Stretching from Columbia to Mount Pleasant, the Palmetto 200 winds through the cities, towns and countrysides of South Carolina. It is here that a diverse community atmosphere and an exhibition of physical fitness coalesce into a spectacular event, a relay race covering no less than 200 miles of back roads and pastoral landscapes, eventually yielding to the iconic marshland and the beautiful coastal city of Mount Pleasant. In the end, this race is defined by the sense of camaraderie and community that permeates every segment of the event. The Palmetto 200 achieves something few races can: It eradicates the sense of isolation that is frequently associated with running.
The 207.5-mile race begins in Lexington – just outside of Columbia – and ends in Mount Pleasant, and each of its 36 legs marks a place where competitors exchange the baton with a teammate. The beauty and diversity of South Carolina is on full display as runners interact with members of local churches, and they are graced by sweeping scenic views of the Carolina countryside that seem to beckon them steadily toward Mount Pleasant.
The question may be posed: “Who would want to run a 200-mile race?” Fortunately, a couple of participants of the race were ardently willing to recap their experience of the Palmetto 200. After just a brief discussion, their excitement for this event proved contagious.
Simon Froese, a participant from Columbia, commented on what the essence of the race was to him.
“It’s just a lot of fun. There’s always chances to talk to other racers and socialize with complete strangers. Everyone is in the same boat and shares the same mind-set. Really, even though it’s this intense running event, I call it a social race.”
Uniquely cultivated within this race is a sense of teamwork and fellowship that other racing events seem to lack. Froese reinforced this concept, as he stated, “I can’t express enough how great the social and community aspect of this race is.”
A Mount Pleasant local and competitor in the Palmetto 200, Anthony Durant, added, “Even though the prospect of 200 miles is daunting, you aren’t just going out there doing it by yourself. … You’ve got a team, and what you find as you’re running is whether someone is on your team or (if) they are an opponent, everyone is just as encouraging and supportive as the next.”
Durant also mentioned the immense feeling of community and support inherent to the race, stating those things are definitely felt while running.
That sense of community extends beyond the boundaries of the race; it is experienced through the interaction with many nonparticipants.
“Not only does the camaraderie aspect happen with your own team, but, as you are running along, say, through Orangeburg or Santee and someone says ‘hello’ or offers a quick word of encouragement while they are going about their usual routine, it’s really encouraging,” Durant said, recalling a few random acts of communal support.
Another area where the collective support of onlookers is exemplified may be found with the churches that offer their facilities to the racers. Durant explained: “We also experience tremendous support from the AME churches that we stop in or pass by. They are kind and welcoming. They let us use the restrooms, get water and they even have food prepared for us to purchase. … It’s a very uniting experience.”
The Palmetto 200 transcends the banality of a common race and develops into an exhilarating team-oriented competition and social event. In many ways, the Palmetto 200 is the summation of a number of enchanting elements indigenous to South Carolina and, more specifically, to Mount Pleasant. The race features a venue populated with diverse people and unique landscapes; firsthand views of historic monuments and local businesses; and an environment teeming with generosity and hospitality. Those that have produced this alluring adventure should be applauded on their creation of a competition that has garnered expanding patronage from men and women throughout Mount Pleasant and East Cooper.
By Mitchell D. Watford