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10K to the Bar: Charleston's Cooper River Bridge Run

by Caroline Eubanks Apr 29, 2013

The Cooper River Bridge Run is an annual Charleston event that brings together both locals and track stars from around the world. While the aim of the 6.2-mile race is to encourage a healthy lifestyle, it’s become one of the largest parties in South Carolina. Here are my notes on what it was like running alongside a strange mix of dedicated athletes and costumed weirdos.

It’s way too early to be doing anything physical on a Saturday morning. I’m standing amongst 40,000 random people, including some elite runners from Ethiopia and Kenya. They’ll clock in at 27 minutes — I’ll be lucky if I don’t get trampled by the overweight guys dressed as Smurfs.

I’m in line for one of at least 50 port-a-potties, and the sun has yet to rise. Why am I not in bed again? Forget airport security. This is my definition of hell.

I finally reach the toilet. No, this is my definition of hell.

The race has officially started, but I’m way back in the G Corral, where I can’t even see the starting line. I have to fight my way in like I’m getting ready to run with the bulls.

The first runner crosses the finish line and I haven’t even gotten to the start line yet. FML. Nothing keeps you motivated like the fact that someone is already in Marion Square sipping on a victory beer before you’ve even picked up the pace.

My group finally gets moving, making our way down Coleman Boulevard and over Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. Music from local bands can be heard in the distance, to keep us motivated.

I’ve only now reached the beginning of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. The cable-stayed structure spans 2.5 miles over the Cooper River, after which this damn race is named. It leads to downtown Charleston, and I’ll have to run another 2 miles once I hit the end. A man proposes to his girlfriend behind me on the bridge. The sun is now fully out and beating down on my pale forehead.

“Get over it” takes on a whole new meaning as I touch dry land. An African dance troupe is performing at the downtown base of the bridge; locals are ringing bells and cheering for us. At this point, I’m starting to get back into the rhythm of the race after walking for a mile.

I’m passed by a group of guys carrying a canoe on their heads, decked out as a Civil War-era submarine. Of course. Just when I think I’m close, turning onto King Street, I still have to make my way down four blocks before looping around Wentworth Street.

I finally cross the finish line and already want a beer. I’m met by hordes of people, crowded on lines for freebies like bananas, bagels, and bottles of barbecue sauce. I track down my friends and go in search of some much-needed celebratory alcohol.

I find it so ironic that this is supposed to be an event promoting good health, because when we’re done, we’re just going to get trashed. Nothing like icy margaritas at Juanita Greenberg’s after running 10K — and half-priced ones at that! This race has become one of the city’s biggest drinking days, leaving St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve in the dust.

My friends saddle up at the Stars Restaurant’s swanky bar, where the waiters are wearing white tuxedo jackets. In a grubby tanktop and stretchy pants, I doubt I would ever get into this place on a normal day. Good thing I’m not alone — runners in all states of dress are already sucking down bloody marys and mimosas.

After one beer, I’ve already reached my limit and start to get sleepy. It’s not even 11 and I’m ready to go back to bed. Next year I’ll start training earlier — in both running and booze drinking.

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