After Saturdays debacle Cooper River Bridge Run board caps 2013 race at 40,000
In the wake of unprecedented problems with the Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk, the event’s board of directors has decided to put on the brakes — at least for 2013.
The board on Thursday capped next year’s race at 40,000 total registrants, down from a total official cap of 44,200 this year. The new cap means the 2013 race likely will not set a record for finishers.
“We felt like we might have grown too much,” board Chairman Ken Ayoub said. “This (event) showed us that we do have limited resources that we have to work with.”
Ayoub said he doesn’t expect the 40,000 cap to be permanent.
Besides the cap, Ayoub said the board also plans to hire a logistics manager to coordinate a plan focusing on transporting about 25,000 people from downtown Charleston and likely other satellite shuttle sites to Mount Pleasant in the few hours before the race.
The race, one of the largest in the nation, began an hour late Saturday due largely to transportation issues. This created a domino effect with communication breakdowns, water shortages and other problems leading to chaos at the normally well-run event.
On Thursday, the event’s board of directors and staff met for the first time to determine the causes and to establish a plan of action for next year’s race. The 70-minute meeting was closed to reporters, but Ayoub gave a statement afterward and answered questions.
He reiterated that the series of problems, including running out of water and food, started with the bus loadings. Notably, some buses in the front of the lines were not filling to capacity before departing.
“The loading of the buses did not go as smooth as it has in the past. We also felt like we had many more people riding the buses this year than we’ve had in the past,” said Ayoub, noting that parking lots were full more than in past years.
He speculated that the crowds seeking transportation grew because of forecasted storms for later Saturday morning and early afternoon, which didn’t pan out, and more people wanted to have cars downtown to drive home in the event of storms.
Ayoub is confident that the nearly 150 buses the board rents can carry 7,000 participants in each trip, which normally takes 25 minutes round-trip.
“We may have to encourage people to arrive earlier (to catch buses),” said Ayoub, noting a rush that started at 6 a.m. Saturday.
Meanwhile, the board also plans to tackle another issue that surfaced on Saturday morning during the delay.
“Communication definitely was a problem not only between us and the participants out in the race, but at both ends of the bridge. It seemed like too many people were involved in the process,” Ayoub said.
“We’ve got to improve communications and we’re looking at one central command. Information goes in and the information goes out, instead receiving three or four different phone calls at time.”
Adding to the communication problems Saturday was unreliable cellphone service.
“We need more reliable forms of communication. Cellphones, you were there. That many people on cellphones, it was the 9/11 effect. They didn’t work as well as they should have.”
Meanwhile, Ayoub felt confident that the supply of water and food was sufficient on Saturday but that the delay created higher demand for it. Running out of water was the result of the “a boulder rolling downhill.”
“The delay of the start caused people to rehydrate and go to the bathroom. It caused the water supply to run out quicker. A lot of people were carrying more items (water and food) than they should have been carrying.”
Ayoub said the board will meet one more time before its retreat in June, which is routine, to set some of these steps outlined Thursday.
Reactions from some veteran Bridge runners was mixed.
Dawson Cherry, a runner and triathlete who organizes a local cancer-fundraiser bike ride, said he didn’t think capping the race was necessary and that it likely will keep some from enjoying next year’s race.
“Logistics is what they need to focus on,” said Cherry. “This is not an opportunity to make the race worse by limiting participation but better by fine-tuning logistics.”
Irv Batten, who was inducted into the Bridge Run Hall of Fame a week ago, said he can understand the cap, but that he hopes it won’t be permanent.
“I don’t even know if the cap is necessary because the root of the delay was the buses,” said Batten, who suggested one downtown satellite shuttle service should be from Riley Park.
Batten thinks most runners and walkers like that the Bridge Run is big and has continued to grow, challenging other big races such as Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race and Colorado’s Bolder Boulder.
“I like that the Bridge Run is the biggest event in Charleston.”