I ran this race almost ten years ago. Then, the race went over one of the two rickety bridges that spanned the river before this modern, sturdy, concrete bridge replaced it. The old bridge swayed with the movement of all the bodies. And we swayed with it, moved in concert by the shudder of the structure. With only 14,000 runners in the 2002 race, it felt different from the run this year.
It was smaller and more humble then. This year, with over 40,000 participants, it was a rumble. Staged in waves, the masses of humans were released in five-minute increments least there be accidents of fast runners trampling walkers. Even still, as we took off, as we gained the crest of the bridge, as we careened down the other side, and swept the off ramp toward the flat straight-aways in town, it felt like I was in a herd – an animalistic drive toward something greater. It was as if I were in a spring migration with my fellow animals – going, pushing, toward an instinctual purpose that my rational mind could never grasp.
Fast, furious. Elbows flying. Labored, gasping breaths. Parents holding hands of children. Words of encouragement among friends. Exasperation as running slowed to walking, as the excitement and exuberance of the starting line energy waned in inverse proportion to the angle of the road. I saw this. I heard this. I felt grand. I felt part of something bigger than myself. I felt the tightness in my calves at the start. I felt the energy building in my stomach. I felt the power in my movements shift into an openness that allowed my resistance to fade into a more fluid movement of my body. I bobbed. I weaved. I dodged in and among runners and walkers like race car drivers (or animals in migration) might do. I threaded between friends, took inside corners (along with everyone else, it seems), and barely gave a thought to water stations.
Even at the end of the race it was crowded. I wonder if I’ve ever crossed the finish line with 20 others at the same time. In that way, it was not at all an individual’s run. It was a group experience. It was a communal exercise in how we feel when we push our bodies, exert our energy, breath fresh air, live outside the box of our homes, our televisions, and our computers.
In the chaos of the finish area, the animal instincts continued. We were on to foraging and grazing – seeking out the copious amounts of fresh fruit, water, ice cream, and pulled pork sandwiches. That’s right…pulled pork sandwiches!!! (ugh, I couldn’t even stomach the thought of that after the race and I love my pork…) The bustle of the run morphed into the bustle of post-race survival – the fulfillment of those basic needs, food and water.
These were some of the musings that kept me occupied during and after the race. I finished in record time – 57:40 – my personal best in a crowded race that both irritated and excited me.
This Saturday I’ll run 13 miles with 291 others for the Greer Earth Day Half-Marathon. It’s a far cry from the 40,000 in Charleston. I look forward as I look back, to humble beginnings, and hope for as good a run.