Everything You Need to Know About the Cooper River Bridge Run

The Cooper River Bridge Run.

Each year, thousands of runners lace up their favorite running shoes and toe the start line at the Cooper River Bridge Run, held in early April. This race is one to add to your bucket list! We checked in with Amy Minkel, owner of Fleet Feet Charleston, to get the local perspective on this destination 10K race. Fleet Feet has a long-standing relationship with the Cooper River Bridge Run as a sponsor and hosts the official training program for locals looking to “Get Over It.”

History of the Cooper River Bridge Run

The bridge run has a long history, starting back in 1978. The route looked different in earlier years, having crossed three different bridges over time, including the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge that participants cross today.

Fun Fact: Oprah ran it in 1994 and Bill Murray fired the start cannon in 1997. With nearly 40 thousand participants each year, the Cooper River Bridge Run is one of the largest race events in the United States–up there with New York City, Chicago and Boston marathons–and is the third-largest 10K in the United States. Astonishingly enough, 75% of participants travel more than 60 miles to participate in the bridge run and many make a whole trip out of it by sticking around to tour Charleston and check out the area’s beaches.

What you need to know

If you’re one of the thousands of out-of-towners or a local looking to enjoy the experience for the first time, here’s what you need to know about the Cooper River Bridge Run.

A bird's eye view of the Cooper River Bridge Run

Who can participate?

This race attracts everyone from elite athletes and celebrities to families. “The energy is infectious and very fun,” says Minkel. “More than half of the participants are there for the experience, just to have a good time and enjoy themselves. There are a lot of repeat runners, but many people walk it, too.” For those looking to walk, there is a walk/run category.

While families often make a shared, group experience out of the Cooper River Bridge Run, the race strongly discourages strollers and other wheeled devices for safety reasons. With nearly 40 thousand people, it’s no surprise. Strollers and joggers are allowed, but only in the last corral with the walk/run category and are not permitted on the shuttle buses or the boat shuttle, so plan accordingly!

What are corrals?

Corrals are a partitioned area by the start line to help race organizers send groups of participants out on the course based on their anticipated pace/finish time, with faster runners in earlier corrals and walkers in the last corral. Lining up by pace makes the course safer for everyone and helps prevent bottlenecks along the route. Within the corrals are even smaller waves. From the first athletes to the last, it can take nearly an hour for everyone to cross the start line. Plan accordingly with pre-race nutrition, appropriate layers and bathroom breaks before entering the corrals.

What’s the course like?

The Cooper River Bridge Run is a point-to-point course that starts in Mt. Pleasant, SC, crosses over the Cooper River via the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and finishes in downtown Charleston, SC. It’s well known for its beautiful, coastal scenery and the iconic bridge right in the middle.

“You might get a feeling of being pulled along with the crowd which can be exhilarating or nerve wracking,” Minkel says. “The top of the bridge is one of the most beautiful places to see Charleston and the harbor from. You can also take a quick look back towards Mt. Pleasant and the beaches.”

The bridge itself is approximately 2.5 miles long with an elevation of nearly 250 feet. It’s steeper and shorter on the Mt. Pleasant side, levels out a bit at the top and offers a gradual, longer descent before leveling out again in Charleston. “Many people leap-frog other participants on the way up to break up the monotony of going uphill,” Minkel says.

Because the start and finish are in different locations, participants must take shuttles or arrange their own transport to the start line. If you leave your car at the start, getting back to it afterward can be difficult due to the bridge closure for the race, so it’s best to park in Charleston and take one of the many shuttles for participants.

If you plan on having someone drop you off at the start, they’ll have to go the long way around to get back to Charleston if they want to see you finish.

Runners line up at the start line of the Cooper River Bridge Run.

What’s the weather usually like?

Minkel says, “Typically, it’s on the warmer side. Most years trend toward 60 to 70 degrees on race day. Some years it’s warmer, but sometimes it dips down into the forties and fifties.” Paying attention to the weather and packing smart layers is key.

It’s worth noting that, due to its coastal location and the bridge itself, there is little to no shade for most of the course and it can get windy on the bridge. Sun screen, a hat and sunglasses are recommended. And don’t forget to plan your fuel and hydration–it can get hot out there and you’ll want to replenish your electrolytes. There are aid stations at the start line, just before the bridge, just after and on the way to the finish line. But having your favorite hydration handy is never a bad idea, especially for that stretch on the bridge.

It can be difficult to plan for all contingencies when you’re coming from out of town. If you totally miss the mark, you can always swing by any of the four Fleet Feet Charleston stores for last-minute gear and apparel. “Don’t forget to utilize the bag drop so you can easily access your post-race essentials once you’re done!” says Minkel.

Runners run over the Cooper River Bridge.

What about spectator support?

The Cooper River Bridge Run is unique for its spectator support and on-course entertainment. Because of limited space on the bridge itself, it’s restricted to race participants and a small handful of performers to keep energy high.

In Mt. Pleasant, before the bridge, spectators line the route to show their support. Similarly, spectators also show up along the route towards the finish in downtown Charleston. Plus, there are aid stations and volunteers to provide hydration, safety and moral support along the way.

Are there awards?

There are purses for the fastest finishers in multiple categories, a trophy for the oldest finisher who runs a time faster than his or her age in minutes (as well as a half-dozen other creative trophies) and even prizes for the best costumes. Minkel says, “The nicer the weather, the more costumes you’ll see out on the course. Some of them are quite creative and entertaining!”

Even if you’re not anticipating a speedy run or don’t want to dress up, all participants receive a medal after crossing the finish line.

Community Impact

The Cooper River Bridge Run has a tremendous impact on the local community. More than 30 million dollars in patronage to local business can be generated in this one weekend, plus thousands in fundraising for local charitable partners. The local businesses are welcoming and thrilled to host out-of-towners.

There is so much to do in Charleston! From dining at Michelin-star restaurants, beautiful beaches, the South Carolina Aquarium and strolls through historical downtown, there’s something for everyone. Plus, just 23 miles away in Summerville, there’s the annual Flowertown Festival that also brings in around 40 thousand attendees the same weekend.

Planning ahead for race logistics is important, but if you’re planning to stick around and make a weekend out of it, don’t forget to make reservations for hotels and your must-do activities early, and leave yourself plenty of time to get around.

“Be prepared. While it’s a large race, Mt. Pleasant and Charleston are not large cities,” Minkel says. “Bring your patience, too. Traffic can be more congested downtown. Do as much on foot as you can, or use the pedicabs versus driving in and trying to find parking.” If the Cooper River Bridge Run is on your race bucket list, be sure to check out their Instagram and Facebook so you can follow the fun online until you’re ready to lace up and “Get Over It.”

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