Triathlon Across the USA: State #18 – South Carolina
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, October 12, 2013 – On On Tri Hilton Head Triathlon
The Hilton Head Island Sprint Triathlon was the perfect opportunity for Joy and I to check off South Carolina in the Triathlon Across the USA quest, explore Savannah, Georgia and Hilton Head, and celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.
Planning for South Carolina
From the wonderful things she had heard from friends, Joy had been dreaming about visiting Hilton Head Island. How did I know this? She told me one evening while we were sitting around talking about plans for the 2013 triathlon season.
Meanwhile, the race management company for the On On Tri Hilton Head Sprint Triathlon, Setup Events, had opened registration for the 2013 race almost immediately after the 2012 event.
So, when we learned that the 2013 running of the Hilton Head Triathlon would take place in the week of our 40th wedding anniversary, we looked at each other and said “why not?”. After all, here was an opportunity to explore a part of the USA we had not previously visited and check off another state in which we had completed a triathlon.
Hilton Head via Savannah
Eleven months after registering for the race, Joy and I left Minneapolis for our combined mini vacation and triathlon weekend. The Thursday, October 10th flight to Savannah, Georgia, with a connection in Atlanta, got us into Savannah at around noon.
After picking up our rental car, we drove to the Savannah Visitors Center. Here we purchased tickets and boarded the Old Town Trolley Tour for a narrated trip through historic Savannah.
About three quarter of the way through the tour, we hopped off the trolley for lunch at Paula Deen’s restaurant, Lady & Sons. The buffet-style lunch included southern staples of grits, fried okra, and peach cobbler, along with other items, like green beans, more commonly found at our Minnesota table.
After finishing the tour, we headed north out of Savannah toward Hilton Head Island, crossing from Georgia into South Carolina just outside Savannah. It took about an hour to make the roughly 40 mile trek to our hotel, The Beach House Holiday Inn, at Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island.
Following a short rest and walk on the beach, we headed over to Steamers for a swordfish dinner. Before turning in for the night, we took a dip in the hotel’s outdoor hot tub.
Renting a Bike
Months earlier, I had decided to rent a bicycle for the race from a bike shop on Hilton Head Island. Renting would mean that I would not travel with my bike for this race.
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First of all, at $50 for a 24-hour rental, it was a lot less expensive than the $300 ($150 each way) that it would have cost to bring my bike as airline luggage.
By the way, I had previously offered Delta Airlines the option of sponsoring me in triathlon by giving me free bike shipment. Unfortunately, they hadn’t taken me up on what I thought was a reasonable offer.
Secondly, by renting a bike, there was a lot less hassle. Renting avoided the need for unpacking and re-assembling my bike once at the race venue, then disassembling and re-packing it after the race and before heading back home.
There was also the fact that traveling with the bike case would have required renting a larger vehicle, also at greater cost, than the mid-size sedan that I had reserved.
Clearly, there were good financial reasons for renting a bike locally. The main concern was getting a bike of the right size and fit that would not cost me too much time during the triathlon.
I am accustomed to riding a triathlon-specific bike (‘tri-bike’) which includes aerobars. However, there were no bike shops on Hilton Head Island with rentals of this type available. The closest option that I had for a rental bike was a road bike, without aerobars.
Picking Up the Rented Bike
Anyway, after lunch on Friday, Joy dropped me off at Road Fish Bike Shop to pickup the rental bike, a Trek Madone 3.1. The bike shop staff exchanged the pedals with mine and adjusted the seat to fit me. After a quick test ride and another minor adjustment, I headed back to the hotel.
The ride back to the hotel reminded me why I am paranoid about riding on city streets. While crossing an exit from a parking area, I was almost hit by, of all things, a school bus as it barreled out of the lot. Had I not hit the brakes hard enough to lift the back wheel off the ground, I would have been struck by the bus.
Later that afternoon, it was time to pick-up the race packet and T-shirt. Remembering the close call with the school bus earlier in the afternoon, I decided to walk rather than ride the few blocks to Go Tri Sports.
While crossing a bridge along the walking trail, I glanced down into the water to see something that you don’t find on walks around any of the 10,000+ lakes and ponds in Minnesota – an alligator.
Fortunately, I already knew that the swim was in the gator-free ocean and not in a local lake or pond where these guys spend their time.
On On Tri Hilton Head Triathlon
Distances for the individual legs of the USAT-sanctioned On On Tri Hilton Head Sprint triathlon were:
- Swim: 0.3 mile (550 yd or 500 m)
- Bike: 12.4 mile (20 km)
- Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)
Just before the start of the race, all triathletes made their way from the transition area to Coligny Beach for the final instructions about the swim.
With the pre-race meeting complete, swimmers walked up the beach the 550 yard distance of the swim to the starting line. Once at the starting line, we waded into the water up to between chest and neck level (depending upon a person’s height). Here we waited for the signal for the race to begin.
Once the gun went off, we swam parallel to the beach until reaching the end point for the swim. The waves were small on this day so it was relatively easy to stay on course, that is, swim in a straight line.
Exiting the water, we ran the roughly 100 yards across the beach (on the right side of the volleyball court pictured below), through the Holiday Inn parking lot passing directly below the room where Joy and I were staying, across South Forest Beach Drive, and into the transition area.
After removing my wetsuit, I grabbed the rented bike and jogged it to the line designated for mounting. Hopping onto the bike, I slipped my feet into the shoes which had been clipped into the pedals prior to the start of the race.
The bike course was three loops of a very, very flat, tree-lined four mile section of local streets. The course left the transition area which was near the Coligny Circle roundabout, turning right onto South Forest Beach Drive.
At about one mile from the start, South Forest Beach Drive split into North Sea Pines Drive and Cordilla Parkway. The course followed Cordilla Parkway back to Pope Road where we made a right turn. Once at the Coligny Circle roundabout, we took the first exit of the roundabout. This put us back onto South Forest Beach Drive for the second, and eventually, third loops.
The rental bike turned out to be a success. While I normally ride a triathlon specific Trek SpeedConcept 7.5, the Trek Madone road bike worked well as evidenced by a pace similar to that I would have expected with my tri-bike.
Triathlon Tip: Renting a bike from a local bike shop, especially for shorter distance races, can be a cost effective alternative to shipping your bike to a race. Tell the person at the bike shop the size bike you normally ride. Ask the shop if you can bring your pedals in order to use your clip-in shoes. And, don’t forget to have the shop fit you to the bike, at least as much as they can.
There is not much to report about the run. By now, the course was quite familiar since the run course was a somewhat shortened, single loop of the bike course. As they say in triathlon-speak: “flat and fast”.
This will probably be recorded as the flattest course ever, at least of the triathlons in which I have competed. After all, it took place on a small coastal island cut up by numerous waterways and ponds that occupy 40% of the island.
The flat course no doubt helped me to achieve a competitive time and place first in my age group. We were grateful for a positive end to an otherwise marvelous trip.
- First race with a rented bike.
- First race in which our hotel room looked out onto the path between the swim exit and transition area. The trip to transition on race morning was about one block.