A Change Of Pace
Sand, scenery and speed combine to make beach running a perfect recreational pursuit. By Laurie Volkmann. Photos by Steve Rosamilia.
I am not a runner. I don’t even say that I love running. Tough I often do love to run. Especially at the beach—and especially the Carolina coast where vast swathes of hard-packed sand at low tide provide infinite space to tread as you soak up the breathtaking beauty of a sunrise. The idea of running for 30, 20 or even 15 minutes doesn’t usually strike me as all that appealing. Until I’m at the beach. And then a run for 30 or 40 minutes—perhaps even an hour—seems effortless.
I’m often struck by how few runners I come across on morning jaunts along my personal coastline on Sullivan’s Island. Morning after morning, it is just me and the wayward jellyfish, sand dollars and horseshoe crabs. Occasionally I see a fellow comrade pounding the sand and as we pass, there’s an inherent understanding that we’re both keepers of this great secret.
Eighteen-year-old Amelia Parker, who lives with her family on the beach near the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse, knows this secret well. She runs along the beach every day for an hour. She doesn’t run for a team or to train for any races. She just loves running along the beach. “I don’t get bored out here,” she says, adding that she runs all different times of day. “I listen to music, zone out. I just prefer the beach.”
Margarethe Waldowski, who recently moved from Stuttgart, Germany, has just discovered this secret and absolutely loves running on the beach. For the three-days-a-week runner, the short drive from Mount Pleasant for a run is “definitely” worth the effort. “I love the freedom. It’s just nice, relaxing because of the water and the waves,” Waldowski says, adding that she prefers the sand because the impact on her joints is much softer.
But for so many local runners, the beaches represent a slight inconvenience as well as difficult terrain that can hamper training speed. Meredith Nelson, owner of PrimeTime Fitness located just of Sullivan’s Island, started running in college for a physical education class. While she much prefers to run outside, even her proximity to the beach isn’t generally enough to pull her to the sand. “I love running outside, and if the beach happens to be on my route, I’ll do it,” says the 25-year runner, admitting that it’s often much more convenient to just stay on the road. “I’m a numbers person, and I can keep track of my mileage much better on the road.” But Nelson also admits to enjoying a beach run anytime she does venture that way. “Every time I do run on the beach, I’m like ‘Oh my god I need to do this more often,’” she says.
Charleston has recently become a running mecca with several major races every year, including the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K that attracts more than 30,000 runners annually, and the recently created Charleston Marathon/Half-Marathon, which boasted runners from 49 states and seven countries for its last outing. But the Holy City’s beach towns have also been part of the racing scene for decades. While only two races—Run for Adela in April and the Isle of Palms’ Beach Run in July—run along the beach, the local island races tend to attract runners for the scenery as much as for the running.
The Charlie Post Classic in January and the Floppin’ Flounder in July both run through downtown Sullivan’s Island, while the IOP Connector Run starts and ends in Isle of Palms with an impressive backdrop of the Intracoastal Waterway in between. Anne Peterson of James Island runs 20-25 miles every week and often participates in the local races. Tough she runs on the beach occasionally, she prefers to run the IOP Connector because of its beautiful scenery but easier terrain. “The beach is more work,” she says with a laugh.
Yes, it is. Tough runners know the sand makes the trek a bit more work and navigating the coastline at anything other than low tide can be tricky, for many that beach run wins out every time.
I still don’t love running. But I still absolutely love running at the beach.