Triathlon Across the USA: State #18 – South Carolina

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina; October 12, 2013—On On Tri Hilton Head Triathlon

Joy and I used the occasion of the Hilton Head Island Sprint Triathlon to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in and around Savannah, Georgia and Hilton Head, South Carolina. In addition, I checked off the state of South Carolina in the Triathlon Across the USA quest.

Planning the South Carolina Triathlon

Unbeknownst to me, Joy had been dreaming about visiting Hilton Head Island for quite some time. Friends had told her of the many wonderful sights in the area. She shared her desire one evening, while we were discussing plans for the 2013 triathlon season.

About the same time, the race management company for the On On Tri Hilton Head Sprint Triathlon, Setup Events, opened registration for the 2013 race.

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?”. Here was an opportunity to explore a part of the USA we had not previously visited and check off another state visited for 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-fourths 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. There were plenty of other items, like green beans, more commonly found on our Minnesota table.

Joy with Paula Deen cutout, part of the South Carolina triathlon weekend.
Joy and I enjoyed southern cuisine with Paula Deen, actually her cutout, at Lady & Sons Restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.

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 brief 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 for the South Carolina Triathlon

Months earlier, I decided to rent a bicycle for the race from a bike shop on Hilton Head Island. Renting meant I did not travel with my bike to this race.

There were several reasons in favor of this option.

First, at $50 for a 24-hour rental, it was a lot less expensive than the $300 ($150 each way) 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.

Second, 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.

Finally, traveling with the bike case would have required renting a larger vehicle, also at greater cost, than the mid-size sedan I reserved.

Concerns about a rental bike

Clearly, there were good reasons, mostly financial, for renting a bike locally. However, I worried a bit about 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 aero bars. However, there were no bike shops on Hilton Head Island with rentals of this type. The closest rental option was a road bike, without aero bars.

If you want to learn about renting a bike on Hilton Head Island, check out this article on Hilton Head bike rentals. There are a few bike rental companies. Don’t be afraid to shop around to find the best bike or deal for your needs.

Picking Up the Rental Bike

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 nearly struck 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 hit by the bus.

Packet Pickup for the South Carolina Triathlon

Later that afternoon, it was time to pickup the race packet and T-shirt. Remembering the close call with the school bus earlier in the afternoon, I walked rather than rode 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.

Alligator on Hilton Head on the way to packet pickup at the South Carolina triathlon.
While walking to pickup the race packet, I looked down from a footbridge to see this young Hilton Head alligator, Sure glad that our swim was in the ocean.

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. It was here that the race director gave us final instructions for the swim.

We then walked up the beach 550 yards, the distance of the swim, to the starting line. Once here, 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, the entire group of triathletes swam parallel to the beach until reaching the end point for the swim. The waves were small today, making it easy to swim in a straight line and stay on course.

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.

Beach volleyball at Coligny Beach, location of the swim for the South Carolina triathlon.
The open water swim for the On On Tri Hilton Head Triathlon was held at Coligny Beach, popular for beach volleyball.


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 already clipped into the pedals.

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, and went 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. I normally ride a triathlon specific Trek SpeedConcept 7.5. However, the Trek Madone road bike worked well. My pace during the triathlon was the same as I would have expected with my 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. The run course was quite familiar since it 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. This should not be surprising considering the course was on a small coastal island cut up by many waterways. Waterways and ponds occupy 40% of the island. Nearly every square inch of the island is at sea-level.

The flat course no doubt helped me to achieve a competitive time and to place first in my age group. We were grateful for a positive end to a marvelous trip.

Race Firsts

  • 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.

Is There a South Carolina Triathlon You Recommend?

Have you done a triathlon in South Carolina? What was your experience? Please share your comments below.

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