Off to the Races
Cooper River Bridge Run race director has dedicated his life to the sport
By Holly Fisher
The year was 1976, and Irv Batten was a seventh grader in Clearwater, Florida. On a lark, he entered a 2-mile race at his middle school and won … by a lot. “Wow, this is pretty fun,” Batten thought.
After that moment, Batten was literally off to the races.
He went on to run middle school track, winning every race in eighth grade. He even held the eighth-grade state record for the fastest mile: a speedy 4:41. Batten ran all through high school and earned a track scholarship to Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University).
Running has been an overarching theme in Batten’s life, routing him all the way to his current role as race director of the Cooper River Bridge Run, Charleston’s beloved and storied 10K race. The Cooper River Bridge Run began in 1978 over the former Silas Pearman Bridge and in 1980 moved to the Grace Memorial Bridge, both fondly known as the Cooper River Bridge until they were both replaced with today’s cable-stay Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
Running all over Charleston
Before he took over the top spot for the Bridge Run, Batten was well known in Charleston’s running community. While teaching fifth and sixth grade in Dorchester School District Two, Batten was the track coach at Summerville High School.
He was an active volunteer with the Charleston Running Club, serving as president. And he participated in just about every race in town. Besides the Bridge Run, Batten loved running the Turkey Day Run, the longest-running 5K race in Charleston.
After about 15 years of teaching and coaching high school runners, Batten shifted his focus to outfitting Charleston’s runners from beginners to elite. He opened On the Run, a running and sporting goods retail shop in Mount Pleasant. Batten organized group runs, championed the local running community, and helped people pick out the best pair of running shoes.
“I thoroughly enjoy talking to people about running,” Batten said. “People would come in with their knees hurting and think they needed new shoes, but maybe they just needed to stretch,” he said. “I enjoyed being around people and helping them with running and training. I coached a lot of adults, and several of them have state records. The running store was like the barber shop, the place to hang out and talk about running.”
While Batten loved the relationships and the running, he didn’t love the business aspects of having a retail store. After more than a decade, he closed On the Run.
Heading up Charleston’s Top Race
Batten is no stranger to the Cooper River Bridge Run. He conquered the bridge run multiple times, and set multiple records. He won the Marcus Newberry Award, which recognizes the first male and female finisher from the Charleston area. Twice, Batten was the top male finisher: in 2001 with a time of 33:13 and in 2004 with a time of 32:47. In 2012, Batten was inducted into the Cooper River Bridge Run Hall of Fame.
After a national search, race officials chose Batten as deputy race director working alongside long-time Bridge Run race director Julian Smith.
When Smith, who led the Bridge Run for 25 years, passed away in March 2019 from a rare brain cancer, Batten took on the role of race director—just in time to navigate COVID.
The question then turned to, ‘How do you host one of the Lowcountry’s largest events in the middle of a global pandemic?’ Initially, the race was postponed for 2020, but as COVID-19 raged on, officials announced the in-person event would be canceled. Registrants were invited to participate in a virtual 10K run.
In 2021, Batten and the Bridge Run team once again had to figure out how to balance their event with concerns for public safety. In early 2021, COVID remained a significant health threat, so the Bridge Run was pushed from its normal springtime date to September.
In 2022, the race returned to its springtime roots in April. This year, the 46th Cooper River Bridge Run is set for Saturday, April 1 at 8 a.m. sharp.
While the date has returned to normal, registrations aren’t quite back to their pre-COVID numbers. Batten said 20,000 people registered in 2022.
“Usually we get close to 40,000, which is our max,” Batten said. “Our goal this year is 30,000.” There was close to 15,000 registrants by mid-January, but Batten notes, “The last two months is when people really start to register.”
Despite less registrants than pre-COVID numbers, the Cooper River Bridge Run remains the third-largest 10K in the United States, attracting runners from around the world.
A Race and an Experience
Batten’s deep background in racing, coaching and immersing himself into the running culture have led him to where he is today—fulfilling the Cooper River Bridge Run’s mission of hosting a world-class 10K race while promoting physical activity and a healthy lifestyle.
Batten says people often ask him what it’s like to put on the Cooper River Bridge Run. It’s like so many races put together, he said. There are elite wheelchair competitors, elite runners, regional runners, the fastest 70-year-old in the area, walkers and people in costumes who are just having a good time.
As a race and an experience, the Bridge Run is hard to beat, said Batten, noting the incredible view from the top of the bridge, the pre-event expo and the finish festival. Plus, the event takes place in Charleston—a must-visit city in the United States.
Like any large-scale event, as soon as one race is over, event organizers are already looking ahead to the next one. Batten is stretching four years ahead to when the Bridge Run turns 50.
“I’m already thinking about what we can do that’s super special for the 50th,” he said.
Turning 60 years old in May, Batten admits he doesn’t run as voraciously as he used to. He doesn’t put in 100 miles a week, but he remains one of the area’s greatest advocates for running and the Bridge Run.
To register to either run or walk the 2023 Cooper River Bridge Run, set for April 1, visit www.bridgerun.com.