The Charleston Cooper Bridge Run 10k is a landmark running event that attracts athletes from all over. This year’s event ran Saturday and boasted a record attendance of nearly 35,000 runners. The ride that follows the next day is also a major cycling event that attracts large numbers of riders, some of whom participated in the run the day prior. This was my largest event, although I can only guess that the attendance was between 500-1,000. Needless to say, it was a crowded and challenging field.
Pretty much the one thing I had heard about the Charleston ride was that it was fast. Insanely fast. The course is flat and the lead pack can run in the 25 mph range. After dealing with some major winds for the past few days, a nice calm, sunny day was welcomed and it encouraged a faster pace. I was on the fence about how I wanted to attempt the race. Part of me wanted to jump in with the lead pack and race my guts out, while another part was content with a nice, leisurely social ride. I decided to start a little ways back from the front and see how I felt. If I wanted to hammer, I would be close enough to stay with the front-runners, or I could back off and find another moderately paced pack.
The pace started slower than I expected, probably around 20 mph, which was fine for me as I got warmed up. As the pace picked up, my legs responded. In fact, I felt great, and began to move in tandem with the pack. People slowly started drifting away and as they pulled to the side, I would close the gap and keep the pace. I kept going and going, watching the miles tick as the pace continued to jump. We turned a corner and the pace jumped even further, forcing more people to drop off. I felt great and was able to stick with it a long while.
Around mile 35 or so, I had made it so far through the pack that I found myself, oddly enough, within sniffing distance of the front. At the closest, I was probably about 10 riders back. When I saw daylight in front of them, I knew that my legs had taken me further than they should have. I was out of my league here. At one time I made a slight misstep in the dual peleton and within an instant, a number of riders passed me, the last of which scolded me for something as he passed. I still have no idea what he said. I dropped a little, but stayed within reach of the front.
The biggest challenge for me, with my lack of experience, was fueling myself while riding. Drinking from Gatorade bottles was fine, but getting any food in my stomach was next to impossible. At about mile 40, I was almost through both of my bottles and I was in dire need of some solid fuel. I knew there was a rest stop ahead around mile 46 or 48, so I decided to try to hang on until then. At this point I really started to feel it in my quads. We encountered a mild uphill, maybe a 2% grade, which I hung with, but I could feel my legs burning. After that they almost felt numb, but I continued my cadence and hung around. It was another burning sensation that finally got me — Mother Nature, if you know what I mean. She could not wait any longer and at about mile 44, she won the battle. I pulled off the road, found the nearest tree, swallowed some food, and made my way solo. I could still hear the whirring buzz of the lead pack pulling away as I slowly pedaled into the wind. I knew I would never catch them again. At that point I had an unbelievable 23.5 mph average.
If you look at the Garmin link of the first leg, under the Timing graph, you’ll notice the big difference in speed until around the halfway mark.
The rest stop was waiting for me just two miles ahead, as advertised (figures!). I waited there a long while for some familiar faces to show up. Found some new and old friends and rode in at a more comfortable pace, probably between 17-19. When we arrived back at Blackbaud Stadium stadium, we only had 90 miles. One of the guys was trying to conquer his first century (shout out to Eric – congrats!), so we gave Daniel Island a short tour as we finished up the miles.
We still ended up with about 98 miles, but the smell of barbeque beckoned so we called it quits. We’re calling it a century anyway.