For the past 18 years the Cooper River Bridge Run has been a rite of spring for me, as it has for so many who have run or walked it since its humble beginnings in 1978.
As with traditions such as Thanks-giving or Christmas, as well as birthdays and anniversaries, sometimes those wonderful marks of a year aren't memorable for being special.
This year's Bridge Run was different.
As the running columnist for The Post and Courier, I had a wonderful journalistic opportunity that would have kept me from running the 29th Bridge Run this year, but I passed up that opportunity. I couldn't bear not to be in the first Bridge Run on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
I made the right decision.
I was part of a record crowd of 33,742 runners, walkers and wheelchair competitors who shared in the inauguration of a new bridge. I could say, firsthand, how this Bridge Run differed from past ones.
During the past year, many speculated whether the new course would be faster or easier than ones held on the Grace Memorial Bridge and Silas N. Pearman Bridge, which will soon be ghosts. Most runners thought the Grace the toughest because of two very steep inclines and that the Ravenel would be a breeze in comparison.
On Saturday, most at the Charleston Running Club agreed it wasn't faster or easier, largely because of a fairly strong headwind out of the Southwest and warmer-than-ideal temperatures for running.
Proof of that is reflected in the finish times ? the course records remain intact for next year's Bridge Run.
Tougher or not, all could agree that the Ravenel is a different beast.
"(The Ravenel incline) was like an ongoing hill," longtime Mount Pleasant runner Huey Inman said, who broke 38 minutes for the 10k, of the nearly mile-long incline. "I could see the top, but it kept going on and on. It got so bad that at one point I just stopped looking."
Most runners said that they didn't make up time lost by running the steep uphill of the bridge by cruising down
the less steep downhill segment of the bridge.
Meanwhile, the new bridge, and the increased interest it is drawing to the Bridge Run, caused other changes to the run and walk, including segregating runners and walkers at the starting line according their expected finish times.
Volunteers were expected to oversee who got where in line based on an individual's bib color and number.
Participants gave the system mixed reviews. Some said it worked better, while others complained that people with much higher numbers (slower expected finish times) were in front of them.
Mark Antman of Sullivan's Island, a veteran of about 10 Bridge Runs who finished the run in about an hour, said that from his perspective the start worked better than in past years and that he loved the event.
"I do think this race has outgrown Marion Square (as the post-race celebration area), but I really don't know where else they will put it," said Antman.
The fact is that with any event this big, there is going to be a certain degree of chaos and imperfection. And that if it were an event that was, on the whole, poorly run, the Bridge Run wouldn't be breaking more records, including a registration record of 45,435.
I'll have to admit that, like 1981 Bridge Run champion Marc Embler, I miss the Grace and the Pearman, those gray twins over the Cooper.
But having run the Ravenel on Saturday, I can say for sure that we have plenty to look forward to in the decades to come.
ON THE NET
To see and hear the sights and sounds of the 2006 Cooper River Bridge Run, go to www.charleston.net/webextras.
For Bridge Run stories and race results, including chip times click, Bridge Run 2006.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.