Who drives 900 miles to run a 10k? This guy!
The opportunity to run over the Cooper River Bridge was in large part due to Boeing. They were gracious enough to pay for our race entries and mail us our goodie bags prior to our travels. They are a major sponsor for U.S. Military Endurance Sports (USMES) of which I am a member. As an organization, USMES promotes healthy lifestyles with a wide variety of activities, events, camps, and teams for our veterans and active duty members.
Part of our journey in completing the 10k was a tour of Boeing’s Charleston 787 Dreamliner Factory. This was a private tour for those of us on the USMES team. Boeing has a massive factory large enough to build 10 jets at a time – five on each side facing nose-to-tail. They also have additional support facilities to build sections of the plane. The majority of the bits and pieces are flown on a specially designed plane called the Dreamlifter. Our tour guides’ catch phrase was “Boeing is Growing.”
We used Charleston Air Force Base for lodging and our meet up point. Base lodging is generally priced comparable to the local economy while offering at least a four-star rating. The rooms are not fancy, but they get the job done. The expo and park-and-ride for the race shuttles were 10 minutes away. Food and shopping were a short distance from the base, too.
Even though we already had our swag bags, we still made our way to the expo. This is typically an indication of how the race will be managed. As we entered the lobby area we could see a list of runners – all 40,000 of them. Farther inside were rows and rows of vendors including six vendors who served alcohol. Their contributions helped relax us after driving all day.
The Cooper River Bridge is located in Greater, South Carolina; the start line being in Mount Pleasant and finishing in downtown Charleston.
Race morning started out a bit sketchy – the forecast called for severe thunderstorms at the start of the race. Waking at 4:00 a.m. was tough, but this was essential to eat breakfast and get ready for the 5:15 team meet up/departure. As we left base, the clouds took a small break and allowed us to meet the expo transportation. It had rained all night at this point and projected to turn worse into daybreak. On the way to the starting line, a 20-minute drive by bus, our luck was beginning to change. The thunderstorms were breaking up and being pushed to the south.
Our bus dropped us off at the back of the starting line, somewhere near several dimly lit porta johns and Corral K, the last corral. Needless to say, we were a long ways from the starting line. Packing 40,000 runners into 15 corrals takes up several blocks. From the drop off point to our corral we had a good 20 minute walk. While we made our way there, along the sidewalk we could see that several shops had opened their doors early, and many of them offered snacks and drinks in their parking areas.
Opening ceremonies kicked off with the National Anthem and a trumpet player belting out “America the Beautiful” in a jazzy tune. The first two racers to cross the starting line were paralyzed and wore robotic exoskeleton legs that enabled them to walk.
As the clock neared 7:00 the race announcer called out over and over for runners to get ready. I was lined up just behind the elites in the competitive corral with an expected finish time of 40 – 45 minutes. At this point, my best 10k finish was approximately 43 minutes – on flat ground. The seated and elite corral was many times larger than the number of runners inside. This allowed them to continue to jog around in efforts to stay warm and stretch. My corral was elbow-to-elbow leaving little room to stretch or focus on the efforts ahead of me. Just minutes prior to the starting gun my corral was released to join those in front of us. Even though I knew I’d be unable to compete with the elites, it was pretty cool to stand next to them. As we crossed the timing mat and sped away, I couldn’t help but think, “If only I could match their speed.”
My heart was racing as we crossed the timing mats. It was a matter of seconds before I was engulfed by faster runners. Making our way to the bridge was an amazing experience – the crowd support was great. The local police were out supporting and protecting us as they blocked the side streets. The sidewalks were lined with onlookers cheering and waving signs. About every half mile or so a local band or DJ was set up filling the surrounding air with energizing tunes.
The Cooper River Bridge did not look very high at all – until we started to ascend it. Just before the two-mile mark, I knew I was going to fall off my pace before the top. My perception of the bridge did not meet the reality my legs were beginning to feel. As you can see from the profile, we had a 200’ climb in a half mile. Hill training in southeast Virginia is nonexistent, so my legs were screaming before the crest. This bridge separated those who trained from those who did not. I know I was passed by what seemed like a hundred faster runners leading up to the top.
At the top of the bridge, I could see the surrounding area. What a breathtaking site! This place was amazing!
Descending towards downtown Charleston provided my legs much-needed relief. This is where I was able to regain my pace and to catch back up with my Garmin virtual partner – he was clearly beating me on the bridge. The first vendor I saw once we hit level ground was Dunkin Donuts – too bad there was not time to stop and enjoy their yumminess! As we entered our final two miles into downtown, we were met with tons of crowd support. My ears were filled with cheers, cowbells, and clapping hands. This powered me through the finish with a time of 44:37.
Crossing the finish line was nothing special – no medal to hang for this race. After crossing the timing mats, the runners had to walk a block to the finish line festivities. Several members of USMES met to congratulate one another prior to exiting the secured finishing area. We knew finding each other was going to be difficult once the rest of the runners made their way to the post-race festivities.
The majority of the venders outlined the edges of a large grassy park while Boeing and a couple of others were in the center. Great music from the stage could be heard as we walked around. We found fresh pulled pork and sausage, water, pastries, a variety of hydration drinks not normally used, and many other vendors handing out free items in exchange for your name/email.
My only concern as the vendor area swarmed with runners and their friends/family was the visible lack of security. The vendor area was open to everyone, and this felt a bit unnerving considering recent world events.
– This race was well-organized from beginning to end
– Tons of port-johns spaced out along the corrals
– Several of the local businesses opened their doors early
– Crowd support was great along the course, especially downtown
– Aid stations were in key locations and looked well-stocked
– Took forever to reach the crest of the bridge
– Finish area was massive
– Minimal security presence in vendor area
– Transportation to and from the start/finish line was a breeze as there were a multitude of buses