Interview: Longtime Bridge Run historian writes about annual 10K

scrunners: How did you get involved with running?
jaggers: I was selected to run.  That sounds funny, but I remember the day it happened in 1968.  There were a bunch of us sitting and lying around watching television (probably one of the original showings of Star Trek but I’m not sure) at the fraternity house.  The president of the frat ‘Tyke’ Finney came in and said “There’s going to be an Intramural Thanksgiving Cross Country Meet and the five thinnest guys in the fraternity are going to run in it.”  Then he pointed out and called out the names of the selected five.  I was one of them.  I said I wasn’t going to do it unless we practiced.  Since running and runners were considered weird, we agreed to do it after dark every night.

So we would meet at the frat house after dark in our jeans, tennis shoes and dark fraternity windbreakers (so nobody would see us) and run the course together.   I think all the other guys had run track or cross country in high school, but I had not, so I suffered more than the other guys and had to struggle to keep up with them.

When race day came it seems like there were about a hundred or so runners.  All the frats had teams and anybody who wanted to could run as an ‘independent’.  The race started inside Rothrock Stadium and was one loop around the track, then out onto the street, down to the baseball field and the surrounding woods, then up another street, back to the stadium and one final loop around the track.  Since I was the slowest guy on our team I started near the back, and came out of the stadium near the back of the field.  Lots of guys had started out real fast and as soon as we got out of the stadium they started peeling off and literally falling down or bending down and throwing up in the grass.

I kept passing more and more of the runners, even the ones who hadn’t stopped to throw up, but I was still outside the stadium when I heard the crowd cheering for the winner.  I came into the stadium and started around the track when a guy named Ron, an ‘independent’ who was on the school track team blew by me.  That’s when I learned I could kick.  I went after him and passed him, he passed me back when we made the final turn so I gave it everything I had to get by him, but only pulled even just as we crossed the finish line.  Neither of us knew who had finished ahead until the awards ceremony.  They awarded to the top ten only.  Wish I could say I beat him, but they called out Ron as ninth and I was tenth.   The names of the top 10 finishers appeared in the school newspaper and we were named the ‘Intramural Cross Country All-Stars’.  Wish I had kept a copy of that paper. 

I never stopped running after that and built up to a regular three miles a day through the neighborhoods.  I didn’t run another race until my first road race.  I had planned for it to be the first Cooper River Bridge Run in 1978, but broke my leg playing city league soccer, so it turned out to be the first Turkey Day 5k in Charleston later that year.  That first Bridge Run is the only Bridge Run I did not get to run.

scrunners: What made you decide to write a book about the Cooper River Bridge Run?
jaggers: It was sort of an accident at first – people had been calling me the race historian for years, then the realization came that if I didn’t do it nobody else would.  That idea was firm in my mind for several reasons:  nobody else I knew of had all the results and newspaper clippings on the race, nobody else had all the T-shirts, nobody else had videotaped all the live or delayed television broadcasts of the race (which began in 1985).  Back in 1984 I was editing the LOW COUNTRY RUNNER which is the newsletter of the Charleston Running Club and realized that there wasn’t much information available on the race.   

Coincidentally, that was the same year Bruce Morrison asked me to start writing for CAROLINA RUNNER, the magazine which later bought out RACING SOUTH  for which I was already writing and was renamed RUNNING JOURNAL. Since I had run all but the first Bridge Run, and since the race mailed out results for each race, I had that on hand.  I decided to do a ‘Bridge Run’ issue of the newsletter and to put together a history of the race and get interviews and articles with people who were involved with the first race.   I just pulled it out to look at it, and it includes a 2 page history of the race, articles by runners Terry Hamlin and Doug Williams, and interviews with the first race director Keith Hamilton and the race director for the race that year, Mark Blatchford.   

A couple of years later, I interviewed some more people and started running the updated history in the LCR every year.  Then in 1993 Benita Schlau, who was race director that year, called and asked me to write a history for the Cooper River Bridge Run committee.  I did that and photocopied and mailed the results for all the early races (which they did not have copies of) to her.  I kept up with the race and expanded the history every year, though it was nowhere near as extensive as what appears in the book.   

I was really glad when the race began computerizing the results and giving me those results as I had begun covering the race for RUNNING JOURNAL every year.  In 2005 the Charleston County Library held a free program on the Bridge Run which they called ‘The Run Down on the Cooper River Bridge Run’.  They asked the race founder Dr. Marcus Newberry, the race director Julian Smith, and the race historian, as I was billed to speak, so I put together more historical notes on the race.  That was also the year that Mike Desrosiers, an assistant Bridge Run director took pictures of all my T-shirts (I don’t know of too many other people who had them all) and posted them on the website.  He also drove up to our house in Rock Hill (we had moved from Charleston) and borrowed all the early race results and scanned or retyped them so they could be posted on the www.BridgeRun.Com website.  I don’t think anybody else had all the results.

David Quick, a friend and reporter for The Post and Courier and I had talked about writing a book about the race for the 30th anniversary of the race, but it turned out neither of us had the amount of time needed to really get the book written in time. 

When I announced to my staff at my real world job that I was going to retire, they started asking me what I was going to do.  I told them I was going to write to write books:   “A history, a mystery and a fantasy” and that the history was going to be first and would be a history of the Cooper River Bridge Run.  I retired at the end of August and started writing the book the next month.  It took a year to finish the 389 page first draft manuscript.

scrunners: Is this the first book you wrote?
jaggers: Yes, this is the first book I wrote.  When I was in college I minored in journalism and wrote for the school newspaper and annual.  I also had some short stories published – the school published a collection each year, but I had never written a book.

scrunners: What was it like for you to write a book and have it published? 
jaggers: It was a lot of work.  I thought it would take a few months, but it took twelve months.  First I gathered all the material.  I had the race entry form for all but one of the races (that one lost in a move) and complete results of all the races, I had all the newspaper articles, except for one which had gotten lost in that same move  (thanks to David Quick for spending the time finding that article in the Post and Courier archived microfilm files and copying it for me).  It was interesting to watch the old race broadcasts, to see people I knew and to see what the announcers said about the race at the time.

My idea for the book was to of course have the historical recitation of what happened at the race first.  Then include interviews and other articles about the particular race.   I had some old interviews and I called and did new interviews with Benji Durden who won the first race, Dr. Marcus Newberry who founded the race and other winners and organizers.  Since I had done interviews for the Charleston Running Club beginning in 1988 called ‘Tell Me About Your Bridge Run’ which is exactly what it sounds like – I asked the question to runners after each race and recorded exactly what they said (and some of what they said is really hilarious, other is pretty telling about themselves or about the race), it seemed like a good idea to include all of those articles with the race they were about.  I decided to write the book in Word format so it would be easy to edit.  I wanted to do a chapter on each race so since there had been 33 races; the book would have 33 chapters, one for each race.  One thing that had to be in the book was the award winner list for every race.   You would think those lists would be included in the results, but except for a few races, they were not.  In fact they did not exist.

Want to spend hours having some fun?  Get the paper results for an old race with one or two or three or four thousand and more for later races, names and times.  Take the race entry form and write down the age groups, then go through the paper results and pull out the names and times and type them up by age group to reconstruct the award winners list.  That’s how I spent a lot of hours.  I was really glad when I got the fully computerized results in the 2000s and could pull out the winners by cutting and pasting instead of searching paper results and typing them from the paper.

After I completed all 33 chapters and some indexes, I asked Julian Smith, the race director to write an introduction for the book and he graciously agreed.  I had heard about Evening Post Books from David Quick, a friend and reporter for the Post and Courier Newspaper.  My wife Kathy and I had thought we might have to self- publish the book, but we realized how difficult it might be to obtain access and the rights to use pictures of the race from the newspaper archives, not to mention how expensive it turns out to be to print books.  David gave me John Burbage’s phone number at Evening Post Books and told him about my book.  While we talked he referred me to their website, EveningPostBooks.Com and I brought it up while talking to him.  It had a big list of things to send to them if you were considering writing a book.   I told him I had finished the book and had it as a Word document.

We talked a while (I assume he was establishing my bona fides) and when he realized I was for real, we arranged for me to send him the Word file and to meet at his office.  I also took him a printed copy of my 389 first draft.  After a month or so, he let me know that they had decided “Your project has merit” and finally sent me a contract.  

I am incredible excited about having the book completed and can’t wait for it to be in people’s hands.  I hope people will like it and find it not only an interesting historical document, but also a resource (there isn’t anywhere else where you can find the names and times of everyone who has ever won an award at the Bridge Run) and be surprised and astonished at the beauty of the pictures.

scrunners: Who worked with you on the project? 
jaggers: I did not have a book agent or any kind of advisor.  I just did it on my own with my wife Kathy’s help.  She suggested that I include a picture of the t-shirt from every race, and she proof read the finished draft for me.  Hey, she only found a dozen or so errors per chapter.  She deserves an award for not killing me while I was at the computer or had volumes of materiel spread out on our living room table and all over the house.  I worked on the book from about 8 to 5, 5 days a week organizing all the material, reviewing all the video tapes of the races  (which I had converted to DVDs and given a copy to the Bridge Run Committee) and then sitting at the computer writing the book.    

scrunners: Do you have a plan for the Bridge Run weekend to promote the book?
jaggers: I’ve agreed to do book signings at the Bridge Run Expo on the Thursday and Friday afternoons, and hope to be able to get on the news and maybe some of the morning television shows.  Kathy and I always go to the press luncheon the day before the race and I’m going to present a signed copy of the book to Julian Smith during the festivities.

scrunners: What kind of feedback have you heard along the process of writing the book?
jaggers: Mainly positive when people would find out I was writing it.  Some people said they expected me to do the book and they are glad I finally got around to it.  I had to explain to some people that it is more time intensive and difficult then they might think.  I’ve got several friends who have been saying for years that they are writing or going to write a book.  One told me this summer he had given it up, he said doing the research turned out to be too hard and took too much of his time.  The others say something like “I’m still working on it” or they don’t say anything at all.

scrunners: How many books would you like to be sold?
jaggers: Oh, about a million.  Kathy’s brother called us the other day and asked to speak to the ‘new millionaire’ in the family.  I think he thought that people make a lot of money by selling books.  He was surprised when we told him what a standard author’s contract pays.  Believe me, it isn’t a lot, but I didn’t go into this expecting to make any money.

Realistically if everyone who has run the Bridge Run would buy a copy, the numbers would add up, but I know a lot of people don’t want to part with $25 or so and will just look at it and keep walking.  If people know that we went to the trouble to include the name and time of everyone who has ever won an award – and the awards go five percent deep up to 25 runners in the larger age groups, that is a lot of people. 

So thousands of copies could move out and I hope they will.  Also the photographs should be appealing to everyone whether they have won an award or not.  If you’ve ever run the Bridge Run you know how spectacular it is to be in the crowd on the bridge and how exciting and really unique the event really is.  I hope every serious runner and every casual runner and walker will want a copy.  Only time will tell how many copies will be sold.

scrunners: What areas of the Bridge Run does the book cover?
jaggers: I’ve probably covered this already, but here it is concisely:  

First, each chapter starts with a picture and the history in text, what happened, the race conditions, who won etc.  I went back after I had finished the original draft and added quotes from the male and female runner of each race straight from the newspaper articles the next day. 

Next, Other Voices.  That’s what I called the interviews and articles written about the race by other people.

Next, the complete award winners list with names and times for every race.  I hope the picture of each race’s T-shirt appears here as well.

Finally, appendixes:  one lists the overall and prize money winners and number of entrants and finishers for each race, one which lists the Dewey Wise award winners, one which lists everyone who has been elected to the Cooper River Bridge Run Hall of Fame, one which lists Bridge Run facts and figures, like number of entrants, number of finishers, number and percentage of male and female finishers for each race and the start time temperatures, and a final one which shows the percentage of finishers who completed the race in less than an hour, less than 50 minutes, less than 40 minutes, less than 30 minutes, etc.  The appendixes should be valuable sources of trivia for people who are interested in every detail of the race. 

scrunners: What has been your most memorable race?
jaggers: Probably one of my more embarrassing ones.   The year when I was probably in just about my best shape for the race I had been running my 10k races in the 36 minute range and so had my friend and later race director Benita Schlau.  So I should have run the first mile in about 5:50 or so, gotten into a rhythm and then pushed.  Instead I blasted away from the start and came to the first mile mark in about 5:30 or so.  I thought, “Oh no, my race is over, I’ve blown it.”  Then I looked ahead and who should be up there five or 10 seconds ahead of me but Benita – out too fast as well.  I caught up with her, she pulled away going up the bridge, I passed her going down, then on the flats we were back and forth.  We both blew up and died in the final mile or two and we both finished the race over 38 minutes.  It was stupid, it was horrible, it was agonizing, but it was memorable.  My mind refuses to allow me to remember whether she got to the finish line first and I refuse to look it up.

scrunners: What have you experienced the most from the run? 
jaggers: Joy.  I really love it.  I know that sounds maudlin, but it is true.  I was an early critic of the race because I wanted it to be perfect and of course that is impossible.  As it has gotten larger I’ve pushed for it to do the right thing for runners and I’ve watched it mostly do that with or without any input from me.  It is a great race, and I’ve said it a lot, great races never happen by accident.  They happen because of the hard work and dedication of a lot of people, many of whom never get the recognition or thanks they deserve.

scrunners: What kind of changes have you seen in the Bridge Run over time?
jaggers: I’ve seen the Bridge Run grow from a race mainly aimed at the Charleston area to a national and spectacular event.  I’ve watched the race grow from 766 finishers in 1978 to 33,057 in 2010.  I’ve seen women become the majority of the field.  Of the 766 finishers the first year, only 113 were female.  I’ve seen the race grow from an event just for runners, to a race for everyone from serious runners to casual walkers.  This year for the first time the race will use a wave start.  I was really against that until I ran Peachtree in 2009 and ran a big race which used that kind of start.  Since I properly seeded myself, it was really interesting to be competing mainly and only with runners of my own conditioning and ability.  I think if the wave start is done right, that people will be surprised and will like it.

scrunners: What have you seen change in the running community? 
jaggers: I’ve watched the running community grow larger, but more casual.  Except for major races, events are frequently won by males and females whose times would not have placed them for an age group award in the 80s.  This may partially be because there are a lot more races now than then, but that doesn’t explain it all.  It seems like the young people who should be running either are not racing or they just cruise through the races.  I hope the number of runners and races will increase, and that our general population will not continue the trek to obesity that it appears to be headed toward.