Last year I had set a goal that terrified me—run a 10k. You have to understand that when you’ve never been able to push past 3 miles in your workouts, doubling that distance sounds like a feat that will require morning, noon and night workouts and rock hard abs.
With the help of Runner’s World, I looked for races that fit my distance goal. Last year around this time we were in South Carolina for vacation. It was sunny and so much warmer than here in Harrisburg. We had been in Myrtle Beach, so when I read about the Cooper River Bridge Run, the chance to experience April in the south and also visit a new city was exciting.
In the interest of making it a budget friendly trip I used Air BNB to find reasonable rates. Did you know people rent house boats on there?! Well, we decided it’d be fun to stay on a house boat. My mom agreed to watch Camden, my two year old son, so that my husband and I could have a weekend away.
As you can see in the picture above, the race is very large. It caps at 40,000 people and since I’d never been in a race that large before I was worried about having to weave around a lot of people in order to get anywhere near my time goal. To prevent having to pass walkers, I needed to qualify for a running wave. That meant I had to have a qualifying time in a 5k of 30:00. (Thankfully this race allows you to qualify with a time for a shorter distance, generously assuming you will put in the work to be just as good in a longer distance at a future date.)
I had only run one race before, the Color Me Rad 5k race in Philadelphia several years ago. Color Me Rad is the cheaper step-sister of The Color Run. I didn’t specifically train for a time in that race and ended up walking a portion of it with my partner so that we could both enjoy the race. When we decided to sign up for the Cooper River Bridge Run it was already August. If I gave myself a couple months to prepare I thought I could get a qualifying time in November, in a Turkey Trot race.
(Stay tuned for recaps of these races)
Once Tyler and I qualified for the running wave it was time for me to start focusing on running longer. I added long runs to my weekends. In most cases I ran my long runs on the indoor track at my YMCA because I hate to run on the treadmill nowadays. The indoor track is 1/16th of a mile, so at minimum:
6 miles – 96 laps
8 miles – 128 laps
Thank goodness for hand held clickers so I can just zone out. I found that long runs were best done listening to podcasts instead of music so that I would stay relaxed and keep to my slow pace. My favorites for running are “I’ll have another with Lindsey Hein” and “Oprah’s super soul podcast”.
Training was well-intentioned, but now as I look back on it I think I did too much moderate pace running and not enough 80/20. Many runners follow the 80/20 rule which is essentially that you do 80% of your running at an easy pace and 20% at a mix of moderate and high intensity.
You can read more about it here:
My break down was more 75% moderate, 25% easy and 0% high intensity. I was finding myself very fatigued as I piled on milage. I had enough energy to do 75 miles a month, then the next month was barely over 50 miles, then back up to 75. Partly this was due to stress of cold season with a toddler, but I think I may have been overtraining.
I used barre class and squats for strength training but I HATE to do core work, so in the weeks leading up to the race I knew I just hadn’t prepared to run fast. Doubling my 5k time was practically a moonshot. A brave goal was under 58:00 minutes, but I expected to be closer to 60:00.
I was really nervous I would disappoint myself. I kept evaluating my expectations. “Sarah, are you ok if you have to walk?” I thought the answer was no; I would be embarrassed and bawling at the finish if I couldn’t run the whole thing. In training I had been able to do a 9 mile run at slow pace so it was almost a given I would be able to run the whole way.
Truthfully, I just wanted to be happy. I wanted to be proud of whatever happened, so I tried to change my mindset. I put everything in perspective. I was so scared I’d never be brave enough to run more than three miles that I made a post on Facebook admitting to the world that it was something I dreamed of doing. Then I put in the work to do so. Bottom line, I was brave enough to TRY…even if I failed I decided it was all going to be about the experience.
I am so thankful I put the work in to focus on those things because the race was so much harder than I thought it would be. Sure, I saw pictures of the bridge. I knew we’d have to go up. BUT. I thought it would level out once we were up there and then we’d just coast downhill onto the flat road at the end…
I’m getting ahead of myself! After all, this WAS a vacation in addition to being a race. Our drive was 10 hours. TEN! Still, they were ten hours where we were only responsible for ourselves. Music, reading, podcasts with no interruptions? That’s worth the mild discomfort of being stuck in a car.
We arrived at the marina around 2:00 pm to scope out our boat. The manager was there and let us check in early. I parked myself pretty quickly on the deck and started to enjoy the sun and the sea breeze. Conveniently (or perversely, whichever) we could see the very bridge we would be running. Tyler kept staring at it with heavy trepidation.
We relaxed for about half an hour, but the trip was so short because of all the travelling time so we had to force ourselves to get going and check off our sightseeing goals. The rental came with access to bikes and we decided to try to take them out. I have not ridden a bike since I was 8 years old. Leaving the marina we were able to ride them on the road safely and with extra room to spare. I felt like I was flying. A bike is so fun if you aren’t nervous. Add a busy road to cross, and a girl who is not confident nor coordinated enough to ride on a sidewalk and it’s a recipe for disaster. Tyler was afraid I’d break a toe and my race would be a no-go so we took the bikes back and drove into the heart of downtown Charleston.
There was a temptation to try to get glorious pics of Charleston like you’d see at www.galmeetsglam.com for my Instagram page, but ultimately I decided not to bug Tyler to take pictures of me posing and instead just hold his hand and point out things we both thought were cool about the houses. In exchange he tamped down his desire to pull them all up on Zillow to see how much they’d sell for.
Ooo you get a peek of my Oofos sandals—we created a product review of these which will be coming soon!
We spent about an hour walking the streets and loved it, but it was dinner time. I knew the restaurants on Broad Street would be really busy, so I wanted to try a place closer to the boat since we’d be finished eating around 8. Our Air BNB host had recommended Edmund’s Oast, but we wanted a place less swanky. I found Taco Boy online and we had some pretty amazing tacos there.
Once we got back to the boat after dinner we decided to call it a night and try to get some rest. Tyler slept perfectly well, but I did not. I gave myself an hour before we left the boat Saturday morning-race day-to fuel with Orange Juice and Superhero Muffins I’d made ahead of time.
You can get the recipe here:
We had about 1.5 miles to walk to get to our shuttle location. We had timed it the night before so we were not in too much of a hurry. The plan was to jog some of the distance anyway to warm up our muscles. As part of the info on the Air BNB rental we were warned that the train which crosses the road leaving the marina will blow it’s horn before it crosses usually giving you 5 minutes or so to get the heck out of there. The horn blew just as we were leaving the boat. “Oh crap!” I thought. By the time we got to the road we saw the train was already blocking our exit. Luckily before we could panic, the last car came into view. We could have missed the entire race because the bridge closes at 7:00 am (hello, the race IS the bridge).
The shuttles were loaded quickly, but once we were dropped off at the corrals we had to weave through the crowds to get to the front. I don’t want to brag or anything…but since I had planned so far ahead to enter the race we were the first wave for our time slot. There was SOME pleasure in passing people with “J” bibs and thinking “Outta my way, I’m headed to ‘A’ beetches.”
The crowds were a blessing because it took my mind off of worries I would’ve had standing around in the corral. Instead we spent only about 15 minutes waiting. I thought there would be at least 5 minutes between the waves, but they walked us up to the start line only 2 or 3 minutes after the first runners took off. I started to cry.
I was so proud of myself. I was really excited to see what I could do. I was so freaking grateful for the opportunity to experience it all.
Tyler’s training was, shall we say, minimal. He was going to be my official race photographer and videographer…for as long as he could stay with me. Or at least that was the plan. I wanted to go out as slow as reasonably possible to start. I knew this would also be the best chance for Tyler to actually finish the whole thing while running. My goal was to start at 11:00 pace. I really want someone to do an academic study on what percentage of runners actually hit their goal “slow” pace during a race. We got pretty close: 10:00 is only a minute faster. To be fair, our effort was very low because of how relaxed we were.
There were great spectators on the Mt. Pleasant side of the bridge. This was my first race with true spectators and it feels so great to have so many people proud of you—and impressed by you just for showing up and having the courage to do it. We learned at our first water stop that we do not know how to drink from cups while running. Life: “One sip for you, now go run up that bridge”.
Ahh, the bridge. Everybody ahead of us is faster than us. It’s a little unsettling to see them all slow down. I said to Tyler, “Why does it look like they all stopped running?!” Cuz they were in pain. Cuz people don’t bounce much when they are running up a steep hill. We took it like champs. In fact, we got half way across the bridge before we started to say to each other, “Does this EVER flatten out? We’re still going up!!”
That was also the moment we each got a side stitch and started cursing for water. The BIGGEST lesson learned in this race was:
KNOW YOUR COURSE MAP
The course map tells you where water is. Duh. I knew somewhere in my brain there were only two. This seemed reasonable since we were hopefully not running longer than an hour. Of course they can’t have cups on the bridge; the wind would pick them all up and throw them into the marsh. The race’s motto would be “Litter: YAY!” instead of “Get over it”.
I was in deep pain but still determined when we finally started to go downhill around mile 4. As we were exiting the bridge I remembered something an elite runner had said about running tangents and for some reason this thought made me momentarily insane. I was like “I know stuff, I’m awesome” and decided I had to surge to run the shortest path to the water. Tyler said I was bookin’ it and he was sure this was the point I would lose him. Like I said, it was only momentary insanity. I had NO ability to surge at that point. We were still at an average 10 minute pace.
I’m sure it didn’t help mentally to finally be at the water station and once again only manage a sip. I was hot and I was working hard. I knew I had to slow my heart rate down to be able to continue running the duration. I needed a sign of hope so my eyes were straining to see the finish line in the distance.
KNOW YOUR COURSE MAP
I was not able to see the finish line, not because it was miles and miles away, but because we were running a horseshoe. We had two left turns to go before the finish. If I had known that I could have used language to motivate myself to make it to the next turn. I had to stop to walk around 5.5 miles. In reviewing my stats via my watch there was just no other option at that moment. My heart rate had climbed to 191. The highest it had ever been, even in my 5k where I had a decent kick at the end, it usually topped out at 186.
I think I just hadn’t practiced slowing down when you are that fatigued and impatient for it to be over.
Tyler had grabbed a popsicle, so he had a surge of energy and kept going without me for another .2 miles. He did end up having to walk for a little bit though too because he couldn’t get over the mental hurdle of the horse shoe either. We each walked about .07 miles.
Once I had my breath back I started running again and was very happy to cross the finish line. Tyler finished with a time of 61:18 and I had a 62:25.
For sure, there was momentary disappointment for me because I had to walk, but I was still pretty proud of myself. I just kept thinking, “That was freaking hard, but you did it!” Plus, if you have to walk, being able to hold out until after the bridge is certainly a bragging right. It was not easy to “Get Over it”.
We had a great time at the after party (although my makeup was blinding me in my left eye, hence the strained look on my face). There was a ton of free food, including Krispy Kreme doughnuts and the best BBQ I’ve ever had.
Once we got back to the boat we both showered and climbed in bed to try to nap. I wasn’t able to sleep. I just wanted to relive every moment over and over. I turned on a baseball game and listened to the rain drop on the roof of the houseboat. The water started moving a bit more and we were gently swaying. It was a great trip and will always be such a full memory for me.
Things I liked:
-Well organized race logistics-wise (even the festival was very well planned, all the free food was on side streets to limit congestion in the park)
-Bridge was such an entertaining challenge
-Tons of free food
-Great communication for questions and concerns with race organizers
Things I didn’t like:
-The mind-f*ck of the course layout
-No sourcing for individual race photos (if Tyler hadn’t taken pictures of me I wouldn’t have a single in-race action shot)
-Announcer for the start was a bit meh