Your starting line is a row of bricks on a sidewalk next to a playground, a spot parkgoers will walk by, push strollers through, pause at while encouraging their young child to stop lollygagging.
Run with a group of 15 people up that sidewalk in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort, then turn right on Bay Street. Run on the sidewalk -- the streets are not shut down -- and dodge the smattering of people here and there who are roaming downtown on the last Saturday morning of Water Festival. Run out of downtown and start to pass the mansions along The Bluff. Go until you see a tree with a bright orange koozie hanging in it. Turn around.
Run back down Bay Street -- dodge those same downtown wanderers who probably don't even realize you're wearing a race bib -- round the corner at Carteret Street and head up one of Beaufort's only hills, the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge. There will be other people walking or running the bridge on their regular morning workout. But you're racing, so you've got to pass them. Go until you see a silver star mylar balloon tied to a road sign. Turn around.
Head back over the bridge and into Waterfront Park. There will be no fanfare at the end, no crowd of people cheering you on through the last few meters of your 5K. When you reach the end, the same row of bricks where you started, pause at a card table, use a Sharpie to write your finish time -- displayed on a laptop in large black numbers -- on the back of a chit from your bib, then drop that scrap of paper into a Chock full o'Nuts coffee can.
Save for your fellow runners, who mill around chatting about their training for marathons and other races after they cross the finish line, no one knows you've completed a race.
This is a 5K Flash Mob.
GONE BEFORE IT IS NOTICED
The 5K Flash Mob started a year ago in Beaufort, and members have run about a dozen races since then, including a handful in Charleston and one in New York City. Some races happen in the evenings, like one that took place along The Battery in Charleston on Friday. Some are in the mornings, like Saturday's in Beaufort.
Each race works the same way. Racers get an email at about midnight the night before with the route, details about a meeting place to pick up their bibs and a few reminders to follow general running safety tips. They show up at the appointed time, pin on their bibs, line up in a group at whatever will serve as the starting line that day, get a few instructions on where to turn around ("If you've gone past that tree, you've gone too far"), and then wait for the start -- a simple "3, 2, 1, Go!" from the local organizer, a man they may not even know.
"The first time, there were about 70 people and I hardly knew a one of them," the local organizer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said. Somewhere between eight and 20 people have participated in each race since the larger first run that took place late last summer.
Some runners participate over and over again; one runner in Saturday's race had been a 5K Flash Mobber at least six times. But others are 5K Flash Mobbers only once, such as two women from two towns Georgia and who found the race by searching for 5Ks online that were an equal distance away from their hometowns.
Runners have 55 minutes to complete the 5K; Saturday's was wrapped up in about 30 minutes, with the first place runner, Joy Miller, of Beaufort, finishing in just over 18-and-a-half. Although it's not chip timed -- it's "entirely on the honor system," the organizer said -- the times runners write on the bib chits are uploaded to Active.com, a website that lists running events and runners' times all over the world.
Though the races take place in commercial areas with pedestrian traffic, if you weren't running it, you probably wouldn't know it was happening. It would just seem like a handful of people were on their regular run. If you were observant, you might notice the bib numbers pinned to their chests. You could happen upon the unattended small table with the laptop, coffee can and Sharpies at the finish line and wonder about it, but there wouldn't be anyone around to clue you in on what's going on.
Information about the races is spread through word of mouth -- runners tend to know other runners -- and social media. There's a Facebook page, called 5K Flash Mob, with just more than 160 fans; the organizer posts photos of race participants and links to register for upcoming 5K Flash Mobs there. You'd probably have to see it or know someone who's done it to have heard about it.
"It's just been a lot of word of mouth. It's been very sporadic," the organizer said. "Two mobs ago, I had a rush of people at the very last minute sign up ... a few of them had a friend who was doing it and thought, 'Oh, I'll do it too.' "
After the race, the runners converge on an area bar or restaurant -- on Saturday it was Luther's -- for water, beer or mimosas, and to order food to refuel. The organizer pulls bib numbers from the coffee can to award prizes, mostly gift certificates donated by area businesses, and then the festivities are over. The whole race, from bib pickup to after party, lasts maybe two hours. It disappears before most people even know it existed.
FOR A GOOD CAUSE
The race itself is free; runners pay about $25 to become a 5K Flash Mob member and can then participate in as many flash mob runs as they want.
All of the membership dues go to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, which the local organizer raises money for each year as part of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
"This is my sixth year raising money, and friends and family are getting a little tired of the 'Hey, it's that time of year again,' " he said. "I've seen my donations start to drop. I realized I need to create something that is its own entity, that is self-propelling. That way I'm not bothering people, and I'm having fun along with it."
Each race raises a bit more for the cause; about $300 was contributed on Saturday. The organizer works with local businesses to make 5K Flash Mob T-shirts, to find a place to host the after party and to gather drawing prizes. Luther's has hosted the after party a few times.
"It's a good cause, and a community thing," Luther's owner Ron Stavac said. "These are great people running for a great cause. I wish (the organizer) had 400 runners."
After it's over, there's only a bit of down time before planning for the next run starts up. Dates are set for races in late August and early September in Charleston and New York City, respectively.
The organizer will have to start researching possible routes soon, a process that includes plotting out the 3.1 required miles on a map then driving or walking it to ensure it avoids red lights and will be safe for the runners.
"A few weeks ago, I was up in Charleston (researching for Friday's run) because I'm not as familiar with it," he said. "I must have driven like 30 miles within a two or three mile distance to make it work. At one point, I made it to 2.9 miles, and I thought, 'This will work; it's the best route.' Then I hit a red light. I had to drive back to the start and begin again. That's what goes into it."
Most of the people in Saturday's race live in Beaufort County and are runners. Several are training for a marathon and do the race to get in their miles for the day.
Miller, who came in first, said she was just getting back in the swing of training. She knows the local organizer, and said he often asked her to participate in the runs. Saturday's 5K Flash Mob, her first, was part of her first 40-mile week since running a marathon in May.
Beaufort runner Jay Gibson is also starting to increase his mileage as he trains for an out-of-state marathon in September. He's run at least six of the 5K Flash Mobs.
"I consider it part of my normal training," Gibson said. "I could go out any day and run a 5K. This makes it a little different."
Many of the 5K Flash Mobs have had at least one runner who's never done a 5K before, the organizer said. This offers them a chance to run one in a low-key, no-pressure environment.
Even the runners who have run 5Ks, 10Ks, triathlons and marathons like the casual feel.
"It's fun. It's like meeting up and socializing," Miller said. "It's relaxed; there's no nerves."
The two women who found the race by searching online for runs that were about the same distance from their homes in Augusta, Ga., and St. Mary's, Ga., work out and run occasionally, but they aren't regular runners. The 5K Flash Mob offered Star Ye and Caitlan Gilbert a chance to do something a little different on their weekend vacation.
"If I'm going to pay to run, I want something unique," Ye said. "This is so much more interesting (than a typical race), and it took us through some beautiful surroundings."
Follow Rachel Damgen at twitter.com/IPBG_Rachel.