March 31 marks the 35th anniversary of the Cooper River Bridge Run.

Bridge Run

Special Coverage

And while race officials have nothing specific to celebrate this particular anniversary, it's worth pondering how much the world, and the race, have changed since the first was held April 2, 1978.

On that date, gas cost about 63 cents a gallon, “Annie Hall” won the Academy Award for best picture and President Jimmy Carter was about to postpone production of the neutron bomb.

And the first Bridge Run - which cost $3 to enter - started at Patriot's Point, used one lane of the Silas N. Pearman Bridge and finished at White Point Gardens. Of the 766 finishers, 85 percent were men.

By contrast, this year's race and walk reached its cap of 43,000 on March 8, cost $40 (some paid $150 for a charity bib), and will likely draw about 36,000 actual finishers — give or take 2,000 — depending on weather. And about 60 percent of finishers will be female.

Setting the stage

In many ways, the 35th Bridge Run is all about change.

Last year, the Bridge Run implemented a staggered, “wave” start, sending groups of corraled runners off in waves or intervals of three minutes.

It improved the flow of runners and walkers so much that Bridge Run officials extended the cap from 40,000 registrants to 43,000. Tweaking the wave start this year, officials expanded the number of corrals.

But that's just part of the changes to the race.

Emulating the popular Rock ‘n' Roll Race Series, the Bridge Run added musical acts along the course and tapped into American Idol for its headline act.

The music was a hit, particularly among slower runners, walkers and spectators.

Music continues this year with the addition of Taylor Hicks, winner of the fifth American Idol, and 10 other musical acts along the 6.2-mile course and at the finish festival.

Drawing spectators

While the intent of the music is for the runners, it may have another benefit. Drawing spectators to the course. (See the Post and Courier's Bridge Run map for locations and descriptions of bands.)

Watching people run or walk gets old fast, but throw in a little music — and the participant reaction to the music — and the run becomes more like a parade.

In recent years, the popularity of wearing costumes has grown and appears ready to continue since the Bridge Run started offering people the opportunity to register as part of a team. Last year, 503 teams participated.

And while corporate teams have big numbers — Boeing has 1,500 and Bosch nearly 400 — the most spirited and likely costumed are the groups of friends who sign up with team names such as “Blood, Sweat & Beers” and “99 problems but the Bridge Run ain't one.”

Another incentive for dressing up in costume? This year, the Bridge Run upped the ante by offering a $1,000 prize to the runner or walker with the best costume.

And while it's fun for the participants, the music and costumes are making the Bridge Run a better spectator event.

Taste of the Bridge Run

What do people love as much or more as music and creative costumes? Food, of course.

And the Bridge Run seized on that attraction last year with the first Taste of the Bridge Run.

Last year, 12 restaurants offered samples of their favorite dishes under a tent next to Gaillard Auditorium. This year, 25 restaurants will participate in the Taste of the Bridge Run at two locations, Gaillard and HarborSide East, located at 28 Bridgeside in Mount Pleasant.

And next year, Race Director Julian Smith wants to expand it to three locations, adding the Charleston Area Convention Center in North Charleston to the mix.

Expanding to North Charleston

That's where the Cooper River Bridge Run Expo will be held in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Bridge Run staff has wanted to move it from Gaillard Auditorium for two years because the race had outgrown that site, but the executive committee changed plans to move it after objections from Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley.

Gaillard, however, is going to be closed for major renovations later this year and the Bridge Run put out request for proposals at multiple locations last year. They selected the convention center for its size and location near interstates 26 and 526.

The move is not only expected to ease traffic on the peninsula the Friday before the race, but provide the Bridge Run with more room for the expo.

Smith says the move will allow the Bridge Run to expand the expo from 110 booths to 300. He's already in talks with Reebok “to do something really big” for 2013.

Smith added that he has had to turn away about 50 exhibitors from this year's expo because Gaillard is at capacity.

Getting greener

For years, the Bridge Run has phased in efforts to be more eco-friendly, starting with recycling some of the plastic and cardboard generated during and after the race. Last year, 7,780 pounds of trash and 30,000 pounds of plastic bottles and cardboard were collected and processed, according to Karen Hauck, who spearheads the Bridge Run's environmental endeavors.

That continues this year with the collaboration of Sonoco Recycling and Fisher Recycling, which not only will recycle plastic and cardboard, but will collect paper goods, fruit peels, bagels and other non-meat food items in bins for composting.

Meanwhile, last year's “Racelet,” a wristband with a USB port, has been replaced with a “Digital Passport,” a credit card-sized card with a flip-up port that will contain articles and coupons that used to be printed.

Gaining diversity

As stated above, females have overtaken males in participation in the Bridge Run. While that's partly because of the Bridge Run adding walkers with timing chips, meaning they are counted in the official numbers, the trend for more women running is being seen locally and nationally.

Bridge Run historian and archivist Cedric Jaggers said the 1978 race included 653 males and 113 females.

“Female participation grew a few percentage points every year,” Jaggers said. “In 1986 the 1,202 female finishers (22.6 percent of participants) marked the first time any race in South Carolina had over 1,000 female finishers.”

By comparison, last year's Bridge Run had the largest percent of female finishers at 59 percent.

And while the most recent running boom can be attributed to women running charity events such as Race for the Cure and the Leukemia Society's Team in Training, another boom appears on the horizon: black women.

This year's Bridge Run will include several chapters of the relatively new Black Girls RUN!, which has spread across America like wildfire thanks to Facebook. Chapters emerged via Facebook and the first one was formed in Charleston in October.

Giving back

And finally, the Bridge Run is trying to tap its power to improve life for others.

In 2007, officials selected three charities in its first-ever “Charity Connection” program that allowed runners to give to charities.

The program now includes 12 charities that include the American Diabetes Association, the Semper Fi Fund, Water Missions International, the MUSC Children's Hospital Fund, The Alzheimer's Association, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Lowcountry, Louie's Kids, Charleston Miracle League, American Cancer Society, Lowcountry Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy and Camp Happy Days.

Part of the fund-raising effort is the sale of 1,200 charity bibs — 100 designated for each of the 12 charities. The bibs sell for $150 each.

New this year is the introduction of Crowdrise, a social media site allowing people to create an online page to collect pledges, to support the Charity Connection organizations.

Some of the Bridge Run's corporate sponsors also raise money for specific charities. Bi-Lo is expected to raise $30,000 to $40,000 for in its “Circle of Champions” campaign and Chic-fil-A about $10,000 in its “Round up for Kids” for the MUSC Children's Hospital.

The Bridge Run itself doles out $25,000 worth of mini-grants for groups promoting health and fitness in the Lowcountry through its fund with the Coastal Community Foundation.

Solo efforts

Meanwhile, others have been using the Bridge Run for their own charitable endeavors for years.

Since 2007, Channing Proctor has used running the Bridge Run to “piggy back” a fund-raiser for the Charleston Miracle League, a baseball league for children with disabilities. In that time, the “Bridging the Gap Through Baseball” effort has raised more than $100,000 to fund its programs and his new Play Today! Foundation.

This year presents a new challenge for Proctor, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma last December.

While undergoing chemotherapy, Proctor has vowed to walk the Bridge Run and started a pledge site on http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/channing-proctor/WalkWithChanning.

A new effort, by Bridge Run Hall of Famer Terry Hamlin, is seeking to raise $50,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project and in appreciation of the Bridge Run's creation of the Terry Hamlin Mobility Impaired Division for the top finishers who have suffered an amputation.

Wounded Warrior provides programs and services to severely injured service members during the time between active duty and transition to civilian life.

Hamlin lost his left leg years ago. The injury gave him a very personal look at the pain, suffering and mobility issues that severely injured people experience.

While a fundraiser dinner on March 28 has sold out, he still is seeking donations at Wouned Warrior project.