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Cooper River Bridge Run Column - March 14th, 2005
Don’t Sweat Time at Crowded Bridge Run

By Art Liberman

Back in the mid 1970’s, Cooper River Bridge Run Founder, Dr. Marcus Newberry dreamed of “an event to promote health and fitness in the Lowcountry”. What began as a race that attracted about 1000 runners in 1978 has evolved into one of Charleston’s biggest annual “happenings”.

Today, the Bridge Run enjoys international acclaim as one of the largest and most challenging 10K road races in the world, welcoming a swift field of elite athletes along with runners who travel here from all 50 states. This year, 40,000 people are expected to either run or walk the Silas Pearman Bridge, the 13th and final time it will be used for the race.

The Bridge Run holds a special meaning for each person who makes the journey from Mt. Pleasant to the finish on Calhoun Street. Everyone has their own unique story relating to their motivation for entering, how they trained, and personal goals they wish to achieve.

Most could care less about their finish time. Their joy comes from sharing the experience with thousands of others. Yet there are many serious runners within the field whose main goal is to cover the 6.2-mile distance as quickly as possible. Herein lies the dilemma.

The Bridge Run’s popularity has mirrored the population growth within the Charleston and East Cooper areas. For many years, the capacity of the two bridges that span the Cooper River quite simply have outgrown their ability to accommodate the increasing volume of both vehicular traffic and Bridge Run entrants.

With the opening of the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge slated sometime in either May or June, relief from the gridlock is on the way. While this is welcome news for motorists, many runners whose goals are test their limits and run fast times will have to wait until the 2006 Bridge Run.

Given the nature of the current Bridge Run course along with the record number of entrants expected this year, race organizers have a limited number of options available in providing a safe and smooth start for everyone while at the same time, a competitive race experience for the more serious runners:

Runners are seeded (arranged for the start) based on their projected finish time and pace. Those who include documentation of having run a sub-45 minute 10K race within the past year receive the most favorable starting position, directly behind the elite/invited runners. The remainder of the field lines up according to the particular color of the bib (race number) they receive, determined by the expected finish time written on their entry form. Signs posted behind the starting line also serve as a guide to runners so that they can position themselves according to the pace per mile they expect to run.

And thanks to computer technology, each and every runner is accurately timed and scored, regardless of how long the delay in crossing the starting line. One’s “chip time” reflects just the time it takes to complete the actual course, from starting line to finish line.

Still, there are factors for which race organizers have little control that add to the congestion on the course. Fair or not, there are those who line up for the start of the race near the front of the field, unable to maintain the brisk pace of the faster runners surrounding them.

There’s also the bottleneck that awaits everyone at the Ravenel Bridge construction zone near the two-mile mark of the course. Before reaching the Pearman, runners must funnel their way from Coleman Blvd’s four lanes through a narrow corridor, its two lanes separated by metal and concrete barriers.

So what’s the solution for runners who’ve trained hard over the past few months and wish to push themselves to the max over 6.2 miles?

First realize that the Bridge Run is a fun-filled celebration for the majority of entrants, and a competitive race for the very few. So relax, have fun, and enjoy the day!

Second, think small! Consider taking the short drive to Summerville this Saturday and enter the Flowertown Festival 10K. It’s got all the features of a great race: A relatively flat and scenic course that meanders though this quaint town, attractive t-shirts, and best of all, a small entry field (237 finishers in the 10K last year).

So regardless of whether you start at either the front or back of the pack at Flowertown, the field spreads out quickly providing all runners the opportunity to run whatever pace they wish. This may be your best chance to run your fastest 10K this spring. Or if you prefer running a shorter race as a tune up for the Bridge Run, Flowertown also offers an accompanying 5K as well as a one-mile fun run.

So who says that you can’t have it all? Race Flowertown this weekend and go with the flow at this year’s Bridge Run.

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