For we are always what our situations hand us
It’s either sadness or euphoria
—-Billy Joel: Summer, Highland Falls
Things have been so busy lately that I considered not running this race. The last time I ran was seven weeks ago (due to lingering plantar fasciitis). I wasn’t sure if I had the fitness level to complete a 10K, let alone one over the massive Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I figured I could survive it I kept my expectations and my pace low.
This was the inaugural event and I didn’t want to miss it. I personally hate driving over this bridge (or any high bridge for that matter) but I thought it would be awesome to run the span from the Northrop Grumman facility on the Annapolis side to finish line in Stevensville.
They were also making this a cup-less race to prevent slipping and littering on the bridge. I imagine all of those paper cups blowing into the Chesapeake Bay would not be good for public relations either. The plan was to bring your own water bottle and you could fill it along the way.
Location- The Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Timing- Chip Timing
Course – 10K , one big hill, point to point, road race
Size- X-Large, approximately 20,000 runners
Pre Race: I don’t think I ever received this volume of emails and Facebook posts from any race. The race showed up on my Facebook feed at least one a week for the last 6 months. There was plenty of information available and updates were sent out regularly. I was lucky enough to get registered early and I did not have to fight and claw my way to get a bib number. If you are interested in running this next year, start now. Early registrations for next year were already being sent out (possibly just to those who ran this event). I paid my $10 to secure my place.
EXPO: (@Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium, Annapolis). I can’t remember the last time I was in a big race. I don’t miss the EXPOS that go along with them. I understand that sponsorships and vendors defray the cost of the race, but I still do my best to avoid them. For this race, I went at 12:30 on Friday. I was hoping that the majority of people would be at work and I could avoid the longer lines I expected for Saturday. The key was to know your bib number. If you knew your number, you didn’t have to wait in line to look it up. The bib pickup was based on bib (not last name). There were no lines so I was able to look up my bib number and pick it up without any hassle. Next stop was the parking pass ($10 for a Universal Parking Pass). You needed it to park at any of the runner staging areas. The other options were to get dropped off/picked up or find free parking near the staging areas. You had to take a shuttle from a Runner Staging area to get to the starting line (there were also separate spectator shuttles with their own staging areas which could be accessed with the Universal Parking Pass). The parking pass line was also short and painless, although I wasn’t thrilled to pay for this on top of my race entrance fee. Finally you get your shirt and the opportunity to visit the various vendors. I looked but didn’t buy anything.
Bag Check: Fleet Feet Annapolis offered a $5 bag check if you brought your bag to their store. Once I checked out of the EXPO I went directly to Fleet Feet to check my bag. I wasn’t sure of the weather so I wanted to ensure I had some options waiting for me at the Finish Line. I was concerned with the logistics of such a large race in its first year, so I wanted to make sure I would have some creature comforts if I needed them. I packed warm clothes, and Tylenol. Thanks to Fleet Feet for this service. There was no other opportunity to check your bag.
Race Day: I chose the Anne Arundel Community College Location to park and shuttle. According to the information I received at the EXPO, I needed to board a shuttle by 6:15 to make my 7:15 wave 1 start time. I assumed that parking could be a mess so I was there by 5:30. I was one of the first cars to arrive (no one checked my Universal Parking Pass). When I left at the end of the day, most of the parking lots looked filled. I would suggest going early if you don’t want to miss your wave (they allowed runners to go in a later wave if you wanted / needed to).
The shuttle was the first and maybe only problem I had. Before getting on the shuttle, they had security personnel announce you could not bring water bottles on the shuttle. Really?! No water bottles allowed at a race that would also not be offering cups of water? Luckily after pleading our case, we were allowed to bring our water bottles. I brought one bottle just in case, but I am a bit of a camel on runs less than 10 miles in cool weather.
I also had to argue over the nomenclature of the belt I wear to carry my phone and car keys. One security officer labeled it a Fanny Pack which is a prohibited item. I stuck my water bottle on it and renamed it my “hydration belt” which was allowed. Once again, they did the right thing and allowed me to get on my bus.
***I would suggest a very clear list of prohibited items, with pictures, so runners know exactly what can and can’t be taken on the bus. Rule interpretations at the shuttle stop at 0600 seems like a bad time to start making those determinations. Be clear. I also didn’t see any bathrooms at this shuttle location. It wasn’t a problem for me, but I could see other people wanting to go before they go on the bus.***
The ride from the college to the Northrup Grumman facility took about 10 minutes. If you did need to use a potty, you were excited to see a ton of them when you got off the bus. If that wasn’t enough for you, there were more around the corner. I never had to wait in line for a toilet the whole day.
Runners were warned not to take photos at the start line, but I saw plenty of cell phones out and snapping away. I think Northrup Grumman was more concerned with pictures of their facility and not so much the bridge. I didn’t see anyone having their phones confiscated. The photographer covering the event was taking pictures of runners with the bridge as the background, and I don’t think they liked having competition from all of the cell phones. I did see some of them confront runners and ask them not to take pictures. That is the reality of the times. Why pay $10 when my phone can do it for free.
I had about 30 minutes from the time I arrived until my 7:15 wave start. I stretched and stretched and maybe offered a small prayer to the Running Gods that I would make it across and be OK. The weather couldn’t have been better. It was in the 40s and sunny. November on the bridge could be rain/snow/ice and extreme winds. The 10K Gods seemed to be listening.
The Race: You run about a half a mile before you find yourself at the foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. If you never ran any hills before, the view could be daunting. It is a long climb (albeit less than 3% grade) up to the top before gravity helps you down the other side. I took it easy to enjoy the views (which were spectacular). I’ll admit that I stayed toward the middle of the bridge so my fear of heights didn’t paralyze me. I feared it would be a windy day and runners would be blowing off the bridge. Luckily that didn’t happen and I think everyone appreciated the beautiful day and the beautiful views. I felt pretty good the first 3-4 miles and then my lack of preparation started to show. My legs got heavy for the last two miles (including one last hill as you go over RT50 to the finish line). They announced my name as I made my way to the finish line (always a nice touch). I was pleasantly surprised at my time 51:09. I didn’t expect to break 9 minute miles. My legs are sore today but it was worth it. 1299th place never felt so good.
Post Race: They had bananas, water, pretzels, granola bars and bagels for free along with one of those space blankets which I neglected to take. I wandered around for about an hour after the race. They had lots of food and drink choices, live music and a second chance to buy souvenirs. I located the Fleet Feet tent and was able to get my checked bag without any waiting. It was nice to change into some dry clothes, but I was still pretty cold. I had a cup of coffee, watched other runners finish for about 30 minutes, and then headed back to the shuttle. They seemed to have plenty of shuttles heading back to the parking lots and I did not have to wait at all. There were no special security requirements for the shuttle back across the bridge (water bottles and fan packs welcome!). The trip back was quick and easy and you got a nice view of the bridge filled with runners in the later waves.
Goodies: Shirt, medal, virtual goodie bag.
I have to admit I expected the worst (long lines, lack of supplies, terrible parking, general confusion and chaos). I was wrong. My experience was the opposite. I had very short wait times, and for the most part things ran smoothly with minimal confusion. There was a strong (and welcome) security presence at every portion of the race. Everyone I spoke to from the expo to the finish line party was very friendly and helpful. There was the security hiccup at the shuttle, but that was handled quickly and properly. I admit that I was in an early wave so things may have gotten chaotic as the day wore on. The organizers did seem to get all the important things right. They deserve a nod and thank you for putting such a huge endeavor together. Bravo to you and all of the volunteers that made it possible for us to enjoy this unique race. I will see you next year!
Congrats to Mariam and Dan. Austin, you were missed.