And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in
On the length and the breadth of the marvelous marshes of Glynn.
~ Sidney Lanier, “Hymns of the Marshes”
I thought I would get up and running (pun intended) by discussing one of
the hardest races around and give a little advice on how to finish it
on your two feet instead of curling up into a ball and rolling downhill.
The Southeast Georgia Health System Bridge Run began in 2003 as the Sidney
Lanier Bridge Run and was sponsored by the Golden Isles Track Club. That
first year there were a few hundred runners, but since then it has gained
popularity for runners far and wide at breakneck speed. In 2008, the race
officially became the Southeast Georgia Health System Bridge Run and grew
to include an expo, live entertainment and a family festival when the
Foundation became involved in 2010. The race is certified by the U.S.
Track and Field Association as “the toughest 5K in Georgia,”
and the 2,585 runners and walkers who participated in this past year’s
event can tell you why.
Let’s start with the easy stuff — a little history. The bridge
is named after the poet, Sidney Lanier, who is most famous for his 1878
poem, “The Marshes of Glynn.” The poem is part of a set of
lyrical nature poems known as the, “Hymns of the Marshes.”
While standing at the top of the bridge’s main span and looking
out east toward Jekyll Island and St. Simons, you get a vision of the
poet’s inspiration. The expansive marsh views truly are magnificent.
The current Sidney Lanier Bridge is the second bridge built at this site.
The first was a vertical lift bridge struck twice by ships. It is now
considered the longest spanning bridge in Georgia at 7,779 feet long and
480 feet tall. The main span is 1,250 feet and the bridge has a grueling,
slightly serpentine 6% grade.
So that’s the easy part. Getting up to the top is more difficult.
Training for your first 5K
To properly train for the Bridge Run, or any 5K for that matter, I would
suggest honestly assessing your level of training. If, during the reading
of this, you realize you have no training whatsoever, then I would recommend
signing up for the walk (which by itself is arduous for many people) and
marking the Bridge Run on your 2018 calendar. Find a flat race to start
with and try using one of these great training programs for beginners:
Couch-to-5K gives a training schedule to ease into a 5K in two months.
Running For Beginners is another program that focuses on gradual progression over 9 weeks.
Once you get a few weeks into a training regimen, you should start to see
how more cardiovascular activity results in weight loss, increased muscle
strength and increased cardiac output. However, be wary of injury. The
most common time for stress fractures and other overuse injuries to appear
is around the first six weeks of training. It is okay to be exhausted
and have muscle soreness after a run, but listen to your body. Beginner
runners should start slow and progress at a pace that doesn’t lead
to injury. A general rule of thumb is to increase your distance by 10
percent each week. Injuries occur when folks think they have the stamina
for two-milers the first week they start running – while your mind
may be able to handle it, odds are that your body won’t.
Bridge Run incline training – Experienced 5K runners only
For those runners who are experienced but have never run the Sidney Lanier
Bridge, my best advice is to throw your time goal out the door. Though
you may have conquered other bridges, this one begins on an incline, has
no flat areas and curves deceptively so the course is different up and
back. Did I mention the 6 percent grade? Boston’s famous Heartbreak
Hill is only a 4.5 percent grade.
How does one go about training on hills? For flatlanders like those of
us who live in Glynn County, there are no hills — just bridges.
Experienced runners looking to strengthen their hill speed and endurance
need to get creative. Climbing stairs is comparable to running at an incline
and trains the same muscles to work against gravity, which is really what
running up a bridge is all about.
Let’s evaluate the benefits:
First, the plyometric motion, a quick stretch followed by strong muscle contraction,
strengthens the same muscles as squats and lunges while taxing the heart
Second, because most stairs have an average grade of around 6.5 percent, stair
climbing increases both strength and power while also working the core
during the balancing between one stair and the next.
Finally, climbing stairs can improve VO2, which is the maximum amount of oxygen
the body can utilize with intense exercise. This alternative to running
inclines offers a variation in training that will help you achieve the
right level of preparation for race day.
Stretching is also a very important component of any training program but
especially running up this bridge. Because the Bridge Run has two hill
phases that can be divided into an acceleration phase up the bridge and
a deceleration phase down the bridge, there is an increased risk for hamstring
tears and Achilles injuries. Before the race, pre-run stretches should
be dynamic to activate and loosen up all leg muscles. Here are a few choice ones:
Stretch#1 (Leg Swings): Hold onto a sturdy object and stand on one leg while swinging the other
leg forward and back twenty times. Switch legs and repeat.
Stretch #2 (Walking Lunges): Take a large step forward with your right leg, bend the knee until the
thigh is parallel with the floor and knee is aligned with the ankle. Push
back up and pull left foot even with the right. Now step forward with
your left. Do twenty of these.
Running on fuel not fumes
You will need to fuel up before you go for a run. Nutrition is the redheaded
stepchild of all running schedules since so many people don’t like
to eat before exercise, but it can make a big difference. Have a snack
and hydrate an hour or two before the event. When short on time, try a
light sports drink, a handful of dry cereal or a slice of toast with honey.
Now put on your favorite play list, adjust your headband, pull up your
tube socks and run, baby, run!
Focus on static stretches for the cool down phase, including quads, hamstrings
and Achilles. Also, a post-run snack is important to reload muscles with
fuel and replete the body with fluid and electrolytes. Some suggestions are:
- 8 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Pita bread with hummus
- Energy bar
- Low carbohydrate sports drink.
Good luck and enjoy! Don’t forget to take in the view at the top
– it will be worth every step!