Heightened security measures at Bridge Run

As a result of the Boston Marathon bombings last year, local law enforcement agencies have been working on more security measures for the 37th annual Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk, the ninth-largest road race in the United States:

For the first time, law enforcement involved with the Cooper River Bridge Run will work in a "unified command" at an undisclosed location.

Though police have declined to say how many law enforcement officers will be deployed to Bridge Run events, representatives include those from federal, state, county and municipal levels, including fire and emergency crews.

Law enforcement will be at every Bridge Run event, including the Bridge Run Expo, Kids Run, the loading of shuttle buses to and from the race, the start and finish lines, and at the post-race event at Marion Square.

Instead of volunteers from charities, police officers and S.C. National Guardsmen will be at the gates of 30 different corrals at the starting line to check for race bibs. Participants with backpacks, bulky clothing and costumes can expect to be searched and checked for weapons.

While costumes will not be banned nor discouraged, police ask that no one covers his or her face.

Bridge Run officials and police encourage participants who need to carry a backpack to use the clear plastic one provided by the event in race packets.

Shuttles for participants to drop off bags of dry clothes for the finish line have been moved farther away from the main starting line area. One will be in a vacant lot between Elizabeth Stuart Design and the former Sette Italian restaurant building.

Bomb-sniffing dogs and "other technologies" will be used for security efforts.

Spectators carrying backpacks, bags and purses in the finish line area, which will be restricted, will be subject to searches.

Participants are strongly encouraged to provide plenty of time to arrive at the starting line area of the Bridge Run due to potential delays caused by security checks.

Both participants and spectators are encouraged to look out for suspicious persons or activity and report it immediately by calling 911. Dispatchers will direct all Bridge Run incidents to the unified command.

SOURCES: The municipal police departments of Mount Pleasant,

Charleston and North Charleston

The biggest changes made for this year's 37th annual Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk originated 816 miles away at 2:49 p.m. April 15, 2013, a mere nine days after last year's race.

Bridge Run performers

Edwin McCain

Joey Morant

Blue Dogs

Valerie Davis

Super Deluxe

Adande African Dance Company

Avi Jacob

Be The Moon

County Line Road

Estee Gabay

Destitute Way

Fiftywatt Freight Train

London Horton

Fiona Varner

The Hibachi Heroes

Irene Rose

Jonas Sees In Color

Jonnie Morgan Band

Karoline Rhett

Laura Thurston

Logan Venderlic

Prettier Than Matt

Regina Ferguson

Saul Brooks

Shadower

Shrub

Something Positive

Spaceship Day

Spencer Rush

The Hungry Monks

That's when two bombs blew up on Boylston Street during the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring at least 264 others in what was the biggest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

The explosions shook the world and the international running community, especially organizers of big races.

"As soon as it happened, I got phone calls from everybody I knew in the running world to know if I was in Boston," recalls Bridge Run Race Director Julian Smith, who was not at the event but had friends there.

After the immediate shock wore off, a new reality set in for organizers of major races, which were suddenly recognized as highly vulnerable targets with tens of thousands of people spread along miles of city streets and bridges.

"Everybody in the running industry immediately knew that this (the attack) is going to change running in the United States," says Smith. "We knew that taking more security steps was going to be the new normal for putting on a race."

Bomb sniffing dogs

Within a month of the bombings, police from the municipal jurisdictions in which the Bridge Run operates - Mount Pleasant, Charleston and North Charleston - met with race officials about ratcheting up security for this year's race.

Over the past year, the three police departments were joined in the overall security effort by law enforcement agencies on federal, state and county levels, along with public safety from other municipalities. The first decision was to create a "unified command" operating out of one location, which, like many security measures, is being kept a secret.

Regular Bridge Run participants should expect heightened security not only during the 10K, but at the Bridge Run Expo and Kids Run events. Security will include bomb-sniffing dogs and other "additional technology" during events.

"It is not because we have a specific threat, but to have a safe, enjoyable event," Deputy Chief of Police Anthony Elder of the Charleston Police Department said at a press briefing recently.

At the race starting line, participants boarding shuttle buses will be closely monitored. Police and S.C. National Guardsmen will replace volunteers checking people into 30 different corral gates along Coleman Boulevard.

Elder and Mount Pleasant Police Maj. Stan Gragg said participants with bulky clothes, costumes and backpacks can expect to be stopped and searched with metal-detecting wands. While costumes will not be banned nor discouraged, Gragg asked that those wearing them not cover their faces.

Runners are encouraged to use clear bags this year, and the Bridge Run's official bag is made out of clear plastic on one side and mesh on the other.

The finish line area on Meeting Street will provide less access for non-runners, and spectators in the area will be monitored.

"The heartburn will be at the finish line," Elder said. "When you get to the area, it (the increased security) will be obvious."

Because of the mass nature of the run, the police are urging all participants and spectators to report any suspicious people or activity by calling 911.

"If you see something, say something," said Gragg.

Bands on the run

Despite the focus on security, runners and walkers will notice a bigger presence of something else at this year's Bridge Run: live music.

The efforts to add music along the course have been building for years, but nothing like this year's event, where a whopping 30 bands will perform along the 10K course, including the starting line and at the post-race event in Marion Square. In all, a band will be located every quarter mile along the route.

The headliner will be South Carolina native Edwin McCain, who will sing both at the start and in Marion Square. The Blue Dogs of Charleston also will perform in Marion Square.

The Bridge Run's efforts to add music already has caught the attention of national media. On Feb. 4 USA Today recommended the event as one of the "14 springtime races every runner should try," in part because it is the race "with the most music per square mile in the entire country."

The effort to add music has been bolstered in the last two years by the efforts of Becca Finley, executive director of This is Noteworthy, a nonprofit geared toward bridging the gap between the classroom and career for aspiring creative professionals.

Finley, who brings experience from years of working with the Dallas Rock 'n Roll Marathon, has helped guide the collection of bands and music for the run and a related CD, titled "Run With Me," for the Bridge Run. While the event pays for the production of the 24-song CD, the effort is otherwise all volunteer.

This year, 23 of the 30 bands chosen to play for Bridge Run were selected out of more 1,900 submissions over the winter months.

While the bands came primarily from Charleston and the Carolinas last year, this year's lineup includes bands from eight different states, including Ohio, Mississippi and Florida, and run the genre gamut from gospel and reggae to indie folk and heavy metal.

Musical charities

Finley also has expanded the reach of the musical initiative in two ways.

The first is to include 16 nonprofits, chosen by the Bridge Run for its Charity Connection program. Two charities are paired with three bands in teams with inspirational names such as Empower, Believe and Ignite in an effort to sell the CDs. Proceeds from the CDs, which are $8 each, go to the charities.

The winning teams get their team's bands on the bridge.

The other outreach is a collaboration between Finley and Hillary Johnson of the Gusto Group in putting on the first-ever YogaPop, a mass yoga event set for 6:30-10:30 p.m. on April 3 at the Charleston Visitors Center Bus Shed.

While not an official Bridge Run event, the 10K's website promotes it. The music mixes by DJ Moo Moo Mack will use tracks from the current "Run With Me" CD.

The event kicks off with a 60-minute yoga class taught by Bethany Bubenzer, an instructor at Charleston Power Yoga, and assisted by other instructors from an array of studios in town. Afterwards, participants will be invited to go to a Yoga Village with local crafts and music by Flight of the Phoenix and Lectra Lust.

The fee is $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Proceeds benefit This is Noteworthy and the Olive Tree Yoga Foundation.

Losing prestige?

Last year's Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk has one statistic that few are talking about.

The number of finishers plummeted by 5,297, from a record 36,756 in 2012, to 31,459 last year. The drop comes despite the fact that the weather was ideal for the run, 50 degrees and sunny.

It was the largest decline ever for the Bridge Run and dropped the event from the fifth largest race in the United States to the ninth largest, as well as from the third largest 10K to the fourth largest in the United States.

Smith dismissed the drop, saying he suspected many walkers took a short cut to Marion Square just before Mile 6 and didn't cross the finish line. He also suggested that some competitive runners unhappy with their times didn't cross the finish line because they didn't want their times printed in the newspaper.

"The people were there. There were more people in the race last year than I had seen in my life," Smith says. "If they don't cross the finish line, they don't get a score (counted). I don't understand it, either."

Smith added, "It doesn't bug me. Bigger's not always better."

That resolve comes just two years after the Bridge Run capped the registration number at 40,000, following a 57-minute delay in the start of the 2012 race.

Cedric Jaggers, author of "Charleston's Cooper River Bridge Run: A Complete History In Words and Pictures," says he believes the drop was due to the cap, dropping the total number of registrants from 45,000.

In an update to the book, Jaggers says "the entry and finisher numbers went down accordingly as 38,883 people entered and online results show 31,459 finishers." That 81 percent rate of finishers to registrants isn't far from the 84.2 percent in 2012, when 36,755 finished out of a pool of 43,635 registrants.

So the days of the Bridge Run hitting the 35,000 mark or higher may be over.

Smith calls the 40,000 registrant cap "the magic number" and said he has come to the realization that the event can't get bigger.

"I would love to have the biggest race in the world. I'd love that more than anything. I think the race could be one of the biggest in the world, but (Charleston) is a small town. We're not a New York City. We're not a Chicago," he says.

"We have to realize that the city can't accommodate a race bigger than what we are doing. We tried to grow it bigger and you've seen what happened. It's not going to work."

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.