Run the Bridge 10K: race recap

Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge Race 2016

Two bridge races in two weeks that crossed into two states – a first for me. 

Last weekend, I PRed at the Trenton Half Marathon, and this week, on Sunday, November 6, 2016, I ran the Cooper-Norcross Run The Bridge 10K. This is a popular, competitive race, the first 3 miles of which includes running across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which connects Philadelphia, PA to Camden, NJ. I was slated to run this race with my track club, Philadelphia Runner Track Team. The race was on my calendar but it was not a goal race of mine. Although I always give my best, the reality was that my legs were tired after last week's 13.1 PR and I was nearing my peak (if not past it) for this training cycle. 

The morning before the race, I ran 3 miles: 1 easy, and 2 at about 80-85% finishing with 4 100-meter strides. My legs felt snappy, and I finished feeling confident. It's always great to have a successful workout the day before a race.

Pre-race dinner

You guessed it: pasta with red sauce and a glass of Tempranillo. No surprises here. It's important to stick to a meal that you like and you know works for you. I rarely veer from this pre-race nosh.

Pre-race morning

Freddy and me aprés race.

Freddy and me aprés race.

I didn't have the best night of sleep but still woke up raring to go. Though I was not hungry, I still consumed my usual pre-race breakfast knowing my body needed some fuel: a small soy latte and English muffin with orange marmalade.

Since I was running for my club, I wore my team's kit: a crop top and boy shorts (I like when I run for my team because I don't have to think about what to wear!) It was a chilly morning but not as cold as during last week's half marathon.  To keep warm pre-race, I wore a throwaway thrift store sweatshirt and sweatpants – and gloves because I hate having cold hands.

I drove to Camden, NJ, and met up with my friend Freddy. We chatted and soaked in the festive pre-race atmosphere. He hadn't done speed work in ages and asked me what pace I was aiming for. I told him 7:15 and he said he'd try to keep up. I half rolled my eyes because Freddy is fast – I think his marathon PR is 3:0X, but don't quote me. On my tired legs, I knew it would be a reach for me, but I was glad to have a friend to pace me. 

We warmed up right on the baseball diamond at Campbell's Field. I usually warm up for a 10K by running 2 miles and doing some strides, but only wound up running a little over 1 mile and doing 2 sets of pre-race strides. 

For this race, runners have to walk from the stadium to the bridge. You actually have to climb over two concrete barriers to get to the start, which is comical to watch. Some runners approached the barriers like they were running steeplechase. Other rolled over them. (I'll let you guess which method I used.) The bridge walkway was lined with spectators, and you could see and hear helicopters flying overhead.

Like last week in Trenton, most participants were bundled up like they were running in Siberia – long tights, hats, sweatshirts. I got some funny looks when I stood there, half naked by contrast, in my short shorts and crop talk, belly button exposed to the autumnal air. But I knew within 5 minutes, I would be very glad I was wearing light clothing.

Knowing award winners of this race was calculated by gun and not chip time (which is rare), I got as close to the start as possible, without disrespectfully standing in front of runners whom I knew were truly faster than me (my pet peeve). I wished my younger, speedier teammates luck. The race started right on time, which made all runners happy.

My goals

Knowing I had PRed at least week's race, that this was a competitive, crowded field and that I could possibly be past my peak for this training cycle, I gave myself a break goal wise:

  • A goal: Podium in my age group
  • B goal: Top 5 in my age group
  • C goal: Finish under 45 minutes

The race

Freddy and I finishing up the Bridge segment. Photo by Kevin Brandon.  

Freddy and I finishing up the Bridge segment. Photo by Kevin Brandon.  

The race starts on an uphill, climbing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, a 9,573-foot-long suspension bridge spanning the Delaware River. The bridge is a photogenic and familiar site to Philadelphians and visitors. Its especially pretty at night when it's glowing pale blue and up twinkling against the night sky.

I ran this race once before in 2012, so I knew what to expect. The start does not look like much of an incline but it's steady, long, and you have to repeat it heading into Philadelphia and then heading back into Camden. Starting on such an uphill is tricky; if you go out too fast you will suffer long and hard in the final miles. I held back, knowing that what comes up must come down and I could sprint on the downhills. I tried to run by feel, since getting wrapped up on numbers was pointless on the bridge,

If you're running for fun, the bridge portion of the race boasts an amazing view of the river, the Philly skyline, etc. But I was so focused that I could only see what was 10 feet in front of me. I did notice the throngs of crowds sitting on the bridge walkway, watching the race. I was grateful that Freddy was sticking by my side. 

Just after 3 miles, feeling very glad I was wearing minimal clothing, we descended the bridge and turned into what seemed like the flat part of this course along the streets of Camden, past the Battleship NJ and along the picturesque Camden waterfront, with the Philly skyline beckoning across the water. But it is a false flat. In analyzing my post-race files, the second 5K showed a noticeable rise in elevation. My average page for the first 5K was 7:09 and my average for the 2nd 5K was 7:12. I didn't run negative splits, but in terms of effort and taking the higher second 5K into account, I ran pretty evenly and was happy with how I managed the race and conditions. 

My splits: 35, 6:55, 7:04, 6:55, 7:16, 7:20, 7:05.

I don't drink at all during 10Ks unless it's swelteringly hot, so I skipped all the water stops. They seemed to be well-manned.

During the last mile, I was feeling it. Freddy was still by my side, even though I'm fairly sure he could have bolted and run a much faster time. In fact, I told him to, but he didn't. A girl who had been chasing me for 2 miles finally passed me but I was too tired to shift gears and chase her.

"How bad do you want it?" I asked myself.

"Mmmmm.... * gasps for breath * not that bad right now."

I was hurting.

In retrospect, I'm sure much of the hurt was mental. What can I say? That's another muscle I still need to bulk up.

As we were heading toward the finish, some of the slower runners were heading toward us and we saw one woman trip over a speed bump on the road and fall to the ground with a thud. It was awful to witness, and I hope she was okay. Other runners helped her up, which warmed my heart. The speed bumps were the same color as the asphalt, so they were easy to miss.

Somehow, I held onto my pace with self talk. We turned the corner into the stadium and I saw the girl who had just passed me and another girl in front of her.

One of my best skills as a runner is that I can quickly accelerate and hold that speed. My coach even commented on it, and asked me if I would consider running 800 meters. 

"How bad do you want it now?" I asked myself.

I answered by taking off, catching up to the women quietly, then bolting past both of them before they knew what was happening. My finish kick enabled me to pass 2 women, ratcheting myself up two steps in the overall female finish queue – 33rd instead of 34th or 35th. Freddy was right there with me, dear friend that he is. He surely could have run faster.

I ended up, amazingly, achieving my A, B and C goals: I got 2nd in my age group of 111 women and finished in 44:40 chip/44:44 gun, comfortably below my goal. I was 33rd woman of 1584.

I was so glad to have finished and to have gotten through that race.  My teammates, Kinjal, Lauren, and Meghan, totally kicked butt taking 2nd, 4th & 5th place female respectively. After chatting with friends and teammates, I had brunch with my sister, who lives in South Jersey, not far from Camden. Amazingly, I was not too sore the next day.

Run the Bridge Race Review

The good

  • Fun. picturesque course
  • Attractive shirt. Runners got to vote on the color via email. My choice won. Red just happens to be my favorite color.
  • Attractive, unusual graphic square medal
  • Real bathrooms, since the start is at a stadium, with minimal lines 
  • Well-manned water stops

The not-so-good

  • Speed bumps need to be spray painted a screaming neon color or the course needs to be rerouted. Dangerous.
  • Confusing after-race logistics. It was not clear where to go to get your snack bag or to see preliminary results
  • Would it kill organizers to please throw in some XS ladies' shirts? Pretty please? I'm sure I'm not the only one who drowns in the small. 
  • Not all of the course was well marked. My teammate, Lauren, lost about 20 seconds, because she ran off course due to insufficient signage.
Another race, another dress. Women's small. Le sigh. 

Another race, another dress. Women's small. Le sigh. 

Diego inspects the long-sleeve race shirt. Attractive, but bummer that it's way too big.

Diego inspects the long-sleeve race shirt. Attractive, but bummer that it's way too big.

Cool finisher's medal

Cool finisher's medal

Have you ever raced Run the Bridge?