They built a bridge. I ran over it.

If you look real close, you can see me...

It’s funny how we can be so close to something so big, and never know about it.  Kind of like living with a big ‘ol buffalo in your den and waking up one day and realizing it’s been there the last 5 years or so.  That’s a little how I felt when I heard about the Bridge Run down in Charleston, SC.  Granted, I’ve only been running a little over 3 years, but I was still surprised that I’d never even known about a 10k that has been run annually since 1978 and which now attracts more than 30,000 runners each year, and this year was no exception.  A record 40,000+ registered, and just under 35,000 showed up and ran, so I felt like I had a good shot at finishing in the top 10…thousand.

Just to give some comparison to the numbers, here’s what some other famous races draw:

  • Boston Marathon: around 25,000
  • New York Marathon: around 45,000

The number of runners was about 2.5 times the population of my hometown and a little over half the size of my entire county.  From what I understand, previous years the gun has sounded and everyone just took off, so with the growing crowds they decided to use a wave start this year and we were herded into corrals based on our expected finish time.  I registered in the 49:00-60:00 minute finishers, and apparently so did about 33,000 other folks, so I ran in a crowd the entire race.  That part of the experience was pretty frustrating, because I had really hoped to go sub 50:00, which meant an average pace of around 8:00/mile, but I knew right away that it would be very difficult when I ended the weaving in and out of mile 1 in 8:21.  Still, I was hopeful that the crowd might thin after that first mile. Ummm, no.  

Absolutely the most beautiful race I've done.

The second mile started the slow ascent toward the bridge, and it was a pretty awesome sight as we ran toward the 2 beautiful towers on the Ravenel Bridge.  Unfortunately, since I was sharing that view with thousands of my newest racing partners, the second mile was even slower than the first and I finished it in 9:00 flat.  The best part of the second mile was the guy who decided to dart from the left side of the road to the right without warning, and clipped my foot in the process.  This caused an awkward near-fall stopped only by me ending up leaning on his back and doing the “falling with my ski poles flailing” maneuver to stay upright.  Had I fallen, I may have made the papers as the guy who got trampled during the run.  Still, I’d be famous.

By this point I was halfway to the highest part of the bridge, and I knew that unless I had some Herculean effort on the last half, I wasn’t going to be able to make up the time I’d lost in the early parts of the race. That fact was driven home even more when I ran the third mile in 8:36.  I crossed the halfway mark of the race in something like 26:45, almost 2 full minutes off the pace for going sub-50.

The while running gang! Everyone set PRs!

Finally, the crowds thinned and that, combined with the course being downhill and flat the rest of the way, finally made it possible to pick up the pace a little.  The 4th mile was all on the backside of the bridge, and with the roads still being pretty wide and less crowded, I cruised to my fastest mile yet, at 7:46.  Just as I was getting excited about my new found elbow room, I guy with a bullhorn was yelling that the exit ramp off the bridge was 2 lanes, and we all started bunching up again.  The exit ramp spilled us out onto the narrower streets of downtown  Charleston (which is beautiful, by the way) and movement became side-to-side again as much as straight ahead.  I finished mile 5 in 8:19.

At this point, I was feeling tired and frustrated.  I knew that my pace for this 10k was going to be close to (or maybe even slower than) the pace I had just run a week earlier for an entire half marathon and I knew I wasn’t going sub 50.  But I was excited about seeing my family and also about the fact that this would be a new PR for me at the 10k distance.  As I neared the end of mile 6, I started running with my head on a swivel, trying to scan the crowds on both sides of the street for my family.  Mile 6 took 8:14.

The last kick was fast, even though I was still dodging and passing some people and still looking for my family.  My pace for the last .2 was 6:49, and I crossed the line and saw 51:51 on the Garmin, which was about 3 minutes off my previous best.  The official results for the race had me at 52:05.

The best support crew a runner could have!!!

After we were done, we had to shuffle around for what seemed like an eternity until we were a couple blocks from the finish line.  That’s where I found my family, got some water and fruit, and snapped a picture with some friends who also ran the race.

Overall it was a good experience.  The biggest downside (besides the crowded conditions) was my family not being able to actually see some of the race, especially since they’d been up so early that day and braved the cooler conditions to stand in the crowd.  Oh well, they were good sports about it.  Should I do this one again next year, I’ve learned to start much, much closer to the front, and my family has learned that they can stay in bed and read my report instead.

Still, I did finish in the top 4,000.  Yippee.

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Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is lead pastor of The Gathering, a community church located in beautiful downtown Albemarle, North Carolina. He's the author of God is My Air Traffic Controller and My Name's Not Lou. Paul is passionate about his wife, his 3 children, running, reading, coaching, leading people who are following Jesus, Swedish Fish and the Carolina Panthers.

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