Kelly Roberts, from the podcast Run Selfie Repeat, shared a few months ago about running Take the Bridge in New York City. It sounded like this amazing adventure with runners traveling over a bridge in NYC without all of the pomp and circumstance of other races. Supposedly it was a more “underground” race so there were no start/finish arches, no water stations, no mile markers, and no flags along the course. Instead it seemed like 1-2-3 go…and see you on the other side.
So when I saw a post on Facebook about Take the Bridge in Portland, I was so excited. The race was listed as “unsanctioned” with lots of mystery about the route. Since packet pick-up was scheduled for a brewery near St. John’s Bridge, it was pretty logical to assume that’s where the course would be but nothing would be confirmed or denied until one hour before the event. So cool.
I was babysitting the day of sign-ups so I got onto the website about an hour after registration opened. And it was already full! At least for the women. There were still openings for the men. I considered for a few minutes registering as a male (figuring why did it matter for a race), but instead emailed the director and was added onto the waitlist. I had known of races that fill before (heck, Boston fills in minutes) but this gender separation made no sense. When I got an email a few days later sharing that I was in (and so was my friend Alice), I registered moments later and could not wait for our Friday night, 9pm starting time. Poor, sweet, innocent, and naive Meg.
If you don’t know what that text-speak means, then you are in the perfect mindset to understand my adventure at Take the Bridge PDX.
Arriving at the brewery on Friday night, it was clear very early on that this was not my kind of race. Very few people were there, and based on appearance, they were all a decade or more younger than me. Several people (runners and volunteers) were live streaming the whole thing, and I swear there were more cameras than people there. For an evening run, I was dressed in a tank-top and pants, while most of the other female runners were in clothes that technically were bigger than underwear (technically). How they did not freeze when the sun went down I have no idea. I also have no idea why Alice did not smack me upside the head for getting her into this thing and then doubling-over in laughter at how ridiculous it all was.
24 men started their race at 9pm, just after sunset so it was still light enough for them on their course over the bridge, down a shortcut (what kind of race has a sanctioned shortcut?), and back again. The 24 women didn’t start until every guy was done. The great part about that decision was that every guy, including the last finisher, got cheers and attention as they came across the finish. The bleh part was that we started out in with the final few rays of sunlight and once over the bridge, the shortcut into the woods was total darkness.
I had pictured a few hundred people running over the bridge. Not me and a couple dozen track stars. Frack!
And all of those 20-something female runners kicked my…donkey. Within five minutes of the starting line, I was at the back of the pack with no chance to catch up. A volunteer named Ashley was beside me on the sweeper bike. She told me her only rule was that I could not walk. I told her that I’d run 13 marathons and was not made for this particular kind of crazy. Ashley kept me company over the bridge and until we got to the shortcut, aka a stairwell down into the woods to find the turnaround point.
So I was a woman running in the dark woods in search of a guy with a sharpie. Feel free to use this part of the adventure for your future horror stories.
I managed to not die (obviously) and found my friend on the way back from Sharpie Man. Alice had hurt her ankle and would end up getting a ride back to the start rather than taking any chances in the dark. I was stubborn, and not super smart at that point, so I headed up the stairs and back toward the bridge. Ashley was on the other side of the bridge, and there were no other runners around, so I started singing campfire songs to keep me going: This Little Light of Mine, Bill Grogan’s Goat, Little Red Caboose. And of course, the get-me-out-of-this-place classic: Part of Your World.
Coming around the corner to the final stretch, I gave everything I had left to that final downhill. If I was going to be last, I was going to be epic in my lastness. With my lighted gloves lifted high, and Little Red Caboose stuck in my head, I ran through the crowd to the finish line. It was my very first DFL.
Someone put a live-streaming camera immediately into my face, asking about the event. I don’t remember what I said but its online somewhere (I guess). All I wanted was to find my friend, to get in my car, and to get out of this Wonderland. It was a strange place to visit, and I definitely did not want to live there.
The next morning I went for a 3-mile run in my neighborhood. No cameras, no confetti, no crowds, no shortcuts. Just a run. I guess technically it was unsanctioned too.