Say "elite" runner in context of the Cooper River Bridge Run and most will conjure up images of Kenyans, Ethiopians and the occasional Ukrainian, but not a local.
But for the first time since the Bridge Run started luring elite athletes, both foreign and domestic, several male runners with Charleston connections have chances to finish in the mix of Africans.
In fact, Michael Banks, 27, of Charleston, is vying to be the first local resident to break the 30-minute barrier, ever, in the Bridge Run. While Isle of Palms resident Mark Friedrich ran a 29:58 in 1983, he was a resident of Camden at the time.
Last year, Banks set the record for fastest Bridge Run time set by a local with a finish of 30:14, came in 13th overall and fourth for Americans, despite suffering from a side stitch for the last two miles.
Since then he has set several course records, including a 14:27 in South Carolina's second-largest race, the Knights of Columbus Turkey Day Run 5K. But the Bridge Run has been his big goal race.
"This is a bigger deal," says Banks, who works as the admissions communications coordinator for the Charleston School of Law. "The Bridge Run is what I've been focusing on ever since I finished it last year."
Whether he meets his goals of breaking 30, finishing in the top 10 overall and in the top 3 of Americans depends largely on conditions, specifically whether there's a headwind on the bridge.
If there is, he plans to try to work harder to stick with the main pack, in hopes that he won't have to fight the wind as much on the bridge. Last year, he was more conservative during the first two miles and was left in "no man's land" to battle the wind on the bridge.
Banks will be wearing bib No. 36.
A Charleston native, born and raised, who is currently running for ZAP Fitness, based out of Blowing Rock, N.C., also has a good chance of breaking into the top 10.
Cole Atkins, who graduated from Academic Magnet in 2004, started running after finishing a four-year college soccer career at High Point.
Atkins had an even more impressive time than Banks on Thanksgiving, running a 13:51 at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 5K. He won the Emerald Nuts Midnight Run, a four-mile race, in New York City on New Year's Eve with a time of 18:45 and qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials by running a 1:04:37 at the Houston Half Marathon in January.
After taking a break, he finished fourth overall at the Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond, Va., with a 30:39, in a race that he was disappointed in but which served as a "rust buster leading into the Cooper."
"My goals for Cooper River are to be the top American finisher and finish as high as I can in the top 10. I know it is always a very competitive field and I am excited to test myself against a great group of runners," says Atkins, who has never run the Bridge Run.
While coming off a 2:28:38 at the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon on March 16, 24-year-old Chris Bailey says he would be happy with a top 25 finish, which typically ranges in the 31-32 minute window.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.
Caitlin Judd, 30, of Charleston, is the favorite to win the top local runner award, the Marcus Newberry Award, for females. She initially won the award last year until Bridge Run officials, months later, declared Katherine Irgens as the top winner. Look for Judd to come in the 36-37-minute range. David Quick/Staff×
A dark horse for top local female runner is Caitlin Ranson, an architect living in downtown Charleston. David Quick/Staff×
Coming off of a 2:28 marathon three weeks ago, 24-year-old College of Charleston grad student Chris Bailey could still break into the top 25 of the Bridge Run. Provided×