So there were literally no races in a 50 mile radius of Columbia this morning, and I was supposed to run like 2 hrs 15 minutes according to my Kiawah training plan. But mention a relay race and I’m apparently willing to chuck the whole long run plan. Looks like I’ll have to feel the pain tomorrow. Speaking of relays, I decided against the Blue Ridge Relay this year. After following the Strictly Running team on FB the last 24 hours, I need to get back there. It’s just too awesome. Congrats to their team for the overall coed win in 24:11 – that’s blazing on that course.
The Splash and Dash was presented to me by Charley, a member of our long dormant Sunday morning marathon training group. He had done it before, and thought it was cool. I’m always up for a trophy hunt, and apparently he and Trophy himself had managed a 2nd place in 2012 (it was canceled in ’13 do to a high river level). I was in.
OK, so this isn’t a relay race, but its still a team event. You start off with 2 miles of trail running, then jump in a canoe and paddle a mile long course. After the canoeing you jump on a mountain bike and do 5 miles. All of this is in Saluda Shoals. You dont finish until your slowest member crosses the line, and obviously you have to do the canoe all together. Smith Harden, who does the Climb the Clay 8k, race directs.
So the only bike I possess is a woefully undersized road model, so luckily Charlie had an old mountain bike for me to borrow. Trophy had to hit up Mark again, who has like a garage full of bikes and other cycling stuff.
We showed up an hour early to scope out the competition. It was kind of difficult to assess since I dont think there’s a vibrant race canoe paddling community in Columbia. There was a fair amount of fit looking people, a couple of teams from Running under the Influence. The only runner I recognized was Tim Rollason-Reese, who is way faster than all three of us. Not a good sign. We were kind of a last minute team, so the only “team shirt” we had was our glowing neon Jacksonville Marathon shirts from 2011. At least everyone could see us.
I jumped on Charlie’s bike and, because he’s like 6’4″, the bike actually fit. Amazing concept. I hadn’t ridden a bike off road since I was in grade school, so this was going to be a total wing-it job. Not to mention the whole paddling thing. I did go canoeing one time on the Saluda with my parents in 1994, so I’m sure I could bank off that training.
The two man teams went first, with the three man teams starting 20 minutes later because of the limited number of canoes. We went for a brief warm up run and came back to see Rollason-Reese’s team finish the 2 mile together, but fortunately just around 16 minutes.
A few minutes later we were off. I figured the best chance at winning this thing was to absolutely crush the 2 mile. Its a short distance, but with all the hills, grass and trails it would certainly put a hurting on the non-running contingent. I went out like a total maniac. Not more than a half mile in, I was all alone…..except for the dude breathing down my neck like a rabid monkey on my back. At first I was glad that Trophy or Charley was keeping up, but it was a guy in a gray shirt. This dude was not fooling around. The course is crazy twisty, but thankfully well marked with a ton of red signs. Like any trail run it was tough to build up any momentum, and of course navigating my Sasquatchian physique around tight turns was more than a little inefficient. We hit mile 1 at 6:58 but it felt like I had been sprinting the whole way. Fortunately the crazy Kiawah mileage I’ve been doing started to kick in, and I tried to ramp it up even further. The whole last mile was like the Silver Fox 5k – big ditches, roots and sharp turns. Just nuts. I was constantly one false move away from doing a face plant. But damned if I was going to let someone keep me from my meaningless “win”. Finally I lost my shadow in the last half mile and hit the exchange right at 14 minutes. Gray team guy was maybe 10-20 seconds back. But WTF?? Where was my team? I walked around, got some water and put on my life jacket.
I was about to step out for brunch when Trophy and Charley come rumbling in. We all jump in the boat, and start paddling like champs, knowing the gray team was close behind. Did I say all? I meant Charley and I started paddling like champs. Trophy decided to nominate himself for a “supervisory” role on the canoe, i.e. Lady McGaha was pure ballast on this ship. My arms are taking a total lactic acid bath by the time we hit the first buoy, while Trophy is informing us that Team Gray is totally gaining on us. Sure enough, when we make the turn they are crushing it like a Harvard rowing team while we look like a raft of castaways. To make matters worse we hit a patch of river grass and we come to a complete halt, run aground like a beached whale. It takes every bit of leverage we have with the paddles to slowly extricate ourselves, because I’m too fancy to get my precious blue trail shoes wet. We pass by the launch point and head downstream to round buoy number two. Trophy is seabiscuiting me in the canoe though my arms have turned into complete spaghetti trying to paddle this thing. The worst is making the turn where I’m providing the sole paddle leverage to make a tight circle around the buoy. Not more than a few strokes back and Gray team is paddling right with us. I can make out the launch point again and getting caught by the Grays has stirred my dark paddling passenger, launching me into a frenzy. The next few minutes is total chaos, with both of us rowing like complete maniacs, water and paddles flying in an all out canoe kick. We finally hit the launch point again, with the Grays just a nudge ahead of us. I throw all caution to the wind and jump out of the canoe, soaking my shoes to the core instantly. I grab a cup of water and start the bike transition.
My tri transitions are ridiculously slow, but this is a lot simpler since I havent opted for cycling shoes. Just strap on the enormous helmet and take off. As we depart I realize that a) Gray team is really a coed team (so not really competing with us) and b) one of their members looks to be a 12 year old girl. I dont know whether these realizations result in shame or relief, probably a little of both. We all start blasting 100 percent out of the gate, because we thought we were competing against the two man teams as well. Mountain biking is completely different from the roads. There’s all these sudden tight turns that are tough for my Sasquatch self to manage on the run. Add 25 pounds of metal to the equation and its a damn miracle I managed to not end up flying over the handlebars. Thats not to say I didnt come close. Very close. Multiple times. But hey, at least my bike was the same beastly size as my body. Our only moment of shame was facing the clay mountain a couple of miles in. We had agreed to jump off and run the bikes up beforehand, which was a good plan since there was no way in hell I could have stayed upright. The last few miles involved a couple of ditches where I nearly did a face plant and a brief stretch where we caught up to a 2 woman team and I was breathing down their neck like an oversized gorilla. Sorry, ladies. It is not wise to position yourself between me and my trophies. Remarkably, we all stayed together as a team the whole time. When we finally hit the home stretch, you’d think it was a time trial at the freaking Tour de France, barreling through the finish like a herd of elephants at top speed.
Done. Not much later Smith tells us there are actually separate divisions for two and three man teams, so we were pretty much busting our tails for nothing. But we got first place, so I was eternally happy. The trophy was a super cool custom Splash and Dash picture frame with free team photos you could take at a photo booth at the finish. Very nice. Overall it was a blast. I should be back next year. Hopefully I’ll learn to paddle by then.