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Cooper River Bridge Run Column - March 21, 2005
Avoiding Common Bridge Run Mistakes

By Art Liberman

Over it’s 26-year history, thousands of people have safely and successfully completed the Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk, a tribute to their training along with the organization and planning that goes into the event. Relatively speaking, only a small percentage of participants, beginners and veteran runners alike, experience race-day difficulties. Fortunately, while most of these are minor in nature, some are more serious requiring medical attention. With an awareness of problems that could arise before, during, or after the event, many mistakes can be prevented or minimized by taking a proactive approach to your final preparations.

Strategies for the Under-trained
Most musculoskeletal injuries (muscles, bones, joints, ligaments) occur as a result of building mileage to rapidly or by entering/attempting an event without sufficient training. Those who have already completed a five-mile training run or longer should be able to finish the race in good shape.

But regardless of how much it’s stressed that the Bridge Run is a strenuous event that requires adequate preparation, each year there are always those who participate even though their training has fallen short. The following are options they may wish to consider:

The run/walk method, popularized by coach Jeff Galloway, has proven to be an effective means to extend one’s current mileage range by combining a pre-determined ratio of walking intermixed with running. For example, a two-minute walk break could follow every 10 minutes of running. Or after running a mile, a one-minute walk break might follow. This method works only when these planned walk breaks are used early on in the race rather than when a runner experiences fatigue in the later stages. As a courtesy to faster runners, those who plan to use this strategy should start the race near the back of the field.

If you’ve done little or no hill training and find the climb up the Pearman Bridge difficult, simply walk up the spans. On a similar note, take it easy on the descents if your legs are not accustomed to running fast downhill. Doing so can result in injury or at the very least, quadriceps that are stiff and sore the days following the race.

The Bridge Walk may be a viable alternative for those who have done little or no running but still wish to take part Saturday morning. Realize that the 4.5-mile walk is a strenuous event that requires adequate preparation.

If you are injured, be sure to check with a qualified medical professional for guidance. Depending upon its level of severity, you might be able to do the Bridge Walk. However, those with serious injuries should not attempt to do either event. Instead, consider volunteering for the event or cheering on the runners and walkers.

It’s important to realize that the physiological effects from training are not immediate. Rather, what you do today won’t show up for seven to ten days. As the race date draws closer, remember that less is best. The week before the event, give your legs the rest that they need: Reduce your mileage, eliminate hard workouts, and refrain from cross training activities that exercise the legs.

The Warm-up
A proper warm up is essential for your muscles to perform optimally while reducing the chances of injury. Plan to arrive at the starting area early enough to have adequate time to jog easily for at least 10 minutes and then stretch thoroughly.

Lining up for the Start
With 40,000 entrants sharing the narrow roadway from Mt. Pleasant to Charleston, only a small percentage of runners will have the opportunity to actually race down Coleman Blvd. and up the Pearman. So what’s your hurry? Please be considerate by positioning yourself for the start according to your intended pace, not ahead of faster runners! Rather than starting at too fast a pace for your level of conditioning, the most effective strategy is to run at an even pace throughout the race. Save your energy for climbing the hills.

Heat Illness
Most of those who require medical attention at the Bridge Run experience varying degrees of heat illness, the result of dehydration. Ranging in seriousness from heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (which can be fatal), heat illness can be prevented by heeding the following guidelines:

Stay hydrated - Drink lots of water all day Friday, early Saturday morning, and throughout the event. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Urine color is the best way to gauge your level of hydration: Pale yellow is normal while dark amber indicates a dehydrated state.

Don’t overdress – Realize that after running for a few minutes, your body will feel 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. Besides, the thousands of people surrounding you will provide a natural means of insulation. Unless the race temperature is below 50 degrees, it’s not necessary to wear turtlenecks, jackets, tights, gloves, etc. Let the sweat shuttle take these items to the finish area and run the race in one layer of clothing.

Adjust your goals – When race conditions are hot and humid, reduce your pace and run the event for fun.

Nutritional Considerations
Unlike the nutritional requirements for a marathon, it’s not necessary to go overboard with carbo-loading for the Bridge Run. The ideal pre-race meal is one that you know from experience is easily digestible and provides the needed energy for the race. Many runners find that a pasta dinner with a simple tomato-based sauce works great. Steer clear of pre-race meals that consist mainly of protein/fat, roughage, and are excessive in salt. Above all, don’t experiment with unfamiliar foods before the race.

Blisters and Chafing
While many of the vendors at the Bridge Run Expo offer some great deals on shoes and running apparel, resist the temptation to wear anything new race day. Blisters oftentimes result from running in shoes that haven’t undergone a brief break-in period. When purchasing singlets, shirts, shorts, and socks, always select those made from synthetic blends such as Coolmax or Nike’s DRI-FIT. Unlike cotton, these products both wick away perspiration and minimize chafing. As a precaution, wash new apparel a couple of times before wearing. And applying petroleum-based products such as SkinLube or BodyGlide to sensitive areas (between thighs, nipples, under arms, etc.) also provides protection from chafing.

Post-Race Details
You’ve successfully competed the race and now it’s time to party. Right? But before the celebration begins, your first priority should be post-race recovery. Invest a few minutes to take care of the body that got you to the finish line:

Upon finishing – Keep moving! If you experience any symptoms of heat-related illness, seek medical attention immediately. The medical team can treat a wide range of injuries from muscle cramps to blisters.

Refueling –At Ansonborough Field, site of the post-race festivities, re-hydrate by taking in water, fruit juices, and sports drinks before partaking in other beverages. Next, grab something to eat that’s light and easily digestible. Those who wait until hours after the race to eat and drink oftentimes experience nausea later in the day.

Cool down – Within an hour or so of finishing the race, be sure to jog and/or walk for a few minutes and then stretch thoroughly. And keeping active the remainder of the day significantly minimizes lingering muscular stiffness and soreness.

Heat Illness – Warning Signs and Treatment

Heat cramps can occur either during or after strenuous exercise, characterized by severe pain and cramping in the legs and abdomen, faintness or dizziness, weakness, and profuse sweating. Stop running, go to cool/shady place, and drink clear juices or sports drinks. Seek medical attention if cramping doesn’t subside within an hour.

Heat exhaustion symptoms include nausea, unsteadiness/dizziness, weakness, headache, heavy sweating, pale and moist skin, goose pimples on chest and upper arms, weak pulse, and confusion/disorientation, muscle spasms, cramps, and fatigue. Stop running, go to a cool/shady place, remove excess clothing, sponge skin with lukewarm water, and sip fluids.

Heat stroke, unlike heat exhaustion, strikes suddenly and with little warning. It can be a life-threatening situation because when one’s cooling system fails, the body’s temperature rises quickly. It’s warning signs include very high body temperature, hot dry skin, lack of sweating, fast pulse, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, vomiting, confusion, and possible loss of consciousness. Emergency medical attention is required – Do not provide fluids to drink, apply ice/cold towels to the head, neck and groin areas while awaiting transport to an emergency room.

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