Farewell to a bittersweet 2011

Mud plays a major role in the annual Citadel Bulldog Challenge.

This year has brought plenty of highs and lows for outdoor life in the Lowcountry, which received national attention when Outside magazine nominated Charleston for one of 10 spots in the "Best Towns Ever" contest.

In the Facebook contest, Charleston came in third behind Chattanooga, Tenn., and Tucson, Ariz.

While it has been among the latest "Best of" honors in recent years, the contest was the first to acknowledge the things that readers of this column love most: being active outdoors.

In 2011, the area continued to grow and diversify in its activities and events, but the year was not without its downers.

Expanding horizons

While we have our mega events, such as the Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk, many of the new and second-year events in 2011 catered to niche activities.

The popularity of CrossFit, locally and nationally, helped birth The Primal Games in June on Daniel Island and Garage Games Integrity's Revenge at the Charleston Maritime Center in September. Both featured tests of fitness with decent participation from both genders.

Meanwhile, CrossFit fans also boosted participation in two obstacle-course races in March, in the new Rugged Maniac games at Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant and the 15th annual Citadel Bulldog Challenge.

Trail running caters to just a sliver of the area's running population, but new and almost new local trail runs included the Almost 9-Mile Trail Run at Buck Hall Recreation Area near McClellanville, Mullet Haul 5-Mile and 10-Mile runs at Mullet Hall Equestrian Center on Johns Island, Where the Wild Things Are at Caw Caw Interpretative Center in Ravenel and the Double Dare 5K at Wannamaker Park in North Charleston. (The latter three are thanks to the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.)

Stand-up paddleboarding is an activity people continue to experiment with, but the dedicated die-hards took advantage of local competitions, including the Shem Creek Shootout, Golden Nugget SUP Race and Joe Hiller Surf Classic.

Triathletes also had more choices in 2011 with the inaugural Mount Pleasant Sprint Triathlon in April and the LOCO Sprint Triathlon, delayed three weeks because of Hurricane Irene, on Daniel Island.

Talk about specialized, the first 12-mile Swim Around Charleston in October drew 15 hardy solo swimmers on a choppy day and a dozen four-person relay teams.

A big year

In the inaugural/second year category, the Charleston Marathon hit its stride. The inaugural marathon drew 779 finishers (18 more than the 34th Kiawah Island Marathon -- more on that in a second) and 1,504 for its second annual half-marathon, up 918 from its inaugural event in 2010.

To assure its continued success, organizers also hired a part-time race director, Liz Alford, who brings experience and organizational skills from serving roles from several Olympic Games.

Winners & losers

Meanwhile, Charleston's two biggest road races got bigger in 2011.

The 34th Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk and 34th annual Knights of Columbus Turkey Day Run and Gobble Wobble set records for finishers with 34,789 and 5,617 timed participants, respectively.

Other long-time races, however, didn't fare as well.

The 18th Isle of Palms Connector Run 10K and 5K drew only 556 finishers, the lowest since 2003, and the conditions were ideal.

The 34th Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon marked yet another down year with 3,090 combined, though prize money and great weather dialed up five record-breaking performances.

And the Folly Beach 10-Miler lost half its numbers with 60 runners, down by 62, but on a weekend with six total races.

Go girls!

Female endurance athletes had a banner year this year, especially three from Mount Pleasant.

Professional triathlete Lauren Goss won the Kiawah Island Triathlon outright. Cyclist Erin Burton won the S.C. Road Race Championship in Greenville and earned a spot in two races at USA Cycling's National Championship in Augusta.

And Air Force Capt. Jamie Turner, who had been injured most of the spring, finished the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, in 10:58:51, just 10 minutes slower than her previous year's performance.

Two other out-of-town females had impressive outright victories in nearby events.

Kathleen Castle of New Providence, N.J., won the Myrtle Beach Marathon in 2:40:11, and Mallory Mead of Los Angeles won the Swim Around Charleston in 3:58:52.

Lost brethren

Two beloved elder athletes, 89-year-old Dave Mellard and 82-year-old Brian Smith, passed away in 2011.

And one of the biggest heartbreaks of the year was the death of Dr. Mitch Hollon, who was struck by a van and killed while riding his bicycle on the James Island connector in July.