A year is a long time to relive an hour.
But that's what Cooper River Bridge Run race director Julian Smith and the Bridge Run staff have done after last year's 57-minute start delay that caused a cascade of problems afterward and left some of the record 36,755 participants complaining.
As a result, this year may be the most organized Bridge Run ever.
After lowering its total registration cap from 44,500 to 40,000, the Bridge Run board and staff hired a logistics manager, rented 70 more buses, added three more major bus loading areas, hammered out a detailed plan and have a lot of resolve.
Barring a disaster, the changes almost guarantee an 8 a.m. start.
But there's more order unrelated to those changes.
Welcome to North Chuck
Because of construction under way at Gaillard Auditorium in downtown Charleston, Bridge Run officials will finally get to do what they wanted to do in 2011 — move the Bridge Run's two-day expo to the Charleston Area Convention Center in North Charleston.
Three years ago, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley objected to a proposal to move the expo. The Bridge Run board folded and voted to keep it at Gaillard.
But with the work being done at the Gaillard, the Bridge Run had to find another home for the expo and the choice was clear.
The move to the convention center gives Smith the confidence to almost guarantee something else — no more gridlock in downtown Charleston on the Friday before the Bridge Run.
“I'm excited about allieviating the traffic situation as well as growing the expo to a world-class one,” said Smith, adding that the extra space will allow the Bridge Run to go from 110 vendor booths at Gaillard to 185 at the convention center.
“I think logistically the flow is going to work way better,” Smith said.
The Bridge Run has a contract to hold the expo at the convention center through 2015.
To keep the expo convenient to residents, workers and visitors in downtown Charleston, the Bridge Run will have shuttles departing every 15 minutes from the Charleston Visitor Center during expo hours (noon-8 p.m. today; 8 am-8 p.m. Friday).
Boosting bus business
Needless to say, the Bridge Run will be spending a lot more on buses — $100,000 — Thursday through Saturday.
Besides the shuttles from the visitor center to the convention center, the Bridge Run will be running shuttles for the Kids Run (from the east side of Johnson Hagood Stadium to Hampton Park) on Friday and increasing the number of buses on race day from 130 to 200.
The majority of those buses, 130, will be dedicated to the traditional pickup downtown at Calhoun and Anson streets, where nearly 12,000 have signed up to board buses.
Meanwhile, other buses will depart from the convention center, Mount Pleasant Towne Centre and a parking area near Daniel Island Park. In all, 5,500 have signed up to take buses from those locations.
The 6:45 cut-off
One key strategy to starting the race at 8 a.m. will be a hard line on when the last bus from downtown gets to cross the Cooper River bridge.
Last year, buses still were crossing the bridge long after the expected 7 a.m. close. That's not going to happen this year.
“The last bus to leave Calhoun Street by 6:45 a.m. will be the last bus to go across the bridge,” said Carl Beckmann, the Bridge Run's logistics manager. “I will be there to designate that last bus.”
Beckmann said buses leaving from the other departure sites will use I-526.
Beckmann and a crew from the Exchange Club of Charleston will be directing the loading of the buses.
“I'm real familiar with loading buses and how to move people,” said Beckmann, who identified one of the causes of last year's problems.
“An individual that shouldn't have been there but was there (giving orders),” Beckmann said. “This year we're going to alleviate that problem. … I'm going to be down there, as well as the Exchange Club and city (of Charleston) police, who will maintain the safety of it. The Exchange Club will load buses in the approved manner that I have outlined to them on two separate occasions.”
Still, Beckmann said runners and walkers need to be on time, or better, early. Buses start loading at 5 a.m. The benefit of not being late is less stress for all involved.
Long gone is the day when the Bridge Run was just a big 10K.
Not only does the Bridge Run include more events, but those events are expanding – from the expo and Friday's Kids Run and Wonderfest to the growing number of musical acts at the start, along the course and at the finish.
With the move to North Charleston for the expo, the Taste of Bridge Run – which offers sample dishes from about 25 local restaurants – will be held 5-8 p.m. Friday at three sites: the Charleston Maritime Center at 10 Wharfside St. in Charleston, Harborside East at 28 Bridgeside Drive in Mount Pleasant, and the convention center at 5001 Coliseum Drive in North Charleston.
For the first time, the Bridge Run will have a designated beer “garden.” It will block off Hutson Street, which is the block just north of Marion Square between King and Meeting streets. Blue Moon will park four beer trucks along the street. A band playing to runners on King at Hutson will turn the speakers around to perform for the beer garden.