I figure I’d be able to sleep until the alarm went off–I was dead tired, and this was not a race I was worried about. Coming two weeks after the marathon, and really just as a reason to get away with my sister to Charleston, I knew months ago that I’d be making a game-time decision of whether to race it, or just run it. But last week I was feeling good and strong again, and I wanted to challenge myself at a shorter distance, and one that is, let’s face it, just not as common. But still, I wasn’t worried about it…so why did I end up wide awake at 4 AM? Our alarms and wake up call were set for 5, and as soon as my sister’s went off and she groggily rolled over as I fired up some Van Halen “Jump” for her. Lesley laughed and laughed–she gets me and that makes me so grateful that she is my sister!
I got ready and went out to do a little warm up before we left the hotel.

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There were so many people already making their way to the shuttle buses. Lesley and I got ready (see picture of us being ready) left the hotel at 6 and headed toward the boat dock where the Spirit of Charleston would take us to Mount Pleasant.

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It was still dark but we could see the outline of the bridge in the distance. So beautiful and exciting!

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A woman next to us on the ferry chatted us up the whole time and soon enough we were on the other side and waiting for buses to take us the last two miles to the start.
The last two miles, though, took a little bit of forever! We lurched and stopped for about 25 minutes before we were dropped off… at 7:45…all the way at the end of the corrals. We both really needed to use the porta-potties and it was pretty clear that that was not going to happen if we were going to get to Corral B by the beginning of the race. We started booking it toward the start line, and ended up in bottleneck after bottleneck. It was edging closer to 8 AM, but I knew there were bathrooms close to Corral A and my hunch was the lines for those would be shorter. We heard the first announcement that the race would be delayed as we got in line. Saved! Little did we know how much meandering we could have done and still made it to the start line before the race started. We got in our corral and were met by another announcement that the race was being delayed as they could not yet close the bridge. Strange, considering what a big deal this race was to the city. They made it sound like an outside entity was keeping them from closing the bridge and starting the race. Then they let the wheelchair racers go but still no start for the runners. They kept stressing that it was for our safety, but then the female announcer started to reassure us that the race would start ‘momentarily.’ She did it multiple times.. and each time a space of about 10 minutes would pass. This was what was considered momentary? Finally, the crowd, clearly growing more restless–get this-started booing her every time she or the male announcer said anything. I’ve only been kind of freaked out about crowd behavior in a race once before, when the line for the shuttle buses in the Country Music Marathon and 1/2 had no one directing or qeueing them.

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Note the time on the clock above–8:30 and still no sign of the gun…

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Guess we have time for another picture…

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…and I’m just gonna sit down on the street and wait (kept me out of the wind and the sun, too).

Thankfully, there was no Runner Riot, and they let the elites go at about 8:57. My Garmin says I crossed the start at 9:02. I can’t remember the last time this early morning runner started a run so late! The road was wide, we were at sea level, and it took no time for the crowd to spread out enough to feel free. Thank you, Charleston. Lots of crowd support on this side of the bridge, and the way was flat. I did have a strategy going into this race, and it was inspired recently by my Facebook friend/Ragnar Chicago team captain/Triathlon Beast Tim Bernardo:

“Just want to add something I learned today…more like something I knew but was too stubborn to do. I’ve always took these shorter races and went out too fast only for the rest of the miles to each be slower. Today I had two goals, one was a realistic goal (based on my recent 5k time) and a stretch goal. The stretch goal wasn’t so much of a stretch that it couldn’t be reached so I went out at that pace and just held it as long as I could, which turned out to be all the way to the finish line.

So, comparing all the short races I did recently, today has been my best result yet. Going out too fast will kill your race and will most likely keep you from hitting your goal. So, determine your goal time, get the mile pace for that goal time and stick with it. It might seem easy in the beginning but come the end it will be tough, but not tough enough that you can’t keep that pace.”

With that in mind, and with a goal in mind of going sub-1:00, I wanted to do the first 3 miles at 9:40 and the last 3.2 at 9:30 pace. It REALLY was hard to go slower on that nice, flat, open first 1.5 miles. Then the climb up the bridge started. It’s a full mile up to the midpoint of the bridge, at 4% grade. I’d told myself quite vehemently, that it was no big deal; that I run worse in my sleep here in Atlanta.

Guess what? I totally lied to myself! That bridge is NO JOKE. Garmin data shows a gain of 130 feet in .4 miles. I was pushing it, hard, in some warm temps and with some fairly serious wind, and yet, that mile I still averaged a 10:11 pace. Not bad, all things considered, but still, enough to mess with my plan. And enough to get in my head. Here was the dialogue in my head:

Self A: “You can do this.” (this being sub-60)

Self B: “You cannot do this.”

Self A: “You can DO this! You can do this! You’ve run a marathon!”

Self B: “But… I just ran that marathon TWO WEEKS AGO. I can do this, but NOT TODAY.”

Self A: You. Can. Do. This

In the end, I opted to listen to Self A and keep trying. The great thing about the bridge is that you know that, once you hit the middle of the spires, the hill is over. And then–oh, then!– there is the most awesome downhill I have ever experienced. It’s that same, 4% grade, which kills on the uphill but is gentle to the quads on the downhill, and gives you just enough momentum to maintain an effortless speed for a mile or so. I pushed it and tried to make up some time.

Towards the bottom of the bridge, as we turned into the downtown area of Charleston, I started to feel… weak. The sun was beating down at this point, and I was just in that not-right place. I was carrying water but grabbed some at one of the plentiful water stops just for some extra and to put on my hands and face. At this point, due to the delay, I’d not had anything to eat since my banana at 7:15–nearly 2 1/2 hours earlier. I had packed two Clif Shot Bloks in my pocket, but I’d never tried them before. I bought them when someone told me they kind of melt in your mouth. I knew the weakness and head wars were due to the need to fuel, so I decided to try one. So glad I did, but those things do NOT melt in your mouth! Same consistency as GU Chomps, but hey, it helped for a bit. Grabbed more water and settled in to see what I could pull out in the last mile.

Closing in on  mile 6, with my Garmin telling me that I was very close to barely breaking, or barely missing, 1 hour, my head war was something like this:

Self A: You can do this.

Self B: I want to walk.

Self A: WALK?!? You cannot walk.

Self B. Fine, then I want to puke.

Self A: You can’t puke! It’ll cost you time!

Self B. Fine. I’ll puke at the finish line.

Self A: Sounds good. They have medical there. Now, go!

At the six mile marker I pulled out the second Blok and just chewed it like gum the rest of the way in, basically just to give me something to think about other than how much I wanted to puke. I paced off a woman from Atlanta in a Big Peach shirt and followed her in. As we rounded the last corner, two blocks from the finish, I checked my Garmin: 59:43. I counted down in my head and knew it would not be a sub-1:00 finish.

But I did not puke.

Official time: 1:00:13. My heart hurts for those :13, but it was a PR for me, and I think I ran a pretty smart race. And yes, I do wonder if  the delay in the start and the fueling issues that come with that cost me those few seconds, but really, what’s 13 seconds when you’re not an elite? (thanks to my sister for reminding me of that).

I really love this race. It’s a great course, and even that rise on the bridge has a reward–a beautiful view of Charleston at the top. The whole city seemed to open it’s doors to us, and be genuinely excited for the runners to be there. The 10k distance meant we could rest a bit and still walk all over that afternoon and evening, seeing what I would argue is the most beautiful and historic city in the South. Also, the finish line festival was amazing–a tractor-trailer length grill with free Johnsonville brats, plus Chick-fil-A and Krispy Kreme donuts there. It was just fun. And if you don’t believe me, here’s the proof:

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’cause nothing says running + fitness like the Weinermobile.

AFTER THE RACE

I found Lesley, we tried the brats (full disclosure, I could only stomach about 2 bites. Sorry, Johnsonville.) and went back to the hotel. We stretched in the outdoor patio area they have,  where I encountered a group of smug, non-racing men, one of whom said, “You’re stretching?!? Are you HURT?” He also asked me about my time, to which my sister replied “A lady never tells.” Have I mentioned I love my sister?

Back at the hotel, we showered and she napped, and when she got up she was… not right. Dehydration is almost always my first choice in running-related ailments, so I got some bottled water and parted with some of the new NUUN I just got, and also got her a Coke to drink. Then I barked at her to keep drinking till I felt like she’d made a dent in the deyhdration. She was still tired but would not go back to sleep, so we walked. With large, 2-liter water bottles, we walked. And shopped. And drank our water. And walked, and shopped. bought two Athleta tops from a catalog mistake store called Oops. And ate a chocolate croissant from Caviar and Bananas. Delish. More water. More walking. More shopping. Then it was time for dinner at Slightly North of Broad (SNOB).

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I can’t really say enough good stuff about this restaurant. Delicious little cornbread bites in the bread basket. Then an appetizer of Sweet Potato Ravioli. Lesley got the Blackened Amberjack that was on a bed of vinegar-laden, wilted chard. I got the shrimp and grits, which was actually Shrimp and Sausage and Ham and grits. Then we split the Key lime Tart with a Pecan Sandies crust. I’m a terrible blogger who forgot to take pics of everything but the pie.

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We walked back to the hotel, with the intention of getting a cab at some point, but never did. I’d say all told, we put about 10 miles under our feet on Saturday. We were exhausted, but the fun-to-exhaustion ratio was so well worth it. If you get the chance–do this race, and make an awesome weekend of it. Cooper River Bridge Run, we’ll be back!!!

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