Cooper River Bridge Run Review

 By: Gary Taylor
On a cool Saturday morning, 50,000 of my closest friends and I shivered together, awaiting the start of the annual Cooper River Bridge Run. Started in 1978, the Cooper River Bridge Run has grown from a few hundred runners to one of the 10 biggest races in America. I have run this race several times, both while in college in Charleston over a decade ago as well as the past few years. The following is a review of this race and perhaps a few tips for those considering running it in the future.

The temperature is usually in the 40's at start time, give or take 10 degrees. It will be chilly while standing around but, actually, perfect weather for running. The starting corrals are on Coleman Blvd. in Mt Pleasant. They extend for at least half a mile from the start line. It has taken me as many as 20 minutes to get to the starting line once the gun goes off. Today, I was 2 minutes from the start.

First tip: If you want to run this race for time, get as close to the starting line as possible. Somehow, without fail, walkers get into the first few corrals which should only be sub-hour runners. This inevitably causes lots of traffic to weave through and will cost you time. Sub 49 minute runners can submit proof of time and get preferred corral placement. If you're not worried about your time, then just relax and enjoy the party. Also, get to the starting area in plenty of time to get in your corral or else you may have trouble getting into it in time to start.

As the clock counts down, the corrals swell forward in anticipation. Once the gun sounds, everyone starts walking toward the start. As you pass over the timing mat, you are free to run, however, you probably won't be able to for a hundred yards or so, because of traffic. Your first mile will be slow unless you are at the front.

Second tip: If you like a 6 mile long party, this is the place for you. If you have a fear of crowds, not so much. The first time you run this race, you might think that the crowd will thin out as you go along. It doesn't thin as much as speed up. There will be runners within arms-length of you in all directions at all times for the entire race. It's not so bad as long as you don't fall down. If your shoes comes untied, as mine did this year, I advise you to get to the side quickly and deal with it. If you stop in the center of the road, you will probably get trampled. Again, not trying to scare you, just letting you know. This is a BIG race.

Making your way out of Mt Pleasant, the Ravenel Bridge comes into view. It is a strikingly beautiful bridge and much smoother and easier to run than its' predecessors. There is only one hill in this bridge, the others had two. Once you hit the approach to the bridge, you'll need to use some caution as a lot of folks start to walk when they hit the hill. Making your way up the bridge ramp, you will start to feel the breeze from the ocean and the Cooper River. It will be welcome as you will be warmed up by now. Moving through the first bridge support, take a moment to look up and around you. This bridge really is a beautiful piece of engineering. The view out over Charleston Harbor isn't too bad either.

About this time, you'll crest the hill and the after-burners can kick in for the next 2 miles, which are all downhill. If you need to make up time, this is the place to do it. Enjoy the breeze and view while you can, this is worth the price of admission. Soon, you will make your way down the ramp to Meeting Street where a water station awaits. You will immediately notice that the breeze is gone, blocked by the buildings. The last couple of miles takes you down Meeting Street toward the Visitor's Center, then hangs a right over to King Street. You will pass Marion Square, the post-race gathering spot, but there is more running to do before you get there. Keep going, down King Street toward Charleston Place before taking a left back over to Meeting Street. As you come back on to Meeting, you will see the finish line about 500 yards up the road. Sprint. Congratulations, you got over it!

The post-race area is an experience unto itself. It's crammed full of spectators, runners, vendors and just about everyone in Charleston. It's even more crowded than the race itself, if that's possible. Water and fruit stations are everywhere. This is a very well-run and well-supported race. It's amazing that so many people can be involved in the race and things still maintain a appearance of organization.

In years past, packet pickup has been a nightmare. The Gaillard Auditorium is a decent-sized venue, but when so many people rush it at once, it quickly becomes unmanageable. This year, they had a tent set up outside to get your number and then you proceeded to get your other items. This seemed to work much better than in years past. You also have the option of having your packet mailed to you in advance for a nominal fee. Personally, I like getting in the crowds at the Expo.

It's a great race and the perfect excuse to spend a weekend in Charleston. For those that are considering registering for next year, here is my advice: Register early, book your rooms early, have your packets mailed or get to pickup early on Friday, be prepared for a 6 mile long party with CLOSE friends, and most importantly, relax and have fun.
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