Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hunting Island Adventure Biathlon, Beaufort SC 5-12-11

Hunting Island Lagoon
Our family has owned property on Fripp Island, SC for several years now.  We have spent our time there enjoying the natural beauty of the Lowcountry.  The ocean, the salt creeks, the marsh and jungles are a landscape of beauty in stark contrast to our home in the mountains of West Virginia.  Last year we gained a new appreciation for the WV highlands when we participated in triathlons and trail races.  This year, we decided to attempt a Biathlon in our vacationland home of South Carolina and enjoy its splendor up close and personal.  We couldn't have chosen a better race.  The Hunting Island Adventure Biathlon was one of the most fun races we've ever done.

The beautiful trail through the jungle of Hunting Island
Several years ago, for my birthday, I got a kayak from Higher Ground in Beaufort when they were located near the marine store.  I loved their store, and the help I received in choosing my boat and accessories was above and beyond any customer service I've experienced.  Ever since, I have sported a Higher Ground sticker on my vehicle, and I have tried to visit their store while in town.  I also am a fan on Facebook, and on their email list, which is how I found out about the Hunting Island Biathlon.    

The Biathlon's distance was a 5 mile paddle and a 4.5 mile trail run.  The run section of the race scared no one.  However, the 5 mile paddle was a bit daunting.  For one, the race is in March, so we were unable to train by actually paddling since chunks of ice were floating in our rivers here in WV for the months prior to the race.  But, I have a kayak and have some experience paddling.  Plus, our swimming training should help our upper body strength to help us be strong enough to paddle the distance.  Vance and Lindsey had kayaking race experience in the Capital City Classic Triathlon.

The race offered a unique setup of relay options, which made for lots more fun for the participants.  Entrants could register as a single/solo, or as a relay team or a tandem team.  Relay teams required one person paddle and one person run.  Tandem teams, however, required two people to paddle together on a tandem kayak, and then run the trail race together and cross the finish line together.  Technically, the last of the tandem runners would register the finish time for the team.  Because our paddling experience was spotty, and because the opportunity to race on a tandem team sounded like so much fun, both Jay and I, as well as Vance and Lindsey registered as mixed tandem teams.  Most importantly, however, the race t-shirt is awesome.  I loved it so much I wore it during the race!  It was perfect!

Vance's 6'7" frame barely fits 
We rented our kayaks, paddling vests, and paddles from The Kayak Farm in Beaufort, and it seemed as though many participants did so.  The Kayak Farm delivered the boats to the race site, and actually had them lined up and ready to launch.  This was a huge convenience!  Vance had a bit of trouble finding a boat that fit his 6' 7" frame, but he was smart in informing the Kayak Farm of his body size on the phone when renting the boats. Another advantage to renting was the ability to ditch our paddles and vests at transition, knowing that they would be collected by the Kayak Farm.  Otherwise, participants had to have someone waiting to grab the gear for them as they transitioned from paddle to run.

Because it was a trail race, we decided to wear our trail shoes, although we saw many participants wearing Vibrams, Keens, and Teva sandals.  If they were wearing sandals, they had to slip on their running shoes at transition to hit the trail.  However, I saw more Vibrams than ever, and they really would have been the perfect footwear for this race if you were used to running in them.  We wore quick-drying shorts, no-show socks, and performance wicking tees.  This was a must, since we got soaked during the paddle portion of the race.  I was most thankful for the visor and sunglasses I wore, not only to stave off the glare but also to keep the splashes out of my face.  We also wore bike gloves, which was a smart move, since our hands were fatigued by the end of the race, and the padded gloves saved our palms.  

The well-marked road into the park
Hunting Island State Park is a beautiful nature preserve, with natural beaches and extensive jungles.  A lighthouse and its village stands on the island that can be toured and climbed.  One of the state's most beautiful campgrounds is on the park property.  The lagoon we were to paddle through was also the setting for the movie Forrest Gump's Vietnam scene where actor Tom Hanks pulls his fellow soldiers to safety out of the jungle.  

Participants in the Biathlon drove into the main entrance and, after paying the park's $5.00 user fee, were directed through a stunning canopy of palms, live oaks, and pine.  Vehicles were parked near the beach, and a short walk brought participants to the race start/finish line and launch site.  Vance, Lindsey and Marshall, not to be outdone in total fitness mileage, rode beach cruiser bikes from adjacent Fripp Island 5 1/2 miles to the race start.  We brought our kids, and Lindsey's parents most graciously offered to watch them while we raced.  It was a beautiful venue in which to play with kids, they spent the race time on the beach with Lindsey's mom Jackie while the race supporter, Marshall, watched and coached our transitions.  He also took some great pictures in the process!  One challenge of the race venue was the frenzied swarms of noseeums that met visitors with a riot of bites.  Everyone was swatting the air, and standing still invited a brutal onslaught.  Fortunately, the wind picked up later in the day and the bugs abated.  Thankfully we brought serious bug spray!  We doused ourselves and our visors.  I also soaked two bandanas in bug spray and tied them around the kids' necks. This effectively kept the bugs out of their faces.  

The race was extremely well-run, with volunteers at every turn ready to help and direct.  Everyone seemed to know what they were doing, and was much appreciated.  A prerace meeting informed racers on all the rules and transition instructions.  Rescue boats were ready and waiting to help any kayakers in distress.  After the meeting, we settled the kids and climbed into our boat.  We were a little late getting into the water so we had to paddle all the way to the back of the pack to get turned around just in time for the race start.  Vance and Lindsey confidently lined up near the front and were poised and ready to dominate.  The race start sounded, and we were off.  A flailing frenzy of paddlers ensued, and many collisions and cussing were heard around us as we picked through the crowd.  Because I was so scared of turning over in the shark-infested lagoon (hint of sarcasm and drama), we were probably a little less aggressive than we probably needed to be to overtake other, slower boats.  The view from our boat of all the other colorful kayaks and paddlers was breathtaking and exciting.

The first 1/3 of the paddle was in the lagoon, where marsh grasses and trees blocked the wind and waves, making for nice flat water.  However, my paddling technique was less than smooth, so water was splashed and slapped by my paddles until I got the rhythm down.  I banged my thumbs on the boat, as well as my paddle shaft.  Jay, on the other hand, was cool as a cucumber, expertly working the rudder pedals and steering us through the lagoon.  The wide variety of paddling expertise made for a fun challenge, seeing some cut through the water like they had a motor, and others clumsily zig zagging through the lagoon, unable to steer effectively.  Cussing all the way.  It was hilarious.  

The second 1/3 of the paddle trip was into the Fripp Inlet, the water separating Hunting Island and Fripp Island.  This portion was unprotected by trees, and the wind and tide had a significant effect on our paddling efficiency.  We navigated under the fishing pier (which, by the way, according to a fishing guide, is the best place in SC to catch large sharks), and under the Fripp Island bridge.  Several spectators looked over the bridge, cheering us on.  We also saw Lindsey and Vance paddling strong going in the other direction after their turnaround.  They looked serious but also like they were having a great time.  We paddled out to a buoy, around it, and back towards the lagoon.  The halfway point was a giant relief.  By then, my arms and core were screaming, and surprisingly to me, my legs were too.  In order to gain the upper body power to pull the paddle through the water, you have to hold tension inside the kayak with your legs on stationary foot pedals.  This isometric contraction had to be held for the entire length of the paddle portion of the race.  I could see and feel the muscles in my thighs twitching and shaking.  I wondered what effect that would have on my running.  Just before reentering the lagoon, we saw a single kayak turn over, dumping its paddler.  I couldn't look.  Falling in was my greatest fear.  He swam to the edge and got back in safely, with the rescue boat standing ready nearby.  

The last 1/3 of the paddle portion returned us to the flat lagoon, and the paddling seemed easier.  An hour and some minutes after race start, Vance and Lindsey beached their boat and took off on the run.  We saw them running the trail as we got close to the transition area.  Volunteers waited for us to pull in, and they helped by stabilizing the boat as we got out.  I looked up and saw Marshall there, cheering us on and taking pictures.  Bless him, it was so nice to see his face and hear his support as we took off.  Jay unfortunately had to wade to get out, soaking his shoes and socks.  He also lost his timex watch during transition.  This would have ruined my day.  Jay took it in stride.  Literally.  After a few seconds of fumbling around with our gear, we started off the run.

Vance and Lindsey's finish
Talk about sea legs!  Wow, the entire upper legs, including hip flexors and glutes were totally numb.  And wet from sitting in the puddle of water splashy paddling created in the seat of the kayak.  Jay and I both marveled at how our legs were like jello, much worse than any bike to run transition we've ever done.  Also, our hands were fatigued from paddling for so long, so being able to reach for chapstick and Gu was a challenge.  I dropped my bike gloves twice as I pulled them off.  Finally, all our gadgets stowed, we could settle into our run.

Jay & Shannon's finish
The trail started out as a wide flat trail, went over a footbridge and a gravel road and then onto a single track mountain bike path.  We could run side by side during the first portion, but then were single file on the narrow part.  The trail undulated up and down over the ancient dunes covered in forest.  The jungle was absolutely beautiful, and the trail was spongy and sandy.  Volunteers were stationed at every turn so that there was no question which way to go.  The final descent brought us back out to the main road for one final sprint to the finish line.  Wow, what a fun race!

Vance and Lindsey walked away with first place in the Mixed Tandem relay category!  They received a very nice gift bag with lots of goodies from Higher Ground.  To celebrate, they rode another 6 miles back to Fripp Island on their beach cruisers.  Big congratulations!

Race support: The Adkinses
Overall, the race was one of the most fun things we've ever completed.  The scenery was spectacular, the weather was absolutely perfect, and the race was extremely well run.  Everyone seemed to be having a great time.  We couldn't have done it without the generous and gracious Marshall and Jackie Adkins.  They not only watched our kidlets for us during the race, but they fixed us an outstanding spaghetti dinner the night before.  Many thanks to them for their help!         

The Roberts Family Post Race

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