Last Updated on January 23, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
“Third time’s a charm” is not a sentence I ever imagined I’d be muttering about running a naked 5K, but here we are. The 2019 SunBare Whispering Clothing Optional 5K was the third (official – don’t ask) time Geoff and I have run a clothing optional 5K.
Yes, you are reading that right. “Clothing optional 5K” as in, you can run naked, nude, in your birthday suit. It’s a real thing, and it’s more popular than you might imagine.
The first year we ran this (2015), I was terrified. I remember driving into the Whispering Pines Nudist Resort, immediately seeing naked bodies everywhere, and feeling the heat rise to my cheeks. I was embarrassed – as society as taught us naked bodies are something to be ashamed of, something that should stay hidden, especially when they aren’t magazine cover worthy. That’s right, most of all, I was ashamed of MY imperfect body. Putting it on display for complete strangers was akin to taking a huge leap off of a giant cliff. It was scary.
But I did it…and it was an incredibly empowering experience (you can read more about that here: Body Shame, Self Acceptance, and Racing a Naked 5K
The second year was still a little intimidating, likely because we knew some people who were also racing. But again, we did it, and it was an awesome experience.
The third time, this year, I was nervous…but it had nothing to do with being naked. The moment we drove through the gates of the private resort we immediately waved to familiar faces, and then stripped our clothes off the second the car was turned off. I’m not going to lie, once you “get over yourself”, being naked outdoors is wildly liberating.
Especially when the weather is hovering at 85 degrees and 80% humidity.
Related: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Running a Naked 5K (i.e. it’s probably the opposite of everything you’re expecting)
This year I was nervous purely about my running. You see, I’ve spent the last 2 years with a laser focus on ultramarathon distances. In the last 27 months, I’ve earned two 100 mile belt buckles, ran a 90 miler, seven 50 milers, and I lost track of the number of 50k’s. I’ve spent a lot of time getting really good at running very far…but not very quickly. I’ve definitely lost a ton of speed, and my legs have forgotten what a fast turnover feels like.
In fact, the last 5K I raced was the Sunbare 5K in 2017.
I was nervous about how much a 5K was going to suck (spoiler alert: it did), and to be completely transparent, I get stupid competitive at local 5K’s. I’d placed 2nd female overall the previous two times we’ve run this race, and though I know I’m not in 5K shape at all, I wanted to keep that streak alive (pun completely intended).
2019 SunBare Whispering Clothing Optional 5K – The Race Review:
When we arrived, we checked in and we were marked with our race number in sharpie on our right arm, triathlon style. So for those of you who quip “but where do you pin your bib?” there’s your answer. Next, we ran into a friend we had met at another running event earlier this summer. She introduced us to another Myrtle Beach runner that we hadn’t met before.
Geoff and I decided to take a quick warmup lap to stretch out our legs from the hour drive. Also, I wanted to get over the initial “this feels really (physically) awkward” sensation of running without a sports bra. Hey, I’m being brutally honest here: this is a concern of naked running.
At ten o’clock (ish) all 50 (ish) of us lined up at the start line. I placed myself towards the front, and promised myself I’d run smart.
AND GUESS WHAT YOU GUYS? FOR ONCE I ACTUALLY DID RUN SMART. I know, I’m just as shocked as you are.
I started off at a conservative 8:20 ish pace. The course covered grass, dirt cart road, gravel road, and more grass. The first three sides of the loop are relatively straight, but the last side is a bunch of twists, turns, and switchbacks on grass that make it hard to maintain any sort of speed. The 5K course was three one mile loops around the perimeter of the route.
During the first loop, I immediately fell in step with a guy who seemed to be holding the same pace. At one point he asked me how fast we were going (he wasn’t wearing a GPS). I told him “8:20’s” and he said “That sounds good. Let’s try to hold this until the end”. He told me he was out of shape, and I replied with an empathetic “I haven’t run a 5K in two years”. I left out the part that I’ve been running hundreds of miles every month, but hey, specificity. I’m NOT in 5K shape.
We get towards the twisty, turny portion of the course, closing in on the first mile. I’m leading the race for females, but I have no idea where any of the others are. As we take a sharp 90 degree turn, I hear “go Heather!” from behind me, and turn to see two more females right on my tail. A mere seconds behind.
I’m redlining as it is (remember? Not in 5K shape) and my brain immediately betrays me. Thoughts like “well, as soon as they catch you, at least you can slow down and catch your breath” enter my mind. But I figure, until then, I might as well keep pushing.
My running pal, who I haven’t asked his name because I can’t really breathe, is still hanging by my side. We round the corner of the first side of the loop, and a guy (naked, of course) in a golf cart yells at us “Great job!” I, like the awkward person I am, yell back “YOU TOO!” then immediately start to back peddle. “I mean…good cheering, thanks!” I turn to my running pal and declare “It’s just like when you tell the gate agent at the airport to have a good flight, when you know very well they aren’t getting on the plane with you!”
Immediately, I’m regreting wasting all of that oxygen on talking, because I’m suffering. 5K’s HURT. But none the less, we are approaching the halfway mark and I pick up the pace. Running buddy is audibly struggling to keep up, but this is a race, so I focus on myself.
As we round the corner into the twisty, turny section which is also the end of the second mile, two things happen:
- I drop running pal, who said “I can’t hold this pace, you go!”
- I notice the second place female is still RIGHT BEHIND ME and looking strong.
In fact, she looks super strong and athletic, and I assume is simply waiting for the last quarter mile to pass me. Like a lion, just waiting for the antelope to tire out. I wish she would hurry up and do it, I want to slow down.
Have I mentioned 5K’s really suck?
As I pass the water station, I grab a cup of water. It’s hot and humid out, and I’m dying. I want to drink the water, but I’m pretty sure I’m gasping for air at this point and would choke on it. So I pour it down my back instead.
Fun naked running fact: cold water that immediately runs down your buttcheeks with no shorts to soak it up is a ridiculously awkward feeling. I spend the next 15 seconds laughing at how ridiculous this whole thing is.
Then I go back to suffering.
I turn a corner (the “you too!” golf cart corner) and start passing people who are still on their second loop. I pass two older gentlemen, one of which yells out to me, I kid you not “hey! Wait, stop, I have a question for you!” Are you serious dude? THIS IS A RACE AND I’M SOMEHOW STILL WINNING! (for females at least, there are no short of half a dozen or more dudes killing it in front of me). I hear his buddy say “I think she’s on her last loop…” as an explanation as to why I rudely do not stop.
I turn the third corner, and look back. She’s STILL THERE and I have no idea why she hasn’t made her move yet. I put the hammer down and figure one of two things is about to happen: she’s going to pass me, or I’m going to pass out. But at least I’ll pass out having tried.
According to Garmin, I hit a max of 196 bpm during this section. I also nearly ran over a much older gentlemen who was casually cruising through finishing his second mile. My “ON YOUR LEFT!” as we took a hairpin turn nearly sent him into the bushes. I’m sorry, sir.
I put my head down, round the corner into the finishers chute, and SPRINT the last 50 yards. And holy hell, I won the race (for women). I barely have time to stop and turn around before 2nd place female came in, and VERY shortly after that, third. Winning races is always fun, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun when you know the competition was on your ass the entire time.
23:26 was my finishing time, which I’m quite proud of considering a) it was an off road course (always a little slower) and b) I definitely don’t have my 5K legs right now.
Whenever I mention running a clothing optional 5K to other people, I’m often met with the exact same reaction “good for you, but I could never do that with this body.” And that reaction always makes me sad. Because the best part about running a naked race is realizing that your body is SO MUCH MORE than what it “looks” like.
FACT: when you’re racing complete strangers, naked, you aren’t thinking “oh my gosh look at the cellulite on that girls butt”, you’re thinking: “damn, she’s fast, I need to try and catch her!”
This body of mine? It’s covered in stretch marks and surgical scars. It jiggles when I walk, never mind run. Hell, you’d be amazed to see how many other people are “imperfect” underneath their clothing (hint: it’s 99% of us). My body is flawed, and guess what? It can pull of some kickass physical feats.
Running a naked race is such a powerful experience. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend throwing your fears to the wind and giving it a try. And if you’re remotely local, I’d highly recommend the Sunbare Whispering 5K at Whispering Pined Nudist Resort. They put on a hell of an event and are incredibly welcoming.
Thank you WPNR, and all of the amazing fellow runners we met and spent time with today. We’ll see you next year!
P.S. I beat my husband by 25 seconds.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.