Charleston has always been a city of memories for me. Since I’ve never lived in it they are mostly other people’s memories.
The “Holy City” my father calls it — only half in jest.
Both parents, all grandparents and great-grandparents were born here. My ancestors have left their mark on the city.
My great-great-grandfather organized the feeding of the city during the siege by the Union army in the Civil War. My grandfather was the architect who worked to preserve and reconstruct the old look of the city. He got the Charleston to pass one of the first zoning ordinances. My parents live in a house preserved by my grandfather, across the street from “Adger’s Wharf” — named for a great-great-grandfather who owned it in the 1840s.
My father was the historian for the diocese of South Carolina and tries hard to insure that I remember even the smallest detail: “See that vacant lot? Eliza Pinkney had a house there, but it was burnt in the fire of 1838. And over there? That doorway was made for your great-great-grandfather’s bank. There’s a hotel on the site now, but they kept the door when they tore down the bank. Your great-aunt Charlotte used to live in this house.” And so forth.
My only living aunts reside here. One told me “We like you much better when you don’t run.”
Here in 1670 the first permanent settlement in the Carolinas was made, where (according to the first explorers) the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers joined to create the Atlantic Ocean. Here, in 1776 a half completed fort turned back a British fleet and prevented the expeditionary force of marines from landing. Here in 1830 was the first scheduled passenger railroad in the US and the longest rail line in the world. Here in 1860 the first shot of the Civil War was fired.
The Cooper River bridge is 2 miles long and climbs nearly 200 feet — mostly in the first quarter mile (It needs to be big enough for ocean going ships to pass underneath — Charleston is the 5th largest port in the US. Both now, and at the time of the Revolution).
The Bridge Run, a 10K, starts two miles from the bridge (in Mount Pleasant), then crosses the bridge and heads down into the city for another two miles. My parents (who live here) have been encouraging me to run it for years. This year I have.
I arrived in Charleston in the middle of a driving rain and thunderstorm (4 inches fell that day). Not what you want for a run. The next day was sunny, hot and humid. Not what you want for a run.
I went out for a little run around the Battery — a little park at the point of the peninsula city, not far from my parent’s house. (“That bandstand there? Now that was built for the city by your great-grandfather as a memorial for his wife.”). Despite yesterday’s downpour the azaleas are in riotous bloom. The coast live oaks provide shade, which, even at 8am, is greatly desired. This park is called The Battery, and it is lined with cannon — all long silent. By WW2 Charleston’s defenses had moved well out from the city. The park is but a memory of the past.
I am dripping sweat when I return, a little before 9. My mother comments what a lovely cool day it is. I’ve been a Barbarian too long, I am not used to Charleston weather any more.
The next morning it is chilly. Good. I’m out the door a little after 5 and walk down to the shuttle area. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many school buses. Things move rapidly and I’m on a bus almost as soon as I get to the boarding area. Fifteen minutes later we are dropped off. No one tells us where to go, but the 5 people ahead of me seem to know where they are going, so I follow. A long walk in the dark. Eventually I realize we’ve been dropped off beyond the start for the slowest walkers and have to walk up to the real start. About a mile.
Active.com advertised 5 corrals, of which I was in the fastest (under 40 minutes). There turns out to be a sixth — invited elites, even faster. Doesn’t matter, I’m close enough to the start. There are almost no elites. There aren’t very many of us under 40s even. Last year 200 people finished this race in under 40 minutes.
Bibs are color coded. Luckily I am blue which I can actually see, not red or green which would be impossible to distinguish in this light.
I find I am rather a snob about running. In a Santa Barbara 10k the top 5% will be under 40 minutes. In this race, with ~40,000 runners only the top .5% will be under 40. Are Barbarian runners really 10 times as good as Charlestonians? And Charleston has actively imported a bunch of world class Kenyans and Ethiopians where SB just has local talent…
It is pitch black, still before 6. I look around for the sweats truck. There is none. I ask a volunteer — he has no idea what I’m talking about. I hang around. More people show up looking for the sweats truck. None of the volunteers knows what we are talking about. One of the runners says this is where it was last year. No one seems to be in charge. We persuade a policeman to radio back to the organizers. We are in the right place, and the sweats truck will be there “soon”. “Soon” turns out to mean “in about an hour”, but it does come, eventually.
I go for a warmup run, into the sleeping streets of Mount Pleasant (a town I’ve always liked), lots of coast live oaks and spanish moss. I keep going until I hit the marsh and can look across the river to the city.
As I trot back I start to get excited. I feel weak. Hungry. I’ll never be able to race. Just nerves, I know. But it feels real.
When I get back, I still have a long time to the start. I do some yoga to limber up.
The announcer says the wheelchair race will start in 2 minutes. There are only 16 entrants, 15 men and a woman. Now it is sixty BANG seconds. The gun went off a minute early? The announcer’s clock is a minute slow? Disconcerting.
Time for me to stand in line.
Nice wide road, lots of room. Oops there’s a median divider about 100ft after the start, right in front of me; I need to move a little so I won’t bump into that. More people come. Soon we are packed. I see one slow person (wrong color bib) near me in the corral. I don’t say anything, but I disapprove.
Someone plays the star spangled banner on the trumpet — which the sound system turns into horrible screeches (to my ears). Someone then sings the star spangled banner (which also sounds horrible to my ears).
The walls between corrals are removed and we all crush forward (rats — I was thinking we’d approach the start line with a running start, at speed. Now we’ll be all jammed together and not get up to speed until after the start. Sigh).
The announcer tells us that the elites have not arrived yet (then why did they remove the barriers?) could we please step 5 steps back. We do. We are asked to move back another five steps. Grumph.
Some people start to count down with the clock. I don’t. If I watch the clock I will have to crane my neck and won’t be able to see where I’m going when we get to 0.
All jammed up. I’ve never run in this big a race. In the big races I have run I’ve been doing marathons where I don’t want to zoom out. But this is a 10K. I want to start fast, and I can’t.
Oh well, it’s not that bad; things are moving pretty well after 100m. But there is still no room to pass people. I assume we’re going at least 6:26 (that’ll just break 40 min), not too concerned, I just feel hemmed in.
Things ease as we keep going. The lead runners are all out of sight by now.
We pass Shem Creek. I glance to the side and see there are still trawlers here at anchor. We used to get shrimp here fresh off the boat when I was a child. Finally! a memory of my own.
At the one mile mark I am distressed to see 6:35. Gleep! That’s way too slow. That won’t even break 40. I’ve been running trails for the last month. Up and down steep hills. Slowly. I’m not out of shape exactly, but my legs don’t know how to find a fast pace. And the crush at the start did not help things.
My body has no trouble picking up the pace, it just needs to know that it must do so. I speed up.
But at about 1.5 miles we reach the on-ramp for the bridge, and this is really steep. I think I’m doing great because I’m passing people right and left (mostly left — I’m on the left side of the line of runners as there is more room there), but when I reach the two mile mark I see 6:59. Now that is really appalling.
But shortly after that, the bridge levels off. I glance out over the River to the ocean. Nothing moving in the harbor this early.
The next mile, is 6:03. Thank goodness. I’m still passing people.
The fourth mile is 5:56, this is downhill and gets us off the bridge.
Now we are running in Charleston, down Meeting St. Someone zooms passed me. Someone dressed in a silly costume too. How humiliating.
Fifth mile 6:08. Reasonable. A little slower than I’d like, but reasonable.
I pass someone again. And a few more. The route jogs one block right and now we run down King St. Almost done now. Here’s Calhoun St. (Named after the VP of the US in 1860 (or was it 1856?) whose son married my great-great-aunt).
Now we jog left. Here’s mile 6. All right! 5:53. Excellent. Now we’re on Meeting St. again but going the other way (why?). The finish line is in sight. My parents said they would be here. I don’t even look. I’m trying to catch the two guys in front, who have also just sped up. I don’t catch them. I don’t fall behind though.
38:5? as I cross the finish.
I forget to stop my watch.
No problem I’ll find the results and look at them.
They do not post results.
Now that is appalling.
I have to wait until the “awards ceromony” which is hours off. Just to find out my time? Bleah. Still, I wait.
Well I wasn’t one of the top 3 masters. But I would have been the third “super-master” — if only I’d been 2 months older, I’d be 50, not 49. Oh well. I still don’t know my time. I wander over to an information booth. I find I am 12th in my age group and get a mug. I still don’t know my time.
I go home. No results are up.
I still don’t know my time.
Wally, Paul, has anyone told you how wonderful you are?
(Next day: 38:48, 177/37,617 finisher, 12/1118 in division)
At dinner the next day, the husband of my first cousin once removed tells me that he designed the route for the first run (and all subsequent routes are based on that), 32 years ago.