Irv Batten is going into his sixth year at the Cooper River Bridge Run, a scenic 10K set in Charleston, South Carolina, that takes runners directly over the iconic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The race is considered one of the top 10Ks in the country, attracting around 35,000 runners each year, in addition to a field of international elite athletes.
This year’s race was scheduled for April 4, 2020, but with the coronavirus outbreak spreading across the United States, Batten and his team were forced to make last-minute changes to keep their community safe.
We caught up with Batten to learn more about his race, his professional strengths and how he’s handling the challenges of an unprecedented time.
Your tagline for the Cooper River Bridge Run is that it’s not just a race, it’s an experience. What do you mean by that?
We like to use that tagline because it’s Charleston—we are the number one destination city in the United States! You will not only experience our world-class 10K, but you will experience Charleston’s Southern charm and hospitality, our historical sites, our five-star restaurants and our beautiful beaches.
If you had to choose the best feature of your race, what would it be and why?
One feature that stands out about the Cooper River Bridge Run is the bridge itself. The magnificent Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the United States, with a perfect marriage of architecture and the beautiful natural surroundings of Charleston.
What do you think is your biggest professional strength?
Having been an elite runner myself for over 30 years, I feel it’s expanded my understanding of what people want in a running event, plus knowledge of the mechanics that are needed to make it work. My past experience in business also helped me bring some business acumen to the table, which is invaluable with things like our Health & Wellness Expo.
What inspires you to wake up and work hard every day?
Running has been a lifelong passion of mine. Many people don’t get to incorporate their passion into their work life. I also get to work with and meet so many inspiring individuals. I love this job!
What tools have you used to increase your success?
We have been with ACTIVE for a while now, and they’ve worked very closely with us to tailor their cutting-edge apps to fulfill the needs of our organization and increase our registrations. ACTIVE gives us the ability to further target our audience and convey our message of health and wellness through e-blasts, promotions and its vast database.
How have you handled a major challenge in the past?
Losing a very close friend and our beloved race director, Julian Smith, to cancer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. He was such a wonderful mentor and friend, and his influence will be felt through the Cooper River Bridge Run always. His guidance over the years has also helped with my leadership, especially during these trying times with the coronavirus.
What’s the best of advice you’ve been given in your career?
“Keep an open mind and do what you love.”
COVID-19 has obviously hit the racing industry very hard. How have you stayed on top of the news and made important decisions?
The Cooper River Bridge Run has such a crackerjack security and emergency management team, which has been so fine-tuned since the Boston bombing in 2013, that our relationship continues year-round. In the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, we met with all local and state governmental agencies in-person, but since “social distancing” became a must, we stay in touch through phone calls, email and social media.
There were some important decisions that could not wait such as postponing the Bridge Run until August 1, 2020—it will be one hour earlier than usual due to the time of year—and offering a virtual run option. We were not going to put anyone in harm’s way, so this was the natural conclusion.