The history of the Cooper River Bridge Run

Runners start the Cooper River Bridge run in 2013. (Source: Live 5)
Runners start the Cooper River Bridge run in 2013. (Source: Live 5)
Updated: Mar. 19, 2014 at 12:54 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - With the 37th annual Cooper River Bridge Run just around the corner, let's take a closer look at the history of this iconic race.

The first bridge run started at 10 a.m. on Sunday, April 2, 1978. Officials expected 500 runners for the event (with 340 pre-registered), but on race day an additional 600 to 700 runners registered. 766 runners finished. Many dropped out of the race and some were hospitalized for effects from the heat, as there were no water stops on the course.

That was the only year that the race was held on a Sunday, as local churches issued many complaints. The race is always on the 1st Saturday in April, unless it's the day before Easter Sunday.

The John P. Grace Memorial Bridge had been declared unsafe for heavy trucks over ten tons in 1979, and the SCDOT eliminated the reversible lane on the Silas N. Pearman Bridge which had been used for the Bridge Run course, as trucks on US Highway 17 South were now required to use that lane, instead of using the Grace.

State Senator Wise was able to push for legislation to use the Grace Bridge for the Bridge Run.

In 1983, the Grace Bridge run added a second uphill climb on the Crosstown Overpass connecting the Grace Bridge to US Highway 17 and Interstate 26, and the race finished in front of the United States Federal Building in Marion Square at Meeting Street.

With the number of entrants exceeding 2,000, the start moved from Patriots Point in 1984 to SC Highway 703 (Coleman Boulevard) at Shem Creek. This course became the first Bridge Run course to be certified by The Athletics Congress.

Road construction near Market Street in Charleston forced a slight rerouting in 1986, when the Bridge Run was moved to its present date in April unless Easter fell on that weekend.

Nine years later in 1995 saw entrants exceeding 8,500 and a new 7,000 meter walk added, totaling over 10,000 participants. With tighter restrictions on weight on the Grace Bridge, officials returned the Bridge Run to the Pearman Bridge, with all three lanes being used, as traffic to Charleston could now be diverted to the Don N. Holt Bridge near Daniel Island on Interstate 526, which had opened in 1992.

A new start line on SC 703 near Live Oak Street was positioned with runners passing Coming, Line, King, Market, and Meeting at Marion Square. With congestion becoming a concern, a year later officials moved back the finish to the corner of Meeting and Calhoun in Marion Square, resulting in a corresponding move back of the start on SC 703.

In 2000, the Bridge Run course went through a complete overhaul with the start further back on SC 703 near the shopping center, giving runners a 3,000 meter run on SC 703 before joining the walkers at the foot of the first span of the Pearman, then crossing the Crosstown Overpass, King Street, Calhoun Street, and finishing at Alexander. The course eliminated the use of Meeting Street, which had been used as the primary street in the past. This course would be used until 2005, when the Pearman and Grace bridges closed.

Major alterations to the course were necessary for 2006 as USA Track and Field had to measure a new course to reflect the opening of the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge and construction on the Ansonborough Fields complex resulted in the moving of the finish line away from Alexander Street, where it had been set since 2000.

A new finish line at George Street and Meeting Street, across from the Carolina First Arena in Charleston, was established.

The finish festival was held at Marion Square, located a short walk from the finish line.

The start line was slightly moved but remained near the shopping center, and proceeding on SC 703 for 3,000 meters before approaching the northbound exit ramp to SC 703, with the runners proceeding on the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge southbound on the four northbound lanes for 3,200 meters before exiting the bridge using the two-lane Meeting Street entrance ramp, turning left on Meeting for 2,000 meters before, making a right at the Visitor's Center at John Street, then a quick left at King Street, before turning left at Wentworth Street, before a final run up Meeting Street the other direction before the finish line.

Two potential forms of cheating near the finish were dealt with using fencing at Marion Square at King Street (the finish festival site), and sponsor Bi-Lo parking a tractor-trailer at the intersection of Meeting and John to force runners to make the turn back to King. Furthermore, the live bands which play at the finish festival will be heard twice, as runners pass through Marion Square the first time on King Street, and after crossing the finish line and cooling down.

Concerns over bottlenecking by walkers on course who entered the bridge walk at the 3,000 meter mark on Coleman Boulevard at Patriots Point (the original start line) and a TV studio eliminated the 7,000 meter walk, and required walkers to proceed through the entire 10,000 meter run starting in 2006.

However, the rule was not as enforced as some had thought. Some walkers (and lower-seeded runners too) lined up on the sidewalks on SC 703 from Shem Creek to that studio, which is at the foot of the exit ramp from the bridge, instead of lining behind all runners at the start line, which was the instruction given to participants in the 2006 event in order to prevent incidents.

Another rule change in 2006 required runners to be seeded by time; elite and invited runners were ahead, then runners in the under 40 minute category, then 40-50, 50-60, past one hour, and walkers. The main goal was to prevent certain bottlenecking, although some bottlenecking did take place at the start line because of the transponder timing system.

The 2006 event also debuted the wheelchair category as a competitive event; twelve wheelchair and crankchair athletes competed the event, which started at 7:30 a.m.

For 2010 the turn from Meeting to King was changed from John Street to Wolfe Street, to avoid Piggly Wiggly (a direct competitor to race sponsor Bi-Lo), and to allow the bars to have bands perform.

One notable performer was Dave Seitz and the King Street Band, fronted by the popular former South Carolina Stingrays player.

The record time for the race is 27:40. It was set in 2000 by James Koskei from Kenya on the Silas Pearman Bridge.

The women's record time for the race is 31:19. It was set in 1997 by Elana Meyer from Concord, MA on the Silas Pearman Bridge.,

The only tie finish in the race was March 29, 1980. Both runners came in at 31:26.