Brad Nettles // The Post and Courier
Irv Batten, 47, owner of On the Run running store, stands above the nearby Mount Pleasant Municipal Complex Track, where he has logged hundreds of fast miles over the years. He is one of the top runners in the annual Cooper River Bridge Run, which starts at 8 a.m. today.
When Irv Batten was a senior at Baptist College at Charleston in the fall of 1985, he was running at his best, clocking four minutes flat for the mile and setting course records at the first two cross country meets of the season.
But in his third, he was battling two other runners, both who had qualified for nationals the year before, at the front of the cross country race when everything changed.
Batten started to struggle breathing and his throat closed up. He slowed, dropping to around 50th place. Teammates noticed he was veering as he ran, which to this day he can't recall. When he crossed the finish line, an emergency crew was waiting and started to administer oxygen. When they asked him his name repeatedly, his answer was "Baptist College."
The next day, he woke up in his dorm room and felt like he had been beaten with a baseball bat. Everything hurt. He had to ask his roommate to help him get to the bathroom. Ultimately, doctors diagnosed Batten with exercise-induced asthma.
After years of being a running star at Clearwater High School in Florida and then in his first three years at Baptist College, Batten was never able to recover to run at that level again.
The following year, Batten embarked on another path -- coaching -- that would expand his horizon for the sport he has loved so dearly since first lacing up his shoes in 1976.
Eventually, Batten returned to competitive running and has won dozens of competitive road races. Among them, he has won the Turkey Day Run three times with times of 14:41 in 1990, 15:14 in 1997 and 15:05 in 1998, and has been the top local runner in two Cooper River Bridge Run races, including 2001 with a 33:13 and 2004 with a 32:47.
Today, Batten promotes running on four levels, as a competitive runner, coach, volunteer with the Charleston Running Club and owner of On the Run running store, which he opened 10 years ago, in Mount Pleasant.
Longtime friend and training partner Brian Johnson, a former Charleston Southern runner and current College of Charleston distance running coach, has known Batten for 15 years. The two often combine their skills in coaching in running clinics.
Johnson says Batten's easy-going personality and skills as a coach have helped hundreds of people enjoy running and improve as runners.
"He's very approachable and easy to talk to. That draws people to him," says Johnson. "He's done quite a bit for the local running community over the last 25 years."
Son of a golfer
Born outside Chicago in 1963, Batten was one of seven, smack dab in the middle, of Lois and Irving Henry Batten, a golf pro. In the third grade, the family moved to Clearwater, Fla, where Batten describes his childhood as "great."
His father never pressured his children to play golf, but they all learned.
But the sport the Batten children gravitated to involved no club or ball. It was running, the sport that rose to popularity in the mid-1970s.
Both Brian, who is two years older than Irv, and Irv started running in 1976. Irv soon proved to be a natural.
"I ran track in the seventh grade and won my first race. And I kept winning," said Irv. "I thought that was pretty great stuff."
In the eighth grade, he ran with the high school team even though he wasn't eligible to score points. In his last mile race, he ran a 4:41, which at the time was a state record for eighth-graders.
In high school, he only got faster and recalled running a mile relay with brother Brian and another set of brothers, Matt and Chris Farmer. Matt ran a 4:25, Brian a 4:37, Irv a 4:25 and Chris a 4:38.
Coming to Charleston
After four years of impressive running in high school, Irv received scholarship offers from Furman University, William & Mary College and Baptist College, which is now Charleston Southern University. He wanted to go to the University of Florida, but it offered him only a walk-on position.
Since his high school coach ran for the University of South Carolina, he talked up Baptist College. Batten visited the school and decided to enroll.
In his third cross country meet as a freshman, Batten beat all but one of the Florida runners and recalls the coach coming up to him, shaking his hand and saying, "I wish you would've come to Florida."
He pondered transferring, but stayed at Baptist College.
"It was small, but back then, at Baptist College, if you were a track guy, you were king of the campus. Everybody knew you, so it was pretty cool," said Batten, who is in the Charleston Southern Athletic Hall of Fame.
Baptist College played another major role in Batten's life: meeting his wife, Cathy, who played basketball for the school.
They met when he was president of the college's Fellowship of Christian Athletes and she, as a freshman, signed up. They dated on and off while he was still in school.
The Battens got married in 1988 and had two children, Brittany and Irving, now 19 and 17, respectively. Cathy is a physical education teacher at Spann Elementary School.
The coaching bug
Following the incident in his senior year, Batten coached for Baptist College for three years and took a teaching job at then-Rollings Elementary School.
He enjoyed coaching because he liked watching runners improve. He recalled, "It was kind of fun."
But after three years, he was ready to move into a head coaching job, and when Summerville High School called looking for a girls track coach, he jumped at the chance. He soon was offered the head coaching job for both cross country and track.
Like running, he had immediate success in his first year of coaching both programs. Summerville won state titles in both.
For nine years, he continued his gig as a teacher, later at Beech Hill Elementary School and Alston Middle School, and as coach at Summerville High.
All the while, he was winning local road races on his own and establishing his name in the Charleston running community.
In 2001, Batten changed course and entered the world of retail by opening On the Run with Mike Aiken, who at the time also was a top local runner and one of Batten's runners while at Summerville High.
"I had no idea about retail. It was a rude awakening. It's hard," admitted Batten, who received his degree in elementary education and a minor in art. "People come in and start talking about running, which is great, but at some point, you have to sell stuff."
Batten adds he is not a natural salesman. If someone comes in complaining of knee pain and asks what kind of shoe to buy, he's more likely to show them a stretch than sell them shoes.
About four years ago, Aiken departed the business. His departure made Batten consider closing up shop and returning to teaching, where he'd make more money.
But he endured and is glad he did.
"I really enjoy it," said Batten, though admitting that the commute between Summerville and Mount Pleasant is tiring.
The job and location, however, are conducive to other parts of his running life, coaching individual high school and adult runners, training with friends and connecting with other runners on a very personal level.
That connection played a role in working closely with the Charleston Running Club, which he served as president for two years, among other capacities.
In the past two years, Batten hasn't raced as much as in the past. His attention has been turned largely to his son, Irving, who plays baseball for Ashley Ridge High School.
"I've run a lot of races. It's not that I need to run races, but I could watch him play baseball all day long," said Batten. "I want to see all his games."
Born: May 1963, in Ladd, Ill.Occupation: Owner of On the Run running store in Mount Pleasant.Family: Wife, Cathy; children, Brittany, 19, and Irving, 17.Residence: Summerville.Hobbies: Drawing, watching college basketball and, of course, running.Top running achievements: Coaching Carre Joyce, who went on to run for Villanova, and John McMillan, who swept the distance events -- the 800, mile and two mile -- at the state meet. Summerville High School winning a state championship during his first year as a coach.Road race personal records: 14:28 in the 5K, 30:30 in the 10K (cross country), 1:06:46 in the half-marathon. ... The marathon, "Ugh, not till later in life."Advice to any runner: Stay dedicated, stay the course and you will see results.Guests At my fantasy dinner: Runners Steve Prefontaine and Arthur Lydiard, JFK and Jesus.On the Cooper River Bridge Run: It brings the community, state and beyond together.