The Cooper River Bridge Run has always been my favorite race of the year. But come the morning before each race, it is undoubtedly my least favorite. I get the worst pre-race jitters about running with so many other incredible athletes and I have nightmares of not actually making it to the top. However, I am always reminded why this race will forever have a home my heart when I summit the bridge and soar into the streets of historic downtown Charleston.
This race morning, I was woken up at 6:30am (30 minutes earlier than planned 😡) by the celebratory drums banging at the starting line over a mile away. I grumpily arose from my disappointing slumber and fell right into my parent’s April Fools trap that the “race was cancelled”. (Given that I was still in zombie-mode, I obviously didn’t put two-and-two together. 🙈 ) Therefore, I experienced quite the whirlwind of emotions before the race.
So after a quick bite of a Belvita bar, I rushed out the door for an early shakeout run to get my mind back in the game (and to dodge any more April Fool’s funnies). This 1-mile jog conveniently led me to the front of my corral, where I discovered that the 5-minute countdown had already begun! I was kicking myself for missing the anthem + the trio of jets that fly overhead (which always brings me goosebumps), but was relieved to know that I wouldn’t have to sit through an eternity of nerves waiting for that gun to go off. 🙌
As 8:00am quickly approached, we inched towards the starting line, one corral at a time, until we found ourselves packed in with the other 2,000 “sub-50 min.” runners ready to tackle the bridge. And before we knew it, the final countdown began, the all too familiar “HandClap” song started blaring through the speakers, and we were off.
For the first half-mile or so, it was more of a wrestling match than a race. I wouldn’t say the roads were narrow, but there were simply too many of us trying to wiggle our way to the front. Therefore, I had to settle for a slower pace than usual. But at mile 1, when we crossed over the scenic Shem Creek, the pack started to disperse and I was finally able to get in my groove. By not sprinting out of the gate, my body was able to find a comfortably uncomfortable pace that would help propel me to my race goal of sub-48 minutes.
I was pleased that the first stretch flew by. The bands were serenading us, the crowds were energetic, and the roads were pancake-flat. But then just as I was feeling a bit too optimistic, I looked up and saw the monster hill that I had been dreading all week: the Cooper River Bridge.
With one baby step at a time, I began the daunting climb with a turtle pace. I knew if I gunned it at the beginning, they would have to airlift me outta there midway up the hill. So I decided that I would take as long as needed to climb this beast, and then I would make up for time on the downhill stretch.
But unfortunately slow and steady doesn’t win the race. These days, it doesn’t even come close. Too many people were passing me and I started to question if I was actually moving in reverse. So my ego got the best of me and I picked up the pace. A painful pace, to be exact, that granted me a killer side cramp and a mind full of doubt for the future of my race. (In all fairness, those Jelly Beans I substituted for Sport Beans probably didn’t help either…😊 ) Then I started to think of every excuse why it would be okay for me to throw in the towel and walk to the end: I didn’t train well enough, I don’t have quads like everyone else does, I simply can’t handle it… But just before I let those pathetic words bring my working legs to a halt, I thought to myself, “Climbing this hill isn’t about how strong your legs are. It’s about how mighty your mental toughness is.” And in that moment, I decided my fight was tougher than any burning muscles or annoying side cramps. With that decision, I made it to the peak of the bridge and I was on top of the world. Sure my body was hurting, but I experienced the most indescribable moment of triumph I have felt in a long time. That glory left me with chilling goosebumps for every step of that downhill stride.
When we were finally back on land again, we were greeted with the most enthusiastic bunch rooting for us, dancing for us, and even tempting us with cartons of Fudge Shoppe cookies (totally random, but much appreciated.) I was thankful for their positive vibes and gracious offerings (that I reluctantly resisted), which were just what I needed to pick up my speed once more for the final 2 miles lying ahead of me.
When I reached the anticipated King Street stretch, I gave it everything I had. Onlookers were cheering us on from both sides of this narrow historic road and I absolutely felt like a champion. Those locals were so proud of us for getting out this morning and honoring their city, and for that reason, I almost couldn’t feel the pain pulsing through my body. Almost.
I turned on to Meeting Street and I pushed as hard as I could for that last 100-yard stretch. For once, I couldn’t finish a race with my signature sprint at the end, because I physically didn’t have anything left in me. I can honestly say I left my heart out on that course.
A few minutes later, I caught my breath and made my way over to the Finish Festival in Marion Square. I reunited with my mom and sister, who were also heroes of the hill. We all had the biggest smiles on our faces and we were so gleeful to be in that moment together. I know for a fact it wasn’t the upbeat music or free swag floating around the festival that brought us that happiness. It was the same post-race endorphins we shared of conquering an incredible obstacle, no matter our finish times. And for that simple reason, today’s race will go down in history for me. Today, and for many more years to come.
47:45 finish time
7:41 average pace
56 place F25-29 out of 2,848
223 place female out of 19,378
1,280 place overall out of 32,406
Birds Eye Photo Credit: Cooper River Bridge Run.