Cooper River Bridge Run Training Program Gets CofC Off to a Running Start

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Sometimes we just need to know that we’re not alone – that we’re all in this together. And – while the 40,000 runners gathering this Saturday for the 41st Cooper River Bridge Run are certainly not alone – how prepared they are when they arrive at the start line is completely up to them.

Fortunately – when it comes to keeping up with the pace – the College of Charleston students, staff and faculty in Campus Recreation Services’ Bridge Run Training Program are one step ahead of the crowd.

Now in its third year, the free self-paced 10K training program has kept its 46 participants on track over the past 10 weeks through individualized plans based on their goals, fitness levels and running experience.

“The spectrum has broadened this year in terms of running background,” says Bucky Buchanan ’08, assistant director of fitness with Campus Recreation Services and director of the Bridge Run Training Program. “We have some who ran in high school or who run for their own fitness and a few who are new to running. And we have a few walkers this year, too, which is new to us.”

Also new to the program: an initial meet-and-greet to kick off the training and introduce participants to one another and to the coaches.

“Putting a face to a name is always good,” says Buchanan, adding that the drop-in orientation was a result of feedback from previous participants, who wanted a little more interaction with the group. “This year we’re a little more hands-on, decreasing the number of participants so we can increase the engagement among the participants we do have.”

To encourage that engagement, Buchanan created a private Facebook group so participants can interact and organize informal group runs.

“That offers them more of a connection – gives it more of a community feel,” says Buchanan. “Still, the level of engagement is up to the individual – we just offer the opportunity.”

The program also offers expert guidance and helpful information about injury prevention, nutrition, setting goals, motivation and race-day logistics, all disseminated through weekly emails and through access to coaches for questions and concerns.

“The biggest question we get is about running with injuries or while sick – how to modify intensity, that kind of thing,” says Buchanan. “The next one would be, ‘I can’t do the runs the way it’s scripted for this week. If I can only get in one or two runs, which are more important?’ The answer: high-intensity, low-volume runs. Generally, that combination has the greater benefit.”

The benefits are evidenced by the difference between their two timed mile-and-a-half runs.

“We schedule the timed runs so we can both assess their progress and also assess the program and if we need to manipulate it,” says Buchanan. “That programming is the most crucial piece of what we offer.”

It’s certainly been key for Douglas Barnhart, a student in the College’s REACH Program who will be running the Cooper River Bridge Run for the third time this year.

“The first two, I never trained for – I just went out and ran, and that was my training,” says the former high school cross country runner. “Training is different than just regular running – there’s a lot more discipline to it. I think learning these different techniques and different strategies has been the biggest benefit for me. I am definitely more prepared and more in shape than I was for the other bridge runs.”

And that’s no small feat, considering his 2017 time was 48:22 (that’s 7:47/mile!). His goal this year is to run even faster.

“That is always my goal: to beat how fast I was the year before,” says Barnhart, whose father is coming to town to run with him. “Really I just want to get a PR (personal record) against myself. Race day is when I put myself to the test.”

And that’s what the Bridge Run Training Program is all about.

“Everyone has their own personal goals, and, ultimately, it’s up to them to get there,” says Buchanan. “That’s why the program is designed to be so hands off: You want to give them the space to operate on their own – give them autonomy – because this is their accomplishment. It’s really all up to them.”

Indeed, they may all be in this together, but on race day, everyone running the Cooper River Bridge Run will have to stand – and run – on their own two feet.