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Life on the run

Great escapes on Lowcountry running trails.

Story by Dean Rowland + Photography by Hopkins Studio

Dedicated runners compare running to a zen-like experience when they’re immersed in the beautiful Lowcountry environment. Trails weave through maritime forests, hug lakes and creeks, and mingle with myriad flora and fauna along their path. Runners’ focused minds, steady pace and rhythmic breathing whisk them far away from their ordinary, everyday lives.

Running for Self and Community Service

Rob Fyfe has been on the run ever since high school in New York state. It began on the track team in the 440- and 880-yard distance races, then for personal enjoyment competing in events and running with other members of local running clubs for pleasure.

Running was a fixture in his lifestyle, but life as he knew it changed.

“When we moved here from New York in 2009, there were no running stores here, no running clubs, no real run community, period,” he said.

He missed the camaraderie of fellow runners in the Northeast, so he peered into the black hole of the local Bluffton scene and saw personal and business opportunities.

He opened the Palmetto Running Company retail store in Bluffton in 2010 and formed the PRC club the same year. It was then, and is now, the premier retail store for runners in the area, recently named one of the “Best Running Stores in America.”

“When you reach out to the community and open up a running store, runners come out in droves,” he said. All or some of the 100-member running club have been meeting at different locations for nine years every Saturday morning at 7. They run for varying distances and meet up again an hour or two later at a local coffee shop, like Corner Perk.

It’s not competitive and runners range in age from teens to mid-70s, all running at their own pace — and mingle the whole time.

“It’s a real social environment,” he said. “We’re a social club that likes to run.”

The group explores Lowcountry running trails from Savannah to Beaufort, although most are local, and sometimes join other running clubs on their jaunts.

Fyfe and his son Christian opened a second location of the Palmetto Running Company on Hilton Head in 2014.

They also are race directors in the Bluffton/Hilton Head area for charitable running events throughout the year. They coordinate, organize and promote these events that have raised $500,000 for charities through the years.

As for Rob himself, he’ll put on his running shoes four times a week, logging a total of about 25 miles tracked on a smartphone app or a watch with a GPS feature.

“In the fall, we’ll start training for a marathon, and we’ll bump the mileage up to 40 miles a week,” he said.

The runner’s wellness credo is simple and practical: Warm up the body before running, carry water and bug spray, apply sunscreen, wear appropriate clothing, slow down after completing your run but don’t stop moving until your heart rate lowers, cool down and stretch afterward.

Happy Trails for You

The few running trails in the Hilton Head/Bluffton area are all of moderate difficulty, very scenic and very flat.

Trail running provides mental and physical advantages over pounding the pavement, such as lowering anxiety and using more muscle groups. Trail running essentials include appropriate clothing, water, bug spray and sunscreen.

Pinckney Island Located midway between the island and the mainland is Pinckney Island, a national wildlife refuge of considerable renown. Park in the lot and walk a few hundred feet to the trailhead. Run for about a mile past Ibis Pond and turn right at Starr Pond for another mile or so toward Skull Creek. At that trail’s end, take a left and head north to White Point at the tip of the island at Port Royal Sound. Run south back to the parking lot. This running loop is about 6 miles on packed gravel and grass/dirt. Water tides determine which of the 14 miles of hiking/running trails will be used. “It’s a beautiful spot with lots of wildlife,” Rob said.

Sea Pines Forest Preserve On the north end of this plantation’s sprawling 5,200 acres sits an oasis that protects wildlife and the natural habitat created by visionary and developer Charles Fraser in the early 1970s. Lowcountry runners have mapped out their designated trails in this 600-acre preserve that cover between 3-6 miles apiece. (It also hosts the End of Summer 5k race.) The private access space affords runners plenty of shade and canopy trails, packed dirt and grass surfaces, and scenic maritime forest and lakeside views.

Palmetto Bluff This private access destination on the outskirts of Bluffton has beautiful trails that stretch for 6 miles along River Road, marshes, a 120-acre preserve and an expansive inland waterway. Plan on running on packed gravel and grass. Palmetto Bluff is the host of the Buffalo Run 10k, 30k and 50k Trail Run in December.

Buckwalter Place This 1.5 mile-greenway trail has the “potential to become a very nice location but with all the construction now it’s a little banged up,” he said. Nevertheless, “it’s a nice trail and close by” in Bluffton, he said. Runners can expect pine straw and grass surfaces.