Think about the largest crowd you’ve ever been a part of. Outdoor concerts, festivals, parades. Maybe a stadium at a football game. Maybe New Years Eve in Manhattan. What was the crowd doing? Maybe marching, maybe cheering, maybe standing in groups listening to music. Did you feel that bizarre, out-of-body sensation of being a tiny piece of whatever singular cause brought the crowd to the event?
A couple weekends ago, I participated for the first time in Charleston’s annual Cooper River Bridge Run with 40,000 other athletes. The race has become a wonderful tradition that attracts world class runners, average Joes, and everyone else in between. People of all sizes, shapes, and ages venture down to Charleston, South Carolina to celebrate the beginning of Spring by running the 10-kilometer race over the beautiful Ravenel Bridge (not the old Cooper River Bridge anymore) and finishing in downtown Charleston.
The previous year, 2016, the Bridge Run had occurred only a couple months after I arrived in Charleston, and so I only got to experience it second hand through hosting friends that were in town. This year, I was very excited to finally participate in this famous Charleston tradition. I had purposefully prepared and trained to make sure that I was familiar with the intensity of a 6.2 mile jog. Starting a couple weeks before the race, I even was very conscious of the food and beverages I consumed, trying to prepare my body for peak performance.
The Friday before race day, I met my family at the Coliseum in North Charleston to pick up our packets with the bib numbers that showed our assigned “Corrals”. These Corrals are a chaos control mechanism to ensure that the thousands of people don’t start running at exactly the same time.
I started the race in Corral G, far towards the back of the line. There was a timer hanging over a covered awning that marked the official start of the 10 kilometers. I didn’t cross that line to officially begin the run until the timer reached 30 minutes, and only then did I begin the dodging of slower joggers and walkers that persisted through the entire race. Due to the sheer quantity of bodies involved in the race, I quickly realized that the run would mostly involve just trying to avoid stepping on heels and running sideways into grandmothers or small children. I knew there would be huge mobs of runners. I had seen pictures from previous years. But wow. Once you’re there, standing among the enormous mob with humanity as far as you can see in front and behind you, it brings a truly peculiar sensation of being one little blip in such an enormous tide of human inertia.
Then, because the race finishes in downtown Charleston, all the bars and restaurants offer a variety of specials to welcome sweaty, exhausted patrons. This is one of the features of this famous race that provide its totally deserved reputation. Starting at 10am, every bar and restaurant has special offers for runners. Everything from free drinks for the first 10 race finishers that enter to $12 bottomless mimosas to half price food and beverages to everyone with a bib number. With so many people crammed into such a small area and still feeling that wonderful runners high of endorphins and accomplishment, merchants get very creative with their offers to attract race finishers.
That day, I woke up at 5am to be sure I made it to the starting line on time. I finished the 10k race around 9:30am. Then we hopped from bar to bar for the rest of the afternoon, then went back to my apartment to clean up and prepare for the evening, then out again to dinner with my family, then back to the bars again for the rest of the eve and night and into the next day. It was an exhausting but amazing occasion!
The following Sunday, we went out to Folly Beach where my friend’s family rented a house. We went out to the beach, fell down on the sand next to the mild Spring Atlantic, and did not move. We laid there, taking in the vitamin D, rehydrating as much as possible, and discussed plans for the Cooper River Bridge Run 2018. It truly was an extraordinary experience that everyone in the Southeast should make an effort to participate in at least once. There’s simply nothing quite like that bizarre sensation of being one little blip within such a massive moving entity.