Beating the Bridge: Across the Bay 10K

A brief back story: My family has been traveling to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for vacation since I was a baby. Every year, I would spent MONTHS looking forward to that seven-hour road trip from our hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylania. And one of the highlights of that road trip? Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge just east of Annapolis.

(Yeah, it probably sounds weird, but while we have lots of bridges in the nearby city of Pittsburgh, there’s nothing like the Bay Bridge in southwestern PA.)

So, many years later, after I’d moved to Annapolis as an adult, I got the chance to run across the Bay Bridge when the Across the Bay 10K started in 2014. Of course I signed up for it — and I’ve been doing it every year since! If you’re a runner in Maryland, you NEED to run this race. It’s just so fun to run over such an iconic symbol of our great state. It’s now the 5th largest 10K in the country, and the biggest race in the state, so apparently, lots of other people agree with me!

This year’s race was held Sunday, and the day before, it looked like the weather could be absolutely terrible. In fact, the race organizers posted an update to the event’s Facebook page, warning that they were monitoring the rainy forecast and hinting that the race could be postponed or perhaps canceled. Fortunately, when my alarm went off at 4 a.m. (yuck — at least Daylight Saving Time just ended, and I got a bonus hour of sleep) it was only drizzling. And the rain had completely stopped in Annapolis by 5 a.m.

I put on leggings, a long-sleeved technical T-shirt and my running jacket from the Rock ‘N Roll D.C. Marathon — and was worried that I would be overheating. That happened to me during the first year of the race, when I layered up and was ripping off my hat and gloves after the first mile. But with the wind whipping right off the Chesapeake Bay, it ended up being just fine.

Because there are almost 20,000 runners who run this race, runners are assigned to start waves, depending on their speed. Every year, I’ve been assigned to the first wave, which starts at 7 a.m. But this is the first year I’ve actually run in my assigned wave– I’ve always popped into the 8:30 or 8:45 wave, partly to run with family and/or friends, partly because I think getting up at 4 a.m. to board a shuttle bus at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium by 5:30 a.m. royally sucks.

This year, my friends Matt and Kree were adamant about starting the race at 7 a.m. so they could get to church on time. So I sucked it up and, along with our friend Mindy, joined them bright and early at the starting line.

Let me tell you — going early has its benefits. First of all, because the fastest runners are put in the first wave, there’s no dodging walkers along the way. (No disrespect to the walkers. My dad walked this race two years ago. That said, I do want to run it as fast as I can and when walkers stop at the top of the bridge to take selfies, well, it can be a hazard, not to mention annoying.) Second of all, we were done so early that we hopped back on the shuttle buses and were back in Annapolis before 9 a.m.– meaning I had the whole day free then to do whatever I wanted! (*cough* drink pumpkin spice coffee spiked with Baileys *cough*)

I have always said the Across the Bay 10K is the ideal 10K for a PR. And that is because the race starts uphill — in fact, almost the first two miles are uphill — but then it levels out for a mile or so, and then you have a nice long downhill to enjoy. So you get the hardest part out of the way first, then you can just gun it!

I PR’d this year with a time of 44:50 — my fastest 10K ever! However, I might have actually had a better time had I not totally screwed up my pacing in the beginning. My first mile was my fastest at a 6:43 pace. As soon as my watch beeped and I saw how fast I was running up the bridge, I thought, “Well …. crap.” That’s not even my 5K pace! Apparently, I was REALLY in a hurry to get to the top of the bridge (and to keep up with Matt, who always beats me in this race!) Sure enough, I paid for that during mile two, which I ran at a 7:50 pace. More than a minute slower. Yikes.

But then I ran mile three at 7:12, mile four at 6:59, mile five at 7:16 and mile six at 7:18 — so much more even pacing. By the time I hit mile six, I was sooooo ready to be done with this race. When I saw I was on target to finish under 45 minutes, I pushed as hard as I could, and just barely made it!

A better strategy, obviously, would have been to run, say, an even 7:00 pace. But whatever. I still PR’d!

According to the results, I finished eighth in my age group and 26th out of more than 12,000 women. I’m pretty blown away by that. I truly credit my Hal Higdon Advanced Marathon Training program for that finish. The plan is kicking my ass, but it is making me fast. Hoping this means good things for the Rehoboth Marathon in a month! (Only a month?! Really?)

I really can’t emphasize enough how cool it is to run over the Bay Bridge. No matter how fast I am running, I try to make it a point to take in my surroundings and look out over the water. I really do live in the most beautiful place, and I don’t take it for granted. That said, I also try hard not to look down at the road, because there are sections on the bridge where you can see through down to the water, and it’s a bit disconcerting. Sometimes you also can feel the bridge swaying.

Luckily, I’m not too afraid of heights — and I love the view!

One of the really fun things about running this race are the finisher medals that are actually puzzle pieces. Each year, you get a new piece of the puzzle:

image1

I can’t wait to see what the fifth piece looks like!

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