Tips for Running the Cooper River Bridge Run

On April 2, 2011 three of my friends and I stood with 40,000 runners in the still-dark morning waiting for the start of the Cooper River Bridge Run. As the sun rose over the crowd, excitement filled the air. We huddled together against the predawn cold, corralled into our section for the wave start.  Then it hit me, I had to pee.

Thousands of runners gather as the sun rises at the CRBR 2011

Running the Cooper River Bridge Run takes a bit of clever planning.  Although it is an amazingly well-organized event, there are still some logistical problems runners must deal with. Here is a collection of tips and tricks we used to make the event smooth and stress free.

Tip #1

The race is point to point, starting in Mt. Pleasant and ending in downtown Charleston. The race starts at 8:00, but the bridge closes at 7:00.  There are shuttles from downtown beginning at 5:30. The last one leaves at 6:45. If you miss it, you’re out of luck. If you park in Mt. Pleasant, you’ll have to get back to your car. There are return shuttles, but you may feel rushed to get back. We were lucky enough to have a ride to the starting line. We got there at 6:00 to allow plenty of time for our ride to get back over the bridge. The night before the race, we parked a car downtown at a parking garage so we could leave after the race whenever we were ready without having to rely on anyone else.  We used a parking garage on St. Phillip Street near George Street. It was practically empty the evening before and free on weekends. It was also very close to all the race festivities- both the expo and the finish party.

Tip #2

Spring weather in Charleston is typically amazing, but early morning is still very cold. Since you have to arrive over and hour before the race starts, you WILL be cold. You’ll see people covered in trash bags and huddled in doorways waiting for the sun to rise. Bring an old shirt or jacket that you don’t mind throwing away. As the race starts, shed it and toss it to the side. Volunteers will pick them up after all the people are gone and (hopefully) donate them all to Goodwill.

Tip #3

Adequately hydrating is a tricky situation at CRBR. There are hundreds of Porto-potties near the corrals. Get in one early (like we did) and the line shouldn’t be more than twenty minutes, but then you may find yourself in my situation…fifteen minutes before start I had to pee! There was no way I could run six miles like that. The other girls were in the same boat. There we were, already corralled in and the lines were at least an hour wait. If we tried it, we would miss the race for sure! I thought we could get into Starbucks and use it, but so did everyone else and the line wrapped around the building. So I did what any respectable woman would do in this situation, I found a bush behind a grocery store and did my business. Look, I don’t recommend breaking the law under any circumstances except a complete emergency. I consider having to pee with no access to a bathroom an emergency. We took turns crouching, when I heard my friend fiercely whisper, “Cop!” I looked up to see my friends pretending to stretch while an officer approached our hedgerow. He was on to us immediately. However, here’s where I picked up tip #3- the officers are told not to write tickets for this particular offense on race day.  Please use a potty if at all possible, but you can’t just find a good hidden spot. If you look closely and pay attention you will see runners pop up from behind bushes and cars all over the place. It looks a little like that game Whack-a Mole.

Tip#4

There are 40,000 runners in this race. If you think the crowd will thin out after you get moving, think again. Plan your run accordingly. Pick a hole in the crowd and pass. Watch your step! You will not be able to see very far ahead of you and people will stop without warning. Especially while heading up the bridge. Even runners with the best intentions will stop to walk on the incline and they will give you no warning. This is not a race where you can zone out and run. My GPS read 6.44 miles at the end, due to all the zigging and zagging I had to do while running. Just be careful.

Tip #5

Train on hills. This isn’t really a race day tip, but more of a warning.  Do not underestimate the bridge. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is 2.5 miles long and 200 feet high. The slope is 4%. The uphill portion is over a mile long. You will not make it if you do all your training on a treadmill or flat surface. You will be one of those people that stop suddenly and seat belt check the runners behind you. Don’t be that person, you tick the rest of us off.  If you do decide to walk, move to the right side before you stop and get out of the way. I’m all for people that want to walk for their health, that’s awesome, but this is a RACE so if you aren’t going to race me then get out of my way. Please.

Tip #6

Take a minute and enjoy the view at the top. You worked hard to get there so cherish the moment. Then get ready to fly! The downhill is the best part of the race. Spread your arms a little, embrace your inner-child and let go. This will be the part of the race you really remember.

Tip #7

On the home stretch take advantage of the sidewalks to pass. People will be getting tired and slowing down so move to the side to zoom past them.  When you cross the finish line, remember that there are pictures being taken and try not to have a squished up getting ready to drop dead face. The picture choices they email to you later are actually really nice. I would have bought one if my pictures didn’t look like I’d been run over by a train.

Tip #8

Take advantage of all the free goodies after the race. Don’t bother standing in line for the ice cream or barbecue. They are just tiny samples that won’t make a dent in your hunger. Go for the bottled water, fruit, bagels, and Clif bars. There is less of a line, and you’ll get your fill much faster.  Also, there is no merchandise for sale after the race. If you want a race t-shirt or souvenir, buy it at the expo the night before or order it online. I was disappointed at this. I didn’t want to buy a Get Over It shirt until I actually Got Over It, so I missed out.

The Cooper River Bridge Run is a fantastic event in one of America’s most beautiful cities. Looking out over the crowd of runners and walkers, adults and children, all different races and nationalities, I felt a great sense of pride. It truly is an adventure that you will want to repeat time and again.

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