores with small samples, and to top it all off I found the biting gnats unbearable. (Pro tip: if you go exploring along the river during spring make sure you wear long pants and sleeves.)

A group of us at the Taste of the Bridge Run event at the Maritime Center with the bridge in the background. 

- Beer ticket is only valid at expo, not at finish festival

"Where do we go to redeem our beer ticket??" we all wondered as we pulled at the beer ticket tab on our race bibs while we wandered around Marion Square once we crossed the finish line. Turns out this race doesn't have beer at the finish line - you have to redeem it at the expo. I certainly didn't mind since I never have a beer at the finish line anyways, but my compatriots seemed a bit bummed.

- To get some of the decent samples you have to get to the finish line early.

Ahhh yes, the perpetual problem of being a back-of-the-pack runner: all the good stuff runs out before you get there. Solution? Run faster. (har har har) Actual solution? Make friends with fast runners and get them to grab samples for you. Or just skip on the goodies. Several vendors at the finish festival seemed to have plenty of food but there were insanely long lines that wrapped around the block. Several vendors clearly ran out of food before we were even close to the finish line and had wrapped up ages ago. Best organized vendor at the finish line in my opinion? Krispy Kreme. (Duh, they know how to tackle a good challenge.)

Course description:

Map: http://bridgerun.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Course-Map-2017-1.jpg

You start at Mount Pleasant and run west over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge and into Charleston. Large corrals organized by elites, competitive runners, and an alphabet soup of other runners/walkers try to keep things organized and reduce weaving, but the middle and lower letters inevitably resulted in some mixing of paces and plenty of weaving. At the race start it's a pretty straight shot to the bridge from Mount Pleasant. The bridge starts right around mile 2 with a six percent grade up most of the next mile. By mile 3 you're racing downhill and you finish up mile 4 shortly after you exit the bridge. With two miles knocked out on the bridge (up and down) that leaves 4 miles along flat roads. The bridge is wonderfully wide so you never feel crowded as you climb and descend, but some of the roads through Charleston can feel a bit tight with the glut of people. There may be only a few turns on the course, but be mindful of others when you reach those turns. There's a time clock at every mile with the time read out on a loudspeaker, and there's a 5K time recorded along the route for race splits.

Race site: http://bridgerun.com/

Have you ever run Cooper River Bridge Run? Or is it on your running bucket list? Let me know in the comments!

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