Unlike last year's Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk, this year's started on time — at 8 a.m. — thanks to a multi-pronged effort to transport participants to the starting line in Mount Pleasant, which went off practically without a hitch.
“Everybody's happy, smiling and having a good time,” said race director Julian Smith from the scaffolding over Coleman Boulevard as waves of runners passed underneath.
But a lot of work went into making Saturday's race smoother than last year's, which started nearly an hour late. Bridge Run officials hired a logistics coordinator, increased the total number of buses to 200 and added shuttle pickup sites in North Charleston, Mount Pleasant and Daniel Island.
Shortly after 5 a.m. Saturday, Bridge Run logistics manager Carl Beckmann said he was hoping that more people would be lined up to board buses on Calhoun Street, where 12,000 indicated they would take buses.
Crowds started to arrive 5:40 a.m., and by 6:20 a.m., despite steady, orderly loading of buses, a line stretched from Calhoun at Anson Street, up Meeting Street to Charlotte Street and down to the parking area behind the old federal building.
At 6:42 a.m., Beckmann allowed the last bus to use the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge so that police could promptly close it at 7 a.m. and not hold up the wheelchair races, as was the case last year.
The only notable kink on Saturday was at the Charleston Area Convention Center in North Charleston, where Beckman said 5,000 people, twice as many than expected, showed up to take buses. Also, only about half of the 50 buses scheduled for that location were on site. He dispatched about 20 buses from Calhoun Street to the convention center to pick up those remaining participants.
Because of the wave staggered start, many participants can show up late and not be penalized time-wise, Beckmann added.
Saturday's race was the second chilliest since 1999, when the temperature was 45 degrees at the start. The Weather Channel reported 49 at 7:52 a.m. But with abundant sunshine and a slight tailwind from the northeast, the race was comfortable for most in the middle and back of the pack.
In all, preliminary tallies for this year had 38,744 registrants and 31,449 finishers, which is down significantly from last year's 43,635 registrants and a record 36,755 finishers. Due to last year's problems, the Bridge Run capped the race at 40,000.
Cedric Jaggers, author of “Charleston's Cooper River Bridge Run,” says he suspects bad weather leading up to the race likely was another factor in the drop in participation.
Meanwhile, the buzz at the back was the appearance of the Hunley submarine.
A group of friends made up of current students and graduates of Bishop England High School and their fathers built a replica of the submarine out of insulation board, wood and plastic foam. Nine young men took turns running blind inside while the others warned the people ahead — “Excuse me! A submarine behind you.”
The group was vying to win the best costume award for the Bridge Run, which included a $1,000 prize. While still on the Bridge at 9:30 a.m., they worried about not making it to Marion Square on time for judging at 10 a.m.
When asked if it was heavy, the answers varied:
“It's not very heavy,” Jack Story said.
Matt DeMarco said, “It's not very light, either.”
Kyle Duke added later, “It's really hot in there … but very fun.”