Charleston attracts plenty of weekend visitors and few weekends are quite as busy as the weekend when Charleston hosts the annual Cooper River Bridge Run, an event that takes runners from Mount Pleasant over the Cooper River to Downtown Charleston. This run attracts one of the largest crowds of any 10-K run in the world. During this busy weekend, hotels swell, restaurants are packed, and the town is abuzz with talk about the run.
It all began back on Sunday, the 2nd of April, 1978 from a starting line adjacent to Patriots Point. But even in 1978, more runners showed up to participate than the 500 expected. The first race included about 1,200 runners on the starting line. Of those, 766 finished the race.
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge with the Grace Memorial Bridge and Silas Pearman Bridge in the background. I took this soon after the opening of the Ravenel in 2005.
Saying goodbye to a part of Cooper Bridge Run history
Unlike today’s race, which is highly orchestrated with plenty of water stops available, the first race had no water stops. Several runners actually ended up in the hospital with heat exhaustion.
The Ravenel Bridge, the current location for the run, is a relative newcomer to the Charleston scene, opening in 2005. The first run took place on the Silas Pearman Bridge, the wider and newer (1966) of the two parallel bridges crossingthe Cooper River at the time. The other bridge, the Grace Memorial Bridge was a2.7-mile double cantilever truss bridge designed to accommodate the popular Ford Model A. That bridge opened in 1929.
The Grace Memorial Bridge was declared unsafe for heavy trucks between the first racein 1978 the second race in 1979. Consequently, in order to keep traffic flowing during the bridge run, the run was moved to the Grace Memorial Bridge to allow truck traffic to continue over the newer and more structurally sound Silas Pearman Bridge.
By 1984, to accommodate a growing number of interested runners, the start was moved from Patriots backto Coleman Boulevard at Shem Creek. By 1995, 8,500 runners registered for the race and the race added a bridge walk component, bumping the total number of participants, including walkers, up to over 10,000.
Because of weight limits on the aging Grace Memorial Bridge, in 1995 the run was moved back over to the Silas Pearman Bridge where the first race had been run. By that time, 526 had been finished, allowing a rerouting of traffic during the run to the 526 bridges.
Ultimately, the run was moved to the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, which was opened in 2005.The Ravenel is an impressive 575 foot high,13,200-footlong structure - the longest cable stay bridge in North America. With a longer bridge now in place, the course required a major rerouting to reflect the distance added by the longer Ravenel Bridge.
Another change that took place in 2006 was adding staggered start times based on running speed. The purpose of this was to reducebottleneckingduring the race. Over the years the position of the start line and finish line were also moved a few times to accommodate changes and the number of runners.
The Cooper River Bridge Run Vision Statement:
"The Cooper River Bridge Run is the best organized and best conducted 10-K race in the world. It includes world-class competition in a unique setting with unparalleled participant satisfaction. It broadens community cooperation and participation in healthy events throughout the year. The Cooper River Bridge Run serves as a model of health motivation for other communities throughout the world. "
3rd largest 10K in the United States (40,000)
July 16, 2005 - Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge opens
82,000 - bottles of water are consumed
4.8% - grade of bridge
2.5 miles - the length of the bridge
30 million dollars - economic impact on Charleston
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