Saturday's Cooper River Bridge Run was a “perfect storm” of calamities

Runners board the last of the shuttle buses on Calhoun Street after 8 a.m.

Saturday's hour-plus delay for the start of the 35th Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk was unprecedented and caused by a “perfect storm” of events, according to an array of organizers.

Most say the chaotic day started, primarily, with an inefficient way that buses took participants from Gaillard Auditorium to the starting area in Mount Pleasant.

The transportation snag — which Bridge Run officials vow to fix in the coming year — set off a series of calamities that went beyond a mere time inconvenience for participants.

Starting with warm, muggy weather, the event included water hoarding, an unprecedented number of medical treatments, and delays in reopening the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and other roads on the course.

“I don't think it (the start delay) was anybody's fault, but a series of things that happened at once ... It was a perfect storm,” said Charleston Police Capt. Chip Searson.

The race for runners, the elite and seeded runner corral, was scheduled to start at 8 a.m. and didn't start until 8:58 a.m. The subsequent dozen corrals of slower runners and walkers began even later.

According the Bridge Run historian Cedric Jaggers, the race has started late only twice since its beginning in 1978.

On Saturday, frustration grew on the muggy morning as runners and walkers packed into corrals weren't being told, specifically, why the delay was taking place or how long it would be. The first few promises to start the race didn't pan out. When Bridge Run emcee Vanessa Hill tried to cheer up the crowd by telling them to stay warm and how special they were, some booed her.

Larry Schrecker, a Bridge Run board member who will be chairman next year, said the top complaint he has received from runners was the lack of communication from officials to participants at the starting line.

Bridge Run Race Director Julian Smith said organizers kept anticipating police clearance to start the race and that communications were difficult because of noise.

“A lot of times we didn't even know what was going on ourselves,” said Smith.

Prepared to run at 8 a.m., many participants had consumed plenty of water. After 30 minutes of standing, many felt the call of nature. Some in crowded corrals even scaled the temporary fencing to go to portable toilets.

Some organizers say the chaos started with a limited loading process of buses, picking up participants at Gaillard Auditorium and taking them via the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to the starting area in Mount Pleasant.

At 5:45 a.m., Smith started receiving phone calls from volunteers about long lines forming for the buses and that someone had directed that only 10 buses were to load at a time.

Searson, Schrecker and Bridge Run board member Paul Wieters said that between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m., long after the last bus was supposed to depart, the line went from Gaillard, down Calhoun Street to King Street, down King to Market Street, across to Meeting Street and up to Hyman's Seafood.

Al Hawkins, who has supervised medical volunteers for the Bridge Run for more than two decades, was bracing for more heat-related issues long before Saturday morning because of warm weather, 72 degrees at 9 a.m. The hour delay made matters worse because people were standing around and likely not hydrating.

Many in the back of the pack of Saturday's run complained about a lack of water and food at the finish line.

There, the demand for water – both for drinking and cooling off – from runners at the front and middle packs can deplete even ample stores of water and electrolyte beverages at the back.

But many of Saturday's early finishers were walking around Marion Square carrying four and five bottles of water. Before noon, walkers arrived there to find the tractor-trailer-load of bottled water empty.

“Everyone with staff were sad about this because we work so hard all year to put this race on,” said Smith.

He thinks the Bridge Run will add shuttle service to and from the North Area next year and will be more strict about the 7 a.m. deadline for boarding buses.

Future Board Chairman Schrecker assured, “Don't worry. This will be fixed.”