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Thousands entered in Run the Bridge 10k

 

When David Stewart lands at Philadelphia International Airport Sunday morning after taking a red-eye flight from Portland, Ore., he won't return home and go to bed. Instead, he will drive to Camden, put on his running shoes, and take part in the Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge 10k race.

"I'm going straight to the parking lot. I don't want to tempt myself with a bed at home," said Stewart, 53, of Haddonfield.

The race, which starts at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, quickly has become one of the most popular middle-distance races in the region. Started as a 5-kilometer race in 1996 to benefit the Larc School, a special-education school in Bellmawr, it is now a 10k event that attracts thousands of runners each year.

The course starts at the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on the New Jersey side and takes runners over the bridge into Philadelphia and back, then through the city of Camden and past the Battleship New Jersey, with a finish on the outfield of Campbell's Field, home of the Atlantic League's Camden Riversharks baseball team.

As the race has grown, the benefactor has stayed the same. The event moved to the bridge in 2002 as a 5k, then switched to a 10k when it became part of the USATF Mid-Atlantic Grand Prix, a race series in Pennsylvania and Delaware. It has expanded every year since, to a 4,250-person race this year. Last year, the run raised $250,000 for the Larc School, and this year, it sold out Sept. 11.

One reason it's a must-run race is the distance.

"There are no other 10ks in this area," said Dave Welsh, owner of the Haddonfield and Moorestown Running Companies and the South Jersey Running & Triathlon Co. He has organized the logistics of the race for the last six years, and serves as the announcer at the finish line.


That's part of the appeal for Stewart, who finished 26th overall last year in 36 minutes, 52 seconds. "I like the experience of running on the bridge," he said. "It feels transgressive on that space that's usually reserved for automobiles.""It's also a tune-up for the Philadelphia Marathon [on Nov. 18], and people love the fact that you're running over the Ben Franklin Bridge and back," he said.

Welsh has made improvements to the race to make it a more interesting event for runners: putting the finish in Campbell's Field; adding a kids race for youngsters 12 and younger that rings the perimeter of the stadium. There also is a two-mile bridge walk. Because the 10k race sells out early, he also started a bib-transfer program, so people who are hurt or change their minds can give their spot to another person who would register under his or her name (as opposed to just taking the bib, which happens but is not technically allowed because the new runner's emergency contact information isn't on file).

This year, he also is responding to complaints from 2011 about an unorganized start, in which some less speedy runners were lining up on the starting line, which put them at risk of being trampled by faster runners behind them. So he is using corrals for the elite runners, ensuring that they are at the starting line, and marking suggested starting spots for runners depending on their race pace behind the elite crowd.

For Stewart, the beauty of the race isn't about the baseball stadium finish, or the corralling system. It's still the location.

"It opens up a part of the city that you don't usually get to run on," he said.

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