Charleston has drawn running elite, celebrities

Cedric Jaggers has been documenting running in South Carolina for nearly 35 years and is the author of "Charleston's Cooper River Bridge Run: A Complete History in Words and Photos." File Photo

Bill Rodgers, who won the Boston and New York City marathons four times each and is one of the best-known American runners, is coming to the Cooper River Bridge Run this year. So it seems like a good time to look back and see what other well-known runners or celebrities have "done" the Bridge Run.

Surprisingly, you have to go back to the very first Bridge Run in 1978 and you will find that there were two runners of note on hand.

One was the late Ted Corbitt, a 1952 Olympic Marathon runner who was later named to the S.C. Road Runners Club of America Hall of Fame.

The other was Benji Durden, well known only in the South at the time, who ran away from the field and won the inaugural race by over a minute in 30:22. He would later qualify for the 1980 Olympic Marathon and then not get to go due to President Jimmy Carter's boycott of those Olympics.

After some disagreement as to the value of bringing outside area runners to the Bridge Run, no well-known runners or celebrities were at the race until 1982 when the late Dr. George Sheehan, a well-known writer of many books on running, spoke at the pre-race symposium the night before the race. Sheehan is generally credited with giving the race its first nationwide exposure in an article he wrote in Runner's World magazine describing his battle with his race against "the woman," who pushed him so hard that he broke the 40 minute barrier for the first time in years.

Less well known is that the woman was Anne Boone Reed, who remains a regular in the local running and triathlon scene.

In 1983, the race entry form said "Frank Shorter, the world-class runner will present a program for runners at 7:00 p.m. ... the lecture is free and open to the public." At the presentation, Shorter predicted that he would break 30 minutes on the course (something which no runner had done at the time) and win the race. When the race began, he fell out of contention, and while two other runners finished under 30 minutes, he placed fifth in 31:10.

In 1986, Olympic 1500 meter runner and world record miler Jim Ryun spoke at the pre-race symposium. He admitted he was not a long distance runner and said he considered 10K a long distance. However, he finished the race in 37th place with a very respectable time of 34:11.

In 1989, nine-time New York City Marathon winner and 1984 Olympic Silver medalist in the marathon, the late Grete Waitz of Norway, was the pre-race symposium speaker and favored to not only win but to set a course record.

With near perfect conditions, Waitz was warming up for the race and heading back to the starting line with about 50 to 100 other runners when the starting gun was fired.

Since she was only about 100 feet in front of the line, she waited for the defending female champion and ran with her over the bridge before pulling away to win by 31 seconds in 33:29, two and a half minutes slower than her 10K best. Her time would have been a course record had she started on the right side of the starting line. In a post-race interview she said it was the toughest 10K course she had ever run.

Did you know that in 1994 the most famous runner who crossed the Bridge Run finish line was Francesca Kincaid in 3,839th place and a time of 55 minutes and 48 seconds.

Well she certainly got more publicity locally and nationally, and was even shown running the race in one of the national tabloids. Don't recognize the name? Well you wouldn't be alone as that is the pseudonym that Oprah Winfrey used that day. She was flanked by a number of body guards and most of us who ran the race never saw her.

Liz McColgan of Scotland was the 10K Silver Medalist in the 1988 Olympics and the 10K Gold Medalist at the 1991 World Games. She ran the Bridge Run in 1996 and lowered the course record by 53 seconds as she won in 31:41.

In 1997, Bill Murray served as starter for the race and made the race director nervous by showing up only five minutes before the start.

Murray made up for it by joking and saying "I'm going to be running in the middle of the crowd, so steer clear. I want to be identified later." As well as several other jokes. He did run the race, finishing 11,685th with a time of 1:25:19. He told a few jokes and was very gracious to all the runners who asked him for autographs.

There are plenty of other names runners might recognize among them - Catherine Ndereba of Kenya and Elana Myer (female course record holder in 31:19) of South Africa were Bridge Run regulars.

While there are other notable participants from past years, for many runners, the attraction and thrill of "doing the Bridge" is enough.

See you there.

- Cedric Jaggers is author of "Charleston's Cooper River Bridge Run: A Complete History In Words and Photos" and the foremost authority and archivist of running events in South Carolina in the past 40 years.