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If you’re like me, you’ve probably just realized that the Cooper River Bridge Run is less than a week away and you're starting to freak out a little. I definitely should have run the bridge more often these past few months to prepare for that incline. But don’t you worry Charleston runners, I managed to get some inside info from one of the best bridge runners in this city—super-fast racer, Rives Poe.
As a reader of race results (yes, I even read those for the races I don’t run in), I’ve been familiar with the name Rives Poe for a while now. It’s the name that’s always at the top of the Charleston race results lists, frequently under “Female Overall Winner.” Her 5K PR is 17:30. That’s an average pace of 5:38. Even if you’re not a runner, you know that’s smokin’ fast!
So who is this speedy lady raking in all the race medals around town? You may have seen her around Ashley Hall (she’s a math teacher), or perhaps you've seen her picture on the wall at Lululemon (she’s one of their ambassadors). And this week, she’s being inducted into the Bridge Run Hall of Fame for being the fastest local female in the race five of the last six years.
Back in January, I got the opportunity to meet Rives and do an interview with her for the April issue of Charleston magazine (read the article here.) For the print piece, we talked about how she got into running, how she got so fast, and why she still loves it. But while I had her there, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get some practical tips from her for all us other runners that she usually leaves in her dust. To do this, I went where no journalist has gone before… I went on a run with her.
We met up at her cute house in the Northern peninsula-area of town known as The Neck. Rives said she had planned to go for any easy 5-mile run that day on her usual route through her neighborhood and around Hampton Park. I was game, except first we had to decide on a pace. “What’s your usual pace?” she asked. “For an easy run, about 8:40,” I said. “What’s yours?” “Usually 7:30,” she said. (Damn!) Lucky for me, she graciously ran at my pace.
We set out, with my voice recorder in hand, and I tried to ask her some thoughtful questions while I wasn’t worrying if I was slowing her down. I had some questions prepared, but we soon fell into just an easy conversation like I would with any other friend on a run. She waved to all her neighbors as we passed by and we talked about everything from recent injuries and upcoming races to our families and how much we love it when they cheer us on.
Here’s a bit of our conversation, including the tips she had to offer:
KH: What do you do to avoid injuries? (On our run, she was just recovering from a hamstring injury.)
RP: If something starts to hurt, I try to rest it immediately. I take a few days off, or not run through a hard run. Maybe skip a workout. Stretching after a run is also key. I just started this new goal, where every time I run, I try to stretch for 15 minutes afterwards.
KH: Got any tips for getting faster?
RP: Definitely speed work. You don’t have to go to a track. You can do it on the roads. There’s a workout called a fartlek and you can make it anything you want. I’ll do one where I go a hard pace for a minute, easy pace for a minute, hard for two minutes, easy for a minute, hard for three minutes, easy for a minute and just repeat that for like four miles. Or even a 15-minute workout repeating one minute at a hard pace, then one minute easy. You will see a difference in your times and you only have to do it once a week. Also, incorporating different distances. Try to get a longer run in on the weekends or whenever you have time.
KH: What do you suggest for those looking to start running for the first time?
RP: I usually tell them to start with run/walking. Your first week, maybe you run for two minutes and then walk for three minutes. Tell yourself you’re going to do that for 20 minutes. When that feels good, then you run for three minutes, walk for two minutes. Over time, your running part builds, and your walking part gets shorter. I think that makes it less daunting, and before you know it—give yourself a couple of months—you’re running for 30 minutes.
KH: How do you motivate yourself to run on days you don’t feel like it?
RP: You’ve just got to tell yourself to get out the door and you’ll feel a thousand times better. If I can get myself going, if I can get through the first mile, I usually feel better no matter what. If I’m sick, on the other hand, I won’t run.
KH: What motivates you to keep going in a race? Do you ever struggle mentally on the way to the finish line?
RP: In a 5K, you’d think there’s not enough time, but usually about a mile and a half in, my brain sets in and I’m thinking, “I can’t do this.” I start having these negative thoughts and I literally have to tell myself, “Your legs are going, you’re doing fine.” It’s such a mental game to keep going. In a longer race, I just try to think about positive things or I think about people who can’t run and use them to give me energy.
KH: What’s your favorite pre-race meal?
RP: The night before, I like Chinese food. I get steamed vegetables and rice and tofu. That’s my favorite thing to eat beforehand. The morning of a race, I usually eat half a banana with some peanut butter on it. If it’s a longer race, I’ll have a little bit of oatmeal with a banana. That’s about it. I love cereal, too. I snack on cereal all the time.
KH: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of running?
RP: I try to lift weights two or three times a week and I swim three times a week. I actually did a lot of triathlons two or three summers ago, but the biking just takes so long to train for. I bought a paddleboard two summers ago and now I would much rather go paddleboarding during the summer than biking. So that’s what happened to my triathlons. Now I just paddle with friends. Once we went from Folly to Kiawah, which was like a 10-mile epic journey across the ocean.
I had such a great time talking with Rives on our run, I was completely surprised when we came to the end of the five mile route. Luckily, she still needed to walk her dog, Maisy, around the block and asked if I’d like to join. So we talked a little while longer on our walk and we discovered we have a shared weakness for frozen yogurt and a weird love of running in the Charleston heat. I was actually surprised at how much Rives and I had in common. She’s practically a pro after all and it turns out she’s just like the rest of us runners. No super powers, just a love of being outdoors, staying fit, and challenging herself to be the best that she can be. Sound familiar? Yep, same for me, too.