Writer/runner takes us to the Bridge with first-person account of first Savannah race

·5 min read

The Bridge.

For me, it was an awestruck spectacle.

In the past with the northern roots, I ran over New York/New Jersey’s George Washington Bridge and Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin, both of which can provide some queasy feelings as you run a narrow lane with ground openings on both sides where water is visible.

Now, it was time to make my Savannah running debut on what has been described as “The South’s Toughest Bridge Run,” and one of the country’s top 20 races by BiBrave.com, a website for runners.

Savannah Morning News contributing writer Jeff Moeller was among the thousands of runners taking part in the 30th Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run on Saturday morning.
Savannah Morning News contributing writer Jeff Moeller was among the thousands of runners taking part in the 30th Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run on Saturday morning.

On a picture-perfect December morning, it would be my challenge to run the bulk of 3.1 miles over the Talmadge Memorial Bridge as a participant in the 30th annual Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run. The race was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the 5K race, I was one of 1,863 runners who ventured on the first stage of the morning’s trifecta of the 10K and the enduring “Double Pump,” consisting of a 5K and 10K that included more than 3,100 harriers overall.

Savannah firefighter Jason Jacobs ran the Double Pump carrying his firefighting gear.
Savannah firefighter Jason Jacobs ran the Double Pump carrying his firefighting gear.

Savannah's Jesus Ulloa (18 minutes, 29 seconds) and Statesboro's Elizabeth Wallace (20:54) were top finishers in the 5K, and Dylan Villescas (34:52) and Misty Dion (43:46) topped the 10K field. In the masters’ division, William Fowler (22:19) and Deann Reid (25:11) took top spots in the 5K, and Paul Ryan (42:46) and Mary Fran Rowe (46:18) won the 10K race in their classes.

In the Double Pump, Patrick Reagan (54:01) and Wendy Wengal (1:08) paced the field, and Kenneth Ralston (1:01) and Maggie Weber (1:11) led the Double Pump masters’ pack.

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When I arrived at the start, I realized it could be a bad day because I brought the earbuds that connected into my Chromebook instead of the regular ones. But I had to put the thought aside and concentrate on the start. A Forrest Gump impersonator relieved some of my fears, as he lightened and entertained the crowd moments before the start of the race.

What's a race in Savannah without Forrest Gump running? This is Joshua Evans of Savannah in the Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run 5K.
What's a race in Savannah without Forrest Gump running? This is Joshua Evans of Savannah in the Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run 5K.

At the Hutchinson Island start line, there was the usual resemblance of a cattle corral, as runners jockeyed for potions to find an open lane to make a first break between their fellow runners and the walkers. The 50-degree windless temperatures provided a perfect backdrop.

Winding through the Savannah Convention Center roads, the opening mile likely was a slower pace for the majority of the crowd as well as for myself due to the continued sheer volume. However, as I made a final turn, the bridge was in my view, and my daunting task was a few steps ahead.

On the incline, I could feel the pull in my knees as the climb began. It truly was felt by everyone around me, as I could see the grimaces on their faces and hear their grunts and groans.

Still, the atmosphere was festive and positive, even though the majority of the first mile would be spent dealing with the incline. It was a matter of trying to keep my pace and dealing with the steady moving upward. There was also the threat of dealing with cars and trucks coming from behind on your left, as one lane was left open and beeps were constant.

Hundreds of people lined the race route with encouraging signs to show support for runners in the Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run.
Hundreds of people lined the race route with encouraging signs to show support for runners in the Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run.

Downhill runner

I saw an overhead concrete beam at the center of the bridge that was my immediate goal to reach. From there, it was downhill ahead, and the feeling of anticipation began to build.

Once I hit the pinnacle, anyone can be temporarily distracted with the scenic and breath-taking views of Savannah. It is a moment everyone should experience, and you can appreciate the city’s ambiance.

Aside from the moment, my knees and legs began to feel less strained as a downward descent began. Yet, the ascent definitely winded me, and it was time to recover.

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I could sense a feeling of relief from the runners around me, and also how they began to pick up the pace. A pickup truck, possibly strategically parked alongside the wall at the peak of the bridge, blaring music from its sound system, signaled the strenuous part of the race was over.

Now, I could see the bottom of the bridge, and I tried to increase my own stride. Mile 1 was off my pace, but I felt more in sync as I crossed the 2-mile mark, reducing my time in the process.

The final mile spilled onto Oglethorpe Avenue, and the pack could sense the end of their morning mission was in sight. It was another final stretch that always feels like an eternity.

Jesus Ulloa of Savannah won the Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run 5K with a time of 18:29.
Jesus Ulloa of Savannah won the Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run 5K with a time of 18:29.

Spectators sporadically lined the street, and their cheers and gestures of support provided the boost that everyone needed.

The 3-mile marker was now in clear view, and everyone began their own version of a final burst.

I could see the finish strip ahead and knew I had accomplished my mission. When I finally hit, I truly discerned a sensation of accomplishment and pride.

Elizabeth Wallace from Statesboro was the first female to cross the finish line in the Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run 5K. Her winning time was 20:54.
Elizabeth Wallace from Statesboro was the first female to cross the finish line in the Enmarket Savannah Bridge Run 5K. Her winning time was 20:54.

At 61, I conquered in my own way one of the South’s running classics. My time of 34:11 was a bit slower than normal, but it placed me 10th in my age bracket, 508th overall, and 262nd out of 669 in my gender.

Thanks, Savannah, I will be back!

Jeff Moeller is a veteran journalist and a contributor to the Savannah Morning News who relocated in 2021 to the Savannah area. He has been a runner since 1982 and competing since 1990, including four half marathons among many road races.

On the web

For a photo gallery from Saturday's race, see this article at savannahnow.com/sports.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah Bridge Run Saturday Enmarket runner reporter Jeff Moeller

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