The Lowcountry offers the perfect combination for pavement pounders: Flat, friendly and beautiful
“If you want to become the best runner you can be, start now. Don't spend the rest of your life wondering if you can do it."
— Priscilla Welch, master marathon great
It all starts with running few a steps a couple times a week, then a few more the following week and the week after that, and so on.
Keep taking those steps, and soon you too will be a runner and join the ever-growing legion of runners across the country.
Fortunately, we’re standing in one of the best places to run: It’s flat, beautiful, covered with miles of trails and warm enough for year-round running.
“The nicest time of year to run is now,” said Rob Fyfe, owner of Palmetto Running Company. “Temperatures in the 50s are optimal, and it’s not too crowded.”
Fyfe’s favorite place to run is Pinckney Island, especially in the winter.
“The grass is short and the alligators are hiding. It’s a beautiful place to run and there isn’t any traffic,” he said.
He also likes a 12-mile route that circles the island.
“The scenery is beautiful here, with water views and Spanish moss hanging from trees. The worst thing to do is run where there is nothing to look at,” Fyfe said. “The beauty takes your mind off the run itself and helps you get to the runner’s high.”
However, as irresistible as running on the beach seems, the sloped surface isn’t the best for your gait, Fyfe said. If you must run by the ocean, do it at low tide when the angle isn’t so steep.
Fyfe, 55, has always been a runner. He moved here five years ago from New York with the dream of opening a running store.
“We started with a small store in Bluffton and it took off immediately,” he said.
They recently expanded that store and opened a second location in Shelter Cove on Hilton Head Island. Now, it’s the hub of the local running community.
“The best thing to do is to join a club,” Fyfe said. “That’s going to give you the best experience. Running alone, it gets kind of boring. You’ll meet a ton of people with similar likes. I haven’t met a runner yet I didn’t like. I met my best friends on Hilton Head through running.”
Check out the Palmetto Running Company’s website for more information on its free weekly club runs that start at 8 a.m. every Saturday.
“It becomes a social event," that draws up to 100 people in the summer, Fyfe said.
And anyone, from beginners to old pros, can take advantage of the free assessment and running technique tips offered by the Wellness Institute.
“Anyone can start running,” said Rachel Mullen, a physical therapist at the institute. “There are a lot of 5Ks and fun runs. It’s a great way to get out. It’s very friendly to participants of all levels.”
Studies show that running helps children as young as 8 build self-esteem and develop a lifelong habit of staying fit.
“We work with high schools and even younger,” said Mark Weisner, president of Bear Foot Sports, an event coordination company. “Okatie and Red Cedar elementary schools have running clubs. Running is a great thing. It doesn’t have to be competitive. It also has a low environmental impact.”
If you are thinking about running, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first, both Mullen and Fyfe said.
“When people come in here after the first of the year, we start with a walk/run program where they run for 30 seconds at a time. Running is for everyone, but the pace at the start is different for each person,” Fyfe said.
It all starts with a few steps.
Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run is a national organization that encourages running to build confidence and fitness among young girls. A Hilton Head chapter started in 2013.
“The idea of the program is to encourage physical activity for girls,” said Rachel Mullen, a board member for the nonprofit group. “They have talks about how to be a good friend, bullying and body image.”
Shawna Fisher, a physical therapist, started the chapter in 2013, 13 years after she read a Running World magazine article about the program while living in Seattle.
She and her family moved to Hilton Head in 2005 and as her daughters grew up, she kept thinking about the program. She started the arduous application process three years ago.
“My daughters are now 8 and 10 so I knew I had to do it now,” Fisher said.
The group meets twice a week for 10 weeks each semester at the School of Creative Arts. It is already maxed out at 40 third- to fifth-graders from a variety of island schools.
The volunteer coaches follow a national curriculum that addresses a different topic each session. The girls then play running games designed to reinforce the concepts, Fisher said.
“It gives their minds a chance to process what they’ve learned,” Fisher said.
The program requires a low coach-to-girl ratio, and the Hilton Head chapter usually exceeds the minimum, Fisher said.
“That way, there is someone asking each girl how they’re doing and giving them that personal, one-on-one attention," she said.
The program costs $150 but there are scholarships.
“No girl is turned down because of financial need,” Fisher said.
At the end of the 10 weeks, the girls run or walk a 5K event organized by Palmetto Running Company.
“To watch them do that, it is absolutely amazing,” Fisher said. “They feel so good about themselves.”
She’s trying to start programs in Bluffton, Beaufort and Jasper County and is adding a program for girls in grades 6 through 8 called Girls on Track.
“It's a matter of getting the coaches," she said.
To learn more, go to www.girlsontherunlowcountry.org.