Getting Over It

Today was such a marvelous day in South Carolina that I just have to share a few tidbits, especially since there were a few lessons thrown in for good measure.

I’m skipping the part about insomnia, something I’m always plagued with the night before a big event like the Cooper River Bridge Run. You’d think I was expected to be a front runner or something! So I got up at 4:30 a.m. and headed off to Charleston to “get over it.”  The race was to begin at 8:00, and since I was in the K-group, I figured it’d be 8:30 before I crossed the Start line. Boy, was I wrong.

Because of a problem with the bridge (never found out what), it was almost 10:00 before I finally headed towards the bridge and Charleston. While waiting, I entertained myself by watching some zany people. I also chatted with some cool ones. My favorite new stranger/walker/friend is a woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a year ago. After six rounds of chemo, she was pronounced cancer-free. Today she was doing the Bridge to celebrate life and health. Before we parted company, she extracted a promise that I’d make an appointment for a physical next week

Walking and jogging, I crossed Shem Creek and headed toward the bridge. One advantage of being at the back of the pack is that the people there don’t take themselves so seriously. They laugh and tell funny stories and encourage one another. They also take time to stop and take pictures. My favorite family shot was of a couple cradling a baby between them. The baby was wearing super size sunglasses, and the father had some weird hair going on. I think it was a wig.  I smiled as I thought of how neat that picture would be to the family as the child grows.

I spied several men wearing red dresses, and two of them were walking near me. Feeling brave, I told them that they won the prize for originality, creativity, and pure guts. “Thanks,” they said. Then one of them told me that he had considered wearing his blue ensemble and then opted for the red. “Good choice,” I said. “It makes a bolder statement.”

As I passed other walkers and joggers, I overheard snippets of conversations, some of which were quite interesting. About three miles into the event and almost halfway over the bridge, I heard a man say, “Sometimes I think it’s just pure luck.” His walking buddy replied, “Yeah, but perseverance is important too. Just sticking to something and not quitting can make a big difference.” I wondered if they were psychologists, career counselors, professional employees, or regular guys who were trying to figure things out. Whatever their status, their philosophy applies to just about every area of life.

And the music! Oh my gosh, it was fantastic. That’s an understatement. The bands and the sounds they made were awesome beyond words. Some were so good that race participants took a break to dance along the way! At a street corner in downtown Charleston, we were greeted by an Elvis looking crooner with a great voice. The band performing at the park was ultra talented and entertaining. So were the men and women who danced on stage. Their costumes were original and “fun,” and their joie de vivre was contagious.

And the food. It was great too. I sampled an apple, some ice cream, and a bagel. Oranges, bananas, yogurt, and water were available too. The vanilla and chocolate ice cream tasted so cold and creamy as I stood listening to the band on stage and watching the dancers. I looked up at the clear blue Carolina sky,  glimpsed the American flag, and then caught sight of a father dancing with his daughter on his shoulders. What a morning!

To no avail, I tried to get together with Lauren and Kelly. I didn’t see Ben, Lisa, or Lynn either. Still, it had been a fun morning, and reluctantly I left to walk towards the busses that took race participants back to Mt. Pleasant. On the bus, I sat next to someone who had completed the Chicago Marathon, and I enjoyed listening to her story.

Tonight as I remember all of the upbeat sights and sounds, there’s only one downer. Not only after we got into the city, a man missed his footing somehow and fell to the sidewalk. I heard a couple of people scream, and startled, I turned just as he hit the pavement, blood gushing from his forehead. I hope he’s okay tonight.

And I hope the 44,000 folks who “got over it” had a swell time. And I hope you’ll join us in 2013.

Crossing Over

“You’re a crazy woman, you know that?” he asked.

“Yes Dear. You’ve told me about a thousand times,” I replied. “Just let me out of the car and meet me on the other side.”

“But it’s noon…and hot as blazes. You’ll have a heat stroke,” my husband added, thinking that his words would dissuade me from walking across the Cooper River Bridge yesterday.

From my perspective, the only thing crazy about it was that I didn’t have the proper shoes. I was wearing Teva flip-flops, and although I was a bit concerned about chafing, I was determined to cross that bridge. Walking across it was symbolic, and what better time to do it than the day after my birthday and the beginning of the first week of my retirement.

As I began the first incline, I heard a horn beep, and to the right, I caught a glimpse of my Highlander crossing the bridge.  Already hot, I began to wonder at the folly of the venture, but it was too late to turn back. I had lots of company, mostly walkers, and I entertained myself by observing them and taking pictures of the scenery. One man who was descending the bridge assured me that it was a “teeny tiny” bit cooler at the top. One young woman wearing hospital scrubs walked towards me carrying her shoes, her bare feet walking on the scalding concrete. A few yards later I stopped to take a picture, and when I looked back towards the Mt. Pleasant side, I saw her taking a break, sitting down with her legs drawn up. I thought about her off and on all day and hoped she was okay.

As I neared the top of the second crest, a man zoomed by me. “Show off,” I thought, a little envious of someone who could move so quickly in the sweltering heat. My running days are over. I’m a walker now. Still, once in a while I feel a little twinge of regret or envy or something whenever I see a zoomer, especially when I’m moving about as fast as I can move.

I consoled myself by saying, “What’s the hurry? It’s the journey, not the destination,” and that worked pretty well. By the time I crested the second incline and started down again, I saw him. He was standing by the railing, breathing hard and wiping his head, face, and neck with a towel. I felt fine as I breezed right by him, thinking of Aesop’s tortoise and hare fable.

I snapped two pictures of scripture verses that someone had etched into one of the concrete structures on the bridge. I didn’t know whether to be amused or angered. How can a person who’s serious about spreading “the Word” go around defacing property?

Near the end of the crossing, a young man sporting a pony tail, numerous tattoos, and a finely-toned body flew by me. Moments later, a young woman wearing yellow shorts and a black sports bra did the same. “Ah, youth,” I thought.

I’ve always loved bridges, and the Cooper River Bridge (don’t bother telling me that it’s the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge) has always been a favorite. My mother once told me that I cried and begged to take it home with me when I was a toddler. I didn’t understand about bridges then, how they took you from one place to another. I do now. Crossing the 2.5 miles awesome bridge yesterday symbolized another crossing over for me.  There’s the obvious one, the birthday thing, but then there’s the retirement transition too. I can’t get to what’s next without leaving the shore and crossing over.

It was hot. I had to work hard. There was a gentle breeze near the top, and a friendly soul encouraged me by telling me about it before hand. Some people fell by the wayside, especially if they were ill-equipped for the journey (improper shoes) or they went too fast and burned out. Some who were young and fit zoomed by me.

Hmmm. Am I describing yesterday or the working world in general? In both cases, moving at my own pace, I made it to the other side…of the bridge and to retirement.  I hope the young woman with the painful feet takes better care of herself on her journey. And that the speedster slows down and enjoys the trip.

Cooper River Bridge Run

Cynthia Marsh Cook, I hope you’re reading this and that you’re seriously considering “getting over it” with me next year. For the first time in 30 years, I did the Cooper River Bridge Run/Walk with no kith or kin to swap war stories with in the park. It was still an awesomely amazing morning, but it would have been even more memorable with someone to share the event with.

The first time I participated in the Cooper River Bridge Run, the race began at Patriot’s Point, and I could see every single person who was running with me. In those days, I was running and not walking, and the entrants were much fewer in number than Saturday. There were probably several hundred of us, but we were contained in one relatively small area. Today the sea of people stretches so far that you can’t see a beginning or an end. Another change is that I’ve slowed down quite a bit.

As the years rolled by, the crowd grew larger, and there were times that we could feel the old bridge shake as hundreds of footfalls hit the pavement. I loved that old bridge! The beauty and majesty of it were awesome. It had what I often refer to as the “coolness factor.” But back to the story. Every year, the numbers swelled, and at some point in the early 1990’s, I realized that it was easy to get separated from one’s companion(s). One minute your party would be there, and the next they’d be far ahead, not to be seen again until the end.

Eventually, the Grace Bridge was demolished, leaving the Pearman Bridge, and in the summer 2005 the Arthur Ravenel Bridge was dedicated and opened. It’s the one we now traverse, and I have to admit that it too has a definite coolness factor too. It doesn’t shake, it’s much wider, and the diamond twin towers are awesome. The only advantage the first bridge had was the wonderful sensation of soaring when you flew down the span. Of course, you had to work like the dickens to get to the top of them, but once the ascent had been laboriously made, well, the fast, fun descent was so amazing that I can’t find adequate words to describe it.

Initial numbers of a few hundred grew to a few thousand, and Saturday there were nearly 30,000 people “getting over it.” From my vantage point, I could see neither beginning nor end. People were so densely packed around me that I could scarcely see to the side of the road, much less the start line. For the first time, we lined up in “waves” according to our projected finish time, and I was in Wave J, the next to the last one. Did that bother me? Not at all. I felt happy to be able to walk 6.2 miles, especially with my bum left knee. About the densely packed crowd, there were people of all ages, from babies being pushed by their parents to quite a few senior citizens. Truly, I spied hundreds who were older than yours truly, an encouraging observation.

Speaking of doing the distance, I used to always finish in less than an hour. Always. Then one year (I think it was 1982), I crossed the finish line to see my disappointing time of 1:01:01. It was devastating . I haven’t seen Saturday’s time yet, but I think it was probably 1:30 or more. Do I care? Not at all. About a decade ago, I began to think of the annual event as just that: an event. It’s a day to get together with thousands of other like-minded individuals who are into fitness and fun and the celebration of life.

Saturday was the first time ever that I’ve been on the bridge without a single family member being somewhere in the pack. The Chick-fil-A cows were there, a sight that always brings a smile to my face. There was even one on the Bridge itself, and I saw several people scoot over to give him a hug. People in zany costumes were there…loved that too. I think my favorite s were the men dressed in red dresses, one of whom had a beard. And this year there were more bands along the way; I especially loved the Bluesy Duo on King Street.

Still, there was no kith or kin to swap war stories with in the park. My friend Lynn and her sister Pam were there somewhere in the crowd, but we missed each other in the mass of humanity. I munched on a bagel and an apple before catching a bus that took participants back to Mt. Pleasant, and while I enjoyed the happy banter of all the people around me, I missed my peeps (I hope my daughter Elizabeth will forgive me for using that expression).  Maybe they’ll join me next year. Cynthia Marsh Cook, I hope you’re reading this and that you’re seriously considering “getting over it” with me in 2012.

That Awesome Bridge

I saw the Blues Brothers in Mt. Pleasant yesterday. There were three of them instead of two,  and one of them had red curly hair beneath his black hat. Still, there was no mistaking who they were as they hustled over to join a band performing “Soul Man.” I was in the Shem Creek area heading to THE BRIDGE with 33,014 other walkers and runners and didn’t have time to listen to their music. Luckily, there was lots of music, loud and soulful, all along the way.

From before dawn to way after dusk, yesterday was a perfect day. My hubby and I pulled out of the driveway at 4:35 a.m. and headed to Charleston for the 33th Annual Cooper River Bridge Run. It was probably my 25th or 26th year to “get over it,” and the experience was just as unique and special as any and all of the others.

We were on Hwy 601 within ten minutes of leaving our house, and I LOVED the ride. It was dark, yes, but there was something special about the way the headlights lit the way before us as we rode down the long, narrow, snake-like road. The lights shone on several startled deer hovering near the side of the highway, but fortunately all of them stayed put.  In all the years we’ve known each other, I don’t ever recall hurtling down back roads, safe and protected within the confines of a car, so early in the morning.

Arriving at Mt. Pleasant around seven, we saw thousands of people. How long had they been there???? Otis dropped me off about half a mile from the start, and I busied myself people watching, walking about, and shivering. A pretty young woman, Lisa Wilson, recognized me as one of her former teachers at HGTC and lamented the fact that she’d left her running shoes at home. She was sporting a pair of flip flops and socks as she waited for a friend to bring her shoes. Hope things worked out for her.

I finally crossed the start line about 8:15 a.m., 15 minutes after the official start, and off we went. About two miles later I arrived at the foot of the bridge, and like every single year that I’ve crossed this bridge (and the old one), I felt a surge of excitement. It’s so beautiful…and so daunting. Although I had charged my iPod, I had so much fun listening to the energetic conversations and footfalls around me that I didn’t even turn it on. The experience was a feast for the eyes and ears both.  The temperature, though chilly, was ideal for the event, and I found myself doing as much jogging as walking. I felt amazingly strong, despite having slept only a fitful, tossing and turning five hours.

Coming off the bridge, we were met with more music and hundreds of well-wishers. “You can do it!” we heard over and over and over again. Other encouraging words were,”You’re almost there,” and “You’re looking good.” I saw dozens of participants reach out and touch hands with the cheering sections. Loved it! I missed seeing the little lady who used to play the harmonica; she was/is a traditional part of the yearly event.

Down Meeting and King Streets we went.  I felt SO STRONG and couldn’t figure out why. Usually by the time I’m at Mile 5, I’m beginning to think the race officials have measured incorrectly because I’m so “give out.” This year I thought, “It can’t be almost over because I still have a little energy to spare.” Alas, we turned a corner, and I saw the FINISH banner…even took a picture of it.

I walked into Marion Square and collected bananas, apples, and an orange for Otis. He’s into them lately. Then I ate a bagel and put another on my thumb. I left the park and headed to the church where I was to meet my brother Mike. On the way, I spied a man giving away Vitamin Water (love that stuff), and when I asked him for an extra for my husband, he said, “Here, take one for your daughter and Aunt Matilda too.” By this time, I’m so laden with goodies that walking without dropping everything has become a balancing act. I made it to the steps of the church and was just getting settled down to eat an apple when I learned that my brother had DESERTED ME. Yep, ‘tis true. He and Lisa were already on their way out of the city.

Not one to “kick a can” too long, I walked a few blocks to where people were loading the busses that would take them back to Mt. Pleasant. When finally seated, I offered a banana and a bottle of Vitamin Water to my seat mate; she chose the pomegranate flavor.  We made small talk about our bridge experiences, and she then told me about the Avon Walk for Life that she recently participated in. Over the course of two days, she walked 39 miles. Wow! She also contributed nearly 2,000 dollars towards cancer research. I’m thinking of joining her in this event. How can I not when my own mother died of cancer?

Back in Mt. Pleasant, I walked to Wendy’s where Otis was waiting for me.  Because the bridge was closed to traffic at 7:00, he had opted to stay in Mt. Pleasant and read his book.  We joined the exodus leaving the area and had some interesting experiences along the way, including a first for us: walking out of a restaurant for shoddy service. We arrived home 12 hours after leaving, tired but content.  The rest of the day was superb too, quieter and more low-key.

P.S. Just have to add this: There’s a reason why race officials prohibit the use of strollers and babies for this race. Why don’t young parents get this?

Brooklyn Bridge

waving goodbye

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My mother said that once on our way home from Charleston when I was about 3, I wanted to take the Cooper River Bridge home with me. Hmmm. I think that was just the beginning of a lifelong affinity for bridges. There’s just something about them that captivates me. Maybe it’s because they symbolize movement from one place to another or a change from one part of your life to another, a transition of sorts. You can’t very well reach the other shore if you stand shivering and afraid on the homeland (so to speak).

When Connie and I dined on Mexican food earlier this evening, we began talking about our New York trips and the fun and memorable experiences we had. Although we went at different times and with other people, we still enjoyed reminiscing about the high and low points of our visits. As we chatted, I realized that I hadn’t written anything about my most recent visit to the Big Apple at the first of May. The hour is late, and my brain is a bit muddled, so I’m not going to go into a detailed description of everything we did.  Nope. I’m just going to mention THE BRIDGE.

For weeks before we left, Lisa and I talked about how she’d walk across the Brooklyn Bridge with me if I’d sit in Central Park with her and sip a latte or some other tasty beverage.  “It’s a deal,” I promised. After reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a book club selection last year, I was determined to at least “set foot” in young Francie’s city. Yet when the time came, our schedules got a little too crammed, and I soon realized that if I was going to cross the bridge over to Brooklyn, then I was going to do it alone.  Leaving Lisa and Linda on the tour bus, I bravely (my perception) walked the two blocks to the start of the bridge ALONE. Well, sort of alone. I was surrounded by throngs of humanity, all strangers.

Approaching the bridge, I was awed by its beauty and structure. I was also surprisingly pleased at its human traffic since hundreds of people were traversing the mile long bridge between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. While many were tourists with cameras like yours truly, many were not. The latter were dressed in suits, scrubs, uniforms, and other types of clothing that indicated that they were either coming or going to work. One of the neatest things I saw was a young Japanese couple having wedding pictures taken.

I took several pictures on the way over, and some of them are in this blog. The South Street Seaport shops where we had browsed the day before is the first one…after the shot of me waving good-bye to Lisa and Linda.  The others are simply bridge shots. I loved the experience. It was awesome, and I plan to do it every time I visit the city in the future. I think, however, that it’d be more memorable and enjoyable if I had a walking buddy next time. Do I have any volunteers?

Cooper River Bridge Run

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 Except for my calves still being a tad tight, I’m feeling “right as rain” after completing the famous Cooper River Bridge Run on Saturday.  By the time I hit the five mile mark, the thrill of the bridge itself was behind me, and the going got a little rough. I was so hot and uncomfortable that not even the cheering crowds lining the street helped my state that much.

That’s when I remembered something I’d been told by a motivational speaker 12 or 13 years ago when Carrie and I were preparing for a “Team in Training” marathon raising money for leukemia. The speaker warned us that we’d feel depleted, sore, hungry, and out of sorts at the end of 26.2 miles.  Not to fear, however, because she promised that after a warm shower, nutritious food, and a good night’s rest we’d be “good to go.” Then she added almost as a postscript that the people braving leukemia wouldn’t be able to experience this, not the event and not the feeling good in the morning. That was a sobering thought and one I’ve never forgotten.  As I jogged/walked down Charleston’s King Street, I KNEW that in a matter of moments, I’d have bananas, apples, and muffins and that within a couple of hours, I’d be freshly showered and shopping with my sister. By Sunday, I’d be the old me.

 Here’s a picture of the five of us (Jayne, Anna, Greg, Ann, and Ruth) who, along with about 40,000 others, made the trip from Mt. Pleasant, across the bridge, and into downtown Charleston, the biggest number ever.  I promise not to go on and on and on about it, but I just have to share some of the weekend’s perceptions.

After a sleepless night in which I tossed and turned with Connie’s old friend insomnia, I got at 5:08, and the three of us (my sister Ann and her sister-in-law Ruth) were at the race start before 7:00. By the way, the motels in Mount Pleasant and Charleston always charge an exorbitant amount for this particular weekend, so we stayed in North Charleston in a nice and reasonably priced motel. Just letting you know in case you decide to join us next year.  I understand that everyone has to make a profit and that business is business, but is it ever right to deliberately gouge someone?

As I crossed Shem Creek and made my way toward the bridge, I felt ghosts of races past. There was my ex-husband, a bridge running buddy beginning in around 1981 when the event of a few hundred people began at Patriot’s Point with only a few hundred people. Then there was my brother Mike and his son Matthew. One year it rained before race time, and Mike brought trash bags for us to wear. Matthew was around 18 at the time and with no training whatsoever, he beat the socks off of all of us. Ah, youth. Paul did it a couple of years ago, and like his cousin Matthew, he beat us to the finish without training …or at least, he finished ahead of me, and Saturday I imagined seeing him standing beside thestreetlight near the finish line. Mike couldn’t make it to Saturday’s bridge run; my daughters, niece, and Lisa weren’t there either, but I felt their spirits.

Here are some cool memories of sights and sounds:


*Running skirts of with a cheetah print with pink inset. Check them out at www.runningskirts.com
*Lots of older women but not that many older men. Why is that? I’m talking 70s and maybe even a few in their 80s.
*The Blues Brothers and  several Easter bunnies.
*Several t-shirts and a couple of bags that said “Life is good.” Indeed.
*Cool, hydrating water along the way thanks to the hundreds of volunteers.
*A woman holding a poster that read, “You Inspire Me.”Many of the race participants around me said, *“You inspire us. Thank you.”
*The good, super loud music provided by local radio stations
*My own little iPod shuffle as I listened to tunes as varied as “Voulez-vous?” from Mama Mia, “At Last” by Etta James, and chants of Gregorian Monks.
*The Chick FilA cows who danced, posed for pictures, and gave away goodies.
*A huge lemon poppy seed muffin and tons of fruit. Thanks BiLo.

Just like thousands of others, we rode a school bus back to Mt. Pleasant, and I met a woman named Sheryl from Goose Creek. Her car was parked about four miles from where the bus dropped us off, so after parting company with Greg and Anna, we took Sheryl to her car. For that brief moment in time, we were united in our experience of “getting over it,” the bridge, and I hope her Monday memories are as fun as mine.

Regardless of race, age, gender, national origin, religion, finish time, or any other trait, anyone who’s participated in this event, is part of a club. If that sounds corny to you, then join us next year, and you’ll understand what I mean. There’s just something about the commonality of the experience that unites people.

 

Follow up on Cooper River

We awoke at 4:15 a.m. to the sound of a gentle rain and a forecast for thunderstorms across the state. “Do you think we could find another way to honor Mama’s birthday besides driving to Charleston and going across the bridge?” Ann asked, her tone a mixture of hope and doubt. I considered her question about ten seconds before saying, “I vote that we head in that direction and make a final decision as we get closer.” After all, Marjorie Ann didn’t raise her children to be quitters at the first sign of adversity…or that’s what I told myself.

 

We drove along in darkness until nearly 7:00, by which time we had arrived in Mt. Pleasant. Traffic was already awful, and we had to inch along in traffic until we finally found a spot in a grassy parking area. By now it was 7:20, and there were thousands and thousands of people talking animatedly, posing for pictures, and working their way to the start line. The energy was electrifying, and that’s no exaggeration. Someone was playing the National Anthem on a saxophone…LOVED it. We saw a family dressed as a bunch of bananas, a man sort of sitting in an inflatable horse, several men dressed in red dresses, someone dressed as Superman, two people attired in Batman costumes, and too many other interesting outfits to mention.

 

Ann and I separated almost right away because she was determined to walk the whole way, and I was just as determined to do a little jogging and a little walking. I couldn’t help but remember the days when I would never allow myself to walk (only jog) until I had reached downtown Charleston. Those days are long gone. Now I just have fun and enjoy the event as I make my way down Coleman Boulevard, over the awesome bridge, and through the streets of historic Charleston.

 

This year the turnout of encouraging, supportive people seemed extraordinary in number and enthusiasm. There were shouts of “You’re looking good,” and “You can do it,” all along King Street. There was also a lot more music, and I know the other participants enjoyed it as much as we did.  There appeared to be many more volunteers offering water and directions, and I later learned there were 2500 of them. I hope they know how much their efforts were appreciated. Oh, and those water sprays were ultra refreshing.

 

As I crossed the finish line, I heard the announcer say that 19,000 people had now completed the 6.2 mile distance, and I felt good to know that I was in the top half…even if it was the bottom of that half! I also recalled that in my first few years of “doing the bridge,” there were only a couple of thousand participants in the entire event. Someone told me that in the first year, there weren’t even 100. This year, there were so many of us crossing together that I didn’t even see my nephew Greg and his fiancée Anna who crossed hearing the same message.

 

We went on to the park for a feast of apples, oranges, bagels, muffins, and bananas…all compliments of Piggly Wiggly. Oh, and there was water…thousands and thousands of bottles of Dasani. Al Gore would have been pleased to note that the plastic bottles were being recycled.  Highlights of the park finish for me have always been the music and the Chick fil-A cows dancing to the band’s tunes. This year was especially tremendous because the cows had apparently learned to line dance, and they were irresistible to watch. Several race participants joined them on the stage.

 

Ann, Greg, Anna, and I boarded a shuttle that took us back to Mt. Pleasant, all the time chatting about our fun day. It took a lot of effort to get up so early, drive to Charleston, exert the energy, and then drive home, but we all agreed that it was well worth it. By the way, the morning was sunny and warm…a reminder not to let naysayers or weathermen determine your decisions

 

One more detail is worth mentioning. Remember how I mentioned that Ann and I did this to commemorate our mother’s birthday? Well, get this. After we did a little shopping at TJ Maxx, we decided to grab a bite to eat at Cici’s Pizza. To us, it was no coincidence that a little girl was celebrating her birthday there. When her friends sang “Happy Birthday,” I was thinking of another “girl” born on April 5.

 

Will you join us next year? You won’t regret it.