I have to start to by saying that when I first found out about the Survival of the Shawangunks triathlon (aka SOS) years ago, I thought it was the most insane thing I had ever heard of! Why would anyone want to do an 8-stage race where you have to swim with your shoes and climb up a really steep hill to get to the finish line? I believe my reaction at the time was "There's no way in h-ll I'd ever do that! That's insane!"
Somehow after I had gotten through an Ironman, SOS seemed just a tiny bit less insane, and I started to entertain fantasies about how I would go about dealing with the logistics of doing the race - not that I was ever actually going to do it, mind you. Then I became passionate about running cross country races, and did another Ironman . and suddenly SOS was my next big obsession. It was all I thought about for months (my apologies to everyone who had to listen to me babble on about it incessantly!). I did workouts where I ran to the pool, swam, then ran home again, and even wondered if I should practice running in wet shoes (but decided not to court the blisters).
For all of that preparation, though, I was completely terrified on race morning and wondered what I had gotten myself into. All the other people at the starting line looked like bad-asses, and yes, I was intimidated! The race started with a 30-mile bike, and the women in my age group took off like mad people; after a few miles I happily let them go. The weather was gorgeous and the sun slowly burned off the fog that was covering the countryside. The bike course was very pleasant for the first 25 miles, and then the rough stuff started with a 5mile 1000 foot climb to the first transition area. Luckily I had ridden the hill before and knew that I could make it ! up as long as I relaxed and enjoyed it (might as well, right?).
Evelyn was waiting to take my bike, and led me to a nice spot under a tree where she had laid out my gear for the rest of the race. I had decided to go light, and hit the trail with my swim cap and goggles in my back pocket, a race belt with a pouch full of gels and salt tablets, ear plugs to protect my ears in the cold water, a visor to keep the sun out of my eyes, and my running shoes. I was ready to go, so off I went.
The first run was 4.5 miles to the far end of Lake Awosting, and it was mostly up hill. All of the runs were on trails and carriage paths - mostly dirt, rocks and gravel. After a lot of agonizing I had decided to wearing racing flats for the runs since they would be lighter and hold less water when wet, and they worked really well on that terrain. I finally got to the start of the first swim, and found a crowd of people putting on wetsuits! These folks had a wide variety of bags and baggage with them to carry their stuff. By comparison, my strategy (recommended by friends of my coach who had done the ! race before) was to hang my visor and my shoes off of my race belt and stuff my shoes down the back of my shorts so that they wouldn't float around while I was swimming. (No, I can't say that sticking my shoes into my shorts was all that pleasant, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.) I scrambled down a rock ledge into the water, and then there was nothing to do but swim.
One of the race directors had warned us that our muscles might cramp up from jumping into cold water after running, and he wasn't kidding - my arms and legs started cramping up pretty quickly, which wasn't too fun. I concentrated on swimming faster to try to warm up, and also to get away from a guy with a yellow bag floating behind him (presumably with his shoes in it) who kept bumping into me for some reason (we did, after all, have a whole lake to swim in and there were only about 200 of us in the entire race! Oh well.) The water was a really really cool shade of blue, which was very entertaining, and so clear that I could see the other people swimming around me. It's good that it was so pretty, because it ! did start to seem like I had been in there forever after a (short) while. Finally I reached the next transition area and staggered out of the water.
The transition areas were very civilized, with kind volunteers offering us pretzels and gels and water, and one wonderful woman was handing out cups of hot chamomile tea to warm us up from the swim. I had a snack, then stuffed my feet into my shoes and started the next run, 5.5 miles to Lake Minewaska. I had studied the course before the race, and the elevation map suggested that a lot of this run would be down hill - but it seemed like all I did for almost an hour was run up hill, so I don't know what was up with that! There were some pretty amazing rewards to be had out there, though, since the trail suddenly burst out at the top of a bluff with a view that went on fo! r miles and miles. Some intrepid volunteers had climbed all the way up there with a table full of water and gels, so I took the opportunity to stop and have some water - and discovered that my salt capsules had turned into a soggy mess during the last swim - yuck!
The next swim was much shorter, which was fine and dandy by me - especially since I was getting a bit tired already! By the time I got to Lake Minewaska I had been racing for around 4 hours already and was really wondering what I had gotten myself into .but somehow at the same time it didn't seem so bad - once I got through that swim, I only had a long run, one more swim and the climb to the finish line left, and that didn't seem like such a long time compared to what I had already done. (The mind is a funny thing).
One of my shoes popped out of my shorts halfway through the second swim and floated around behind me like a little buoy, which was annoying mostly because I was convinced that I must look pretty stupid. Obviously, I was in a sort of strange state of mind at that point! When I got to the rocky ledge at the end of the swim I had a bit of a hard time getting out (although I wasn't the only one) and I was pretty eager to chill out and eat something. Evelyn snapped a few photos of me standing there with a Rasberry Clif Shot in one hand, a cup of water in the other and a vacant look on my face - nice. The gel and a pretzel did a lot to revive me, and after a minute I was ready to put my shoes on and get going. Evelyn was waiting by the trail to cheer me on, and I was feeling a lot better about things - only a few more legs to go! This run was 8 miles long, and the first 4 or so were great - either down hill or level, so I was able to cruise along for a while. Some of the guys were teasing me, complaining that I kept passing them on the run - apparently they were passing me on the swims though!
Things were going pretty well, even when the course started climbing again, and I settled in with a couple of other racers for a while and had a nice chat. We ran along the edge of a cliff that was simply covered with rock climbers and things were great until we go to Godzilla. I took one look at that hill and said "That's it, I'm walking." Of course, halfway up I ran into a race photographer who whipped out his camera when he saw me coming and told me he'd let me have a few seconds to start running before he took a picture (thanks, guy!) . at the top there was a cliff, and I could hear all kinds of yelling and screaming from above me; a volunteer on the trail told me that was from the finish line, which was directly above us. That sure got me going! It! was a short run to Lake Mohonk and the next and last swim, and I decided to just leave my shoes on for that one rather than fool around with the belt-and-shorts routine - so I just put on my cap and goggles and jumped in. I did end up regretting that I left my shoes on since it was really awkward to swim with them on my feet, but I don't think it really slowed me down.
The volunteers at the end of the Mohonk swim were checking everyone off on a list, and shouted out "Welcome, Claudia!" Evelyn heard them and was able to get some photos of me clambering up the rocks. The folks from the Mohonk resort were handing out big fluffy towels for us to dry off with, which was totally bizarre after being soaking wet for hours, and with the finish line only minutes away. I started up the steep switchback trail towards the top of the hill, and could hear Evelyn calling me from further up the trail - then I came around a corner and there she was! She told me I was doing great - and then she told me to run! I told her to forget it. Some guy who had already finished was on his way back down and said that he had run up the hill and I told him to forget it too. The last bit of the climb was up a set of stone steps, and then I was on top of the bluff and there was the "Survivor Line" standing next to Skytop Tower - so then I ran! Crossing that line was totally amazing, and I honestly felt pretty pleased with myself. (In fact, I think I was grinning from ear to ear).
Yeah, SOS is crazy - crazy hard, and crazy fun! There are no words to describe how beautiful the course is, and how lucky I felt to be out there doing this incredible race. I'm already looking forward to doing it again.
Bike 30 miles - 1:55:00
T1 - 4:00
Run 4.5 miles - 43:30
T2 - 2:15
Swim 1.1 miles - 36:15
T3 - 4:15
Run 5.5 miles - 57:45
T4 - 2:00
Swim 0.5 miles - 19:45
T5 - 4:00
Run 8 miles - 1:24:00
T6 - 0:15
Swim 0.5 miles - 16:00
T7 - 0:15
Run 0.7 - 8:00
Total Time: 6:37:15