Last Updated on September 22, 2023 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
This past weekend I reluctantly (it’s not you, it’s me) participated in the 4th edition of the Lynches River Adventure Race duathlon held in Coward, South Carolina. The race, hosted by the Keep Florence Beautiful organization consists of a 5K trail run and 5 mile kayak paddle on the Lynches River.
Per usual, I cannot share a race report without a lengthy backstory. So you may either choose to brace yourself for some midlife crisis back-story rambling, or just skip ahead to the actual race report (scroll down). But I assure you, there’s a moral to this story (at least for me) at the end, if you stick with it.
There was a time, not that long ago, when running was everything to me. I would complain about how difficult other sports felt – like riding a bike – and how it was so frustrating that they did not come as easily to me as running did.
Running was simply a part of me, a part of what I do, as natural as taking a breath or blinking my eyes. I loved it, I wanted it, I truly felt that I needed it in my life.
I never imagined there would be a time where running would be the thing that felt foreign, that felt dreadfully hard, that triggered the “ugghhh I don’t want tooooo” internal temper tantrum.
I’m fairly certain it’s a temporary phase of life, but nevertheless, here we are: a place where I hardly feel I can identify as a “runner”.
This past weekend, Geoff and I, along with our adventure racing teammate Morgan, were supposed to be at the USARA National Championships in Vermont. Alas, life’s responsibilities got the best of all three of us, leaving us to make the call a few months back to give up our spots to another team.
(It wasn’t the race itself so much as the logistics and time of traveling to and from the race. Being a responsible adult is entirely overrated at times.)
At some point last week Geoff was cleaning out a drawer and found a packet of wildflower seeds he had received in his 2022 Lynches River Adventure Race packet. As he handed the packet to me, I could see the lightbulb go off in his head, and knew what he was going to say before the words “hey…can we actually go to this race now that we aren’t going to Nationals?” came out of his mouth.
Now my friends, it’s time for a confession. I had realized weeks before that this race was, indeed, the same weekend as Nationals, and that we did now have an open calendar. And I could have brought it up sooner…
…if it wasn’t for the fact that I really, really didn’t want to do it.
You see, this time last year, my body and I were on the same page. I felt strong as an athlete, and I was ready for any challenge thrown my way. As such, I pushed hard at the 2022 edition of this race, and came out on top: 1st place female overall.
Alas, year 41 of my life has been less than kind to me thus far. Sometime around late winter/early spring, my body decided to throw itself head first into the pits of perimenopause, and I’ve been struggling with every possible symptom and side effect since. Joint pain, weight gain, lack of sleep, exhaustion, depression, brain fog, you name it, I have it.
And of course, I have not gone down without a fight. Oh no, I have been doing everything within my power – including tag teaming medical professionals and hormone specialists – to come out on top. It’s just that right now, I’m still swimming furiously in order to make it to the other side of the shore without drowning.
While in the midst of this hormone-induced-shit-storm, I have given myself permission to move my body in whatever way brings me joy. Running has not come easily as of late. And much to my surprise (seriously I cannot emphasize enough how I am just as – if not more -surprised as everyone else) I have fallen in love with riding bikes.
So bringing this full circle – I don’t feel nearly as strong as I once did, and I haven’t been running much at all lately. And if you ask any ultra runner what they’d rather do, run 100 miles or race hard for 3.1 miles, they will tell you without skipping a beat that they’ll take the 100 miles.
Hovering just on or above that lactate threshold for 20+ minutes is the antithesis of enjoyment. And doing so when you are feeling out of shape, and also unnecessarily competitive and hard on yourself is even worse.
Normally I’m the type of athlete who believes – and shouts from the rooftops – that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it just matters that you show up. But this current phase of life is uncomfortable and frustrating enough as is, a harsh reminder that I’m not where I was or where I want to be physically isn’t something I want to willingly seek out.
Point being: I didn’t want to race the 2023 iteration of the Lynches River Adventure Race, not only because I knew the 5K was going to hurt, but because I knew I would not be able to perform nearly as well as I did last year.
So I told Geoff I’d spectate. He gave me the whole “uh huh, sure you will. You have until Wednesday to register” laugh and head nod, knowing full well that FOMO would get the best of me and I’d sign up anyway.
And he was right.
Lynches River Adventure Race Recap
Geoff, teammate Greg, and I arrive at Lynches River County Park in Coward, South Carolina early Saturday morning and get to work setting up our kayaks.
For this race, you can choose to bring your own boat, or rent a kayak from a local outfitter. We’re fortunately early enough to get a waterfront spot for our boats – the less distance you have to carry those suckers the better.
We go through the normal pre-race motions, including trying to find a missing bib pin, and contemplating whether the race is long enough to justify taking a gel before the race starts (trick question, you never need to justify snacks).
We mutually decide that a warm up jog might make the 5K portion of the race slightly less insufferable, so we take off for a maybe 3/4 of a mile run, returning to the starting line just in time for pre-race announcements.
We all line up, the race director sounds the horn, and we are off. I promise myself that I will “behave” and run my own race, and not get caught up in the start of the race excitement, which will surely be a pace I have no business sustaining for even one mile, never mind 3.1 miles.
I know I’m a strong paddler, and that paddling technique is probably something most of these other competitors are missing – a guess I wager based on the number of rental boats present.
We take off out of the parking lot, and take a left to run down a paved road. We are running downhill, on pavement, and I am already winded. All I can do is laugh at myself, and turn up the volume on my Trekz headphones to try and drown out the sound of my gasping.
Immediately a decent sized group of both men and women are ahead of me, and then quickly out of sight. This is probably for the best, as it means I won’t try to keep up.
Geoff is just behind me, and the two of us hit the trail at the same time. Not a quarter mile into the race, I feel something hit my ankle. I look down and see my shoe is untied.
OF COURSE IT IS.
Just the night before I had made the hilarious discovery that all of my short distance trail shoes (i.e. not big bulky Hokas) were old, blown out, and otherwise in bad shape. I decided to go with what I deemed the “best of the worst” – a two year old pair of Altra Lone Peaks. The ones I occasionally wear adventure racing and complain the entire time about how the damn laces won’t stay tied.
I whisper “ahh f*ck” and laugh at myself, as this race is going exactly as I had expected it would. I hop to the side of the trail, drop down and tie my shoe, and I’m back up and running in seconds. I make a crack to Geoff about how I “should have known better than to wear Altras” and he just gives me that “mmmhmmm” response that says “I could have told you so but you wouldn’t have listened anyway” without actually having to say it.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to race with your spouse…now you know.
The shoe unties once again not a few minutes later. I stop, quadruple knot that lace, and pop back up quickly. I catch back up to Geoff, and then quickly pass him. I’m not sure if he’s slowed down or if I’ve sped up, but after a few minutes, I’m alone.
I can’t see anyone ahead of me. I also can’t see anyone behind me. I am in no-(wo)mans land, which is exactly where I need to be. I focus on my running, my breathing, and just getting to my boat.
I cross the 5K finish line at 27:07 and keep running until I reach my boat. I have no idea who is in front of me, who is behind me, or what place I’m in. But one thing I do know is that I love to kayak, and it’s an absolutely gorgeous day to be on the water.
I throw my PFD on, and pull my boat straight into the water. A volunteer kindly holds my kayak for me as I jump in quickly, and I’m off in less than a minute (48 seconds, to be exact. Thank you Garmin).
The first half mile of the paddle is incredibly windy and littered with fallen trees and other debris. The water is also moving relatively quickly. The combination of the two makes for a difficult time for those less comfortable in their boats, but I’m able to zip through and pass a handful of racers right from the start.
Once the river opens up a little, I settle into a comfortable but strong rhythm. I know 5 miles is going to take me around 50 minutes in this current, so I can’t waste any energy.
Around a mile into the race, I pass a family standing on the shoreline. A little girl shouts enthusiastically to me “you’re boat number nine!”. I thank her, and ask if she knows how many women are ahead of me. She freezes, clearly not expecting a question in return. Her Dad (I’m assuming) hears me and responds “there’s two women in one kayak together, and then another one in a single boat ahead.”
“That’s exactly what I needed to know, thank you!” I yell back, and put a little more pep in my
step paddle. Two women in one boat means they are a tandem team, a completely different category. And one women in a single boat is either my competition, or part of a relay team. Either way, that puts me at minimum, in 2nd place, and the obnoxious competitive side of my brain perks up a bit.
Nevertheless, I still have about 4 miles to go, so I settle in to that same comfortable yet strong paddle cadence.
Around mile 2.5, I come around a bend and see her: the solo female kayaker. She’s probably a tenth of a mile ahead or more, but I can see a ponytail and smaller stature. I’m fairly confident that’s my “rabbit”.
I can also see her kayak swaying from side to side with each paddle stroke – a sign of a less experienced (or at least tired) paddler.
I take a deep breath and remind myself of a popular saying in the adventure racing world that I find completely cliche, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t true:
“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
I maintain my exact same paddling cadence, knowing that I can probably catch her if I continue to race smart. And slowly but surely, each paddle stroke brings me closer and closer.
At one point, Geoff catches up to me. Before he quickly passes, I point at her from behind. He says something like “Oh, you’ve totally got this”, and for the first time, I believe it too.
Just shy of a mile from the finish line, I catch her and pass on a bend in the river. NOW I pick up the pace, both to try and place some distance between us, and maybe to put a little psychological pressure on. I convince myself that if I fly by her looking like I know what I’m doing, maybe she won’t try to keep up.
I give myself about five minutes before I dare to look back. She is definitely still trying to keep up, but I have enough distance between us that I know if I can just hold on, I’ll beat her to the finish line.
And I do. I end up finishing 1st female (out of 17), and 5th overall (out of 37 in the individual category).
Naturally, I was given a load of good-natured “I told you so” comments at the finish line from both my husband and Greg.
And while of course I was stoked to win, a few days reflection, and a glimpse at last years results, gave me a bit of perspective.
My run was indeed 43 seconds slower this year, but my paddle was 16 seconds faster, making my overall finishing time only 29 seconds slower. Which if I’m being honest, isn’t nearly as disastrous as I anticipated.
But, it’s more than the finishing time: I truly had fun. I spent the rest of the day with a smile on my face, because that was the first race I had participated in since the Rev3 50 hour in May.
Some days I need to take a giant step back and truly thank my body for what it’s capable, even in times when I’m not feeling my best. I have been racing – both for fun, and competitively, for 18 years (and writing about them on this site for 14 of those years).
I have raced through pregnancies, and newborns, while in school full time, or working three jobs. I have raced through incredible highs, through heartache, and grief. I’ve shown up to races fully prepared, and I’ve crossed finish lines when I probably should have called it quits much earlier. I’ve won races, and I’ve spent time at the back of the pack. 3 miles, 103 miles, road, trail, OCR, triathlon, adventure race, and everything in between: racing has always brought me so much joy.
It’s absolutely wild to look back on what this body of mine has accomplished, and what it is still able to accomplish. And frankly, to sit here and assume that my abilities will remain stagnant – that I will not experience lows in addition to highs, and that my body won’t change with time – is naïve.
To avoid doing something that has always brought me so much joy simply because I’m experiencing a low is unfortunate. To skip out on participating in something that brings me so much joy because I fear not “performing as well” as I once did is absurd.
And I needed to be reminded of that.
All of this to say: thank you, Lynches River Adventure Race. Not only for a beautiful morning on a beautiful course, but for inadvertently providing the wakeup call I’ve spent the last 4+ months so desperately needing.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.