Running Rogue: The May Day Marathon

Hundreds of Charleston "rogue runners" are playing hooky from work today in a "black ops marathon" that omits red tape, adds three bridges, and includes plenty of beer on Folly

If you are out and about in Charleston this morning, you may have seen a bunch of runners with flowers in their hair wearing handmade race bibs decorated with markers. No, the hippie running convention is not in town, but an underground rogue marathon celebrating May Day is.


The May Day Marathon is an unofficial race that kicked off at 7 a.m. at the Isle of Palms pier this morning, runs over the Ravenel bridge, through the peninsula, down James Island and ends at the Folly Beach pier for a total of 26.2 miles. The pier-to-pier race is the brainchild of unofficial race director Rocky Cundari and his “mini” race director Virginia Wininger. 


The two thought up the idea for the race during a casual group run and started inviting other runners via Facebook and word of mouth. Eventually word spread through the grapevine of the Charleston running community until some of Charleston’s most notorious and elite runners had joined the bandwagon, including Rives Poe and Andy Tedesco.


The race is unofficial, meaning it’s more like a huge group run than an actual road race. No streets will be closed, no waivers will be signed, no registration was required. Bib pick-up happened the last two Saturdays at what Virginia called “the coolest race expo ever,” the pool table at Moe’s Crosstown Tavern. Racers got to pick their own number and design their own bib with colorful markers. They were also encouraged to wear a May Day-related costume or outfit for the race.


Although I wasn’t able to play hooky from work today to join in the running fun, I caught up with Virginia last week to get all the secretive details of this underground race. 


KH: How did this all start? What gave you the idea for a rogue marathon?

VW: As you may know, runners are constantly in training mode and there are many long, monotonous miles between races. On our long runs, we often run into the same people so we created the May Day Marathon as a way to bring friends and future friends together to celebrate our training and healthy lifestyles.


KH: Were there ever plans to make it an official race?

VW: No. This all came together a month ago with a few buddies and a case of beer. Now we're looking at 150-200 runners so, of course, we needed more beer... and a band!


KH: How is your marathon course different from other area marathons? 

VW: There are a lot of great races in the region but if you're referring to the Charleston Marathon then you probably already know the answer to that question... we might as well not even have one. Our course stems from the running community's discontent over the official Charleston Marathon's course, which starts downtown, heads north through the “neck", and meanders somewhat aimlessly through North Charleston/ Park Circle. That race hardly glimpses at the charm of our city and the beauty of its surrounding natural environment.


KH: Any other purpose for the race—raising money for charity, etc.?

VW: Just to see who's fastest, like most races. The course includes what we call “The Ultimate Equalizers”—three drawbridges that could make the race for first place very interesting!


KH: Why May Day?

VW: Races are usually more fun when associated with some sort of theme, and May Day is historically a celebration of spring, flowers, fertility, and community that predates Christ. However, during the red scare of the '50s, you were considered a traitor if you celebrated May Day because it was associated with socialist countries that piggybacked their version of Labor Day to this wonderful festival ….But the main reason is May Day (May 1) is a Wednesday and we wanted an excuse to play hooky.


KH: How is this race different from official races?

VW: The main difference is that we left out all the red tape associated with lawyers, insurance agents, and permission... if you get hurt, you're out and we don't know ya. Very black ops/guerrilla style.


KH: Hopes for the future of the race?

VW: Next year I hope we have 1,000 runners and the race director gets arrested for omitting the red tape again.