SOS - Survival of the Shawangunks Battle Story
About a year or so ago, someone told me about a race called “The Survival of the Shawangunks”. Evidently, it was some crazy race where you bike, run and swim about a million miles, carrying everything you need with you. It sounded like just the type of race for me. After some research, I found the race on the Internet. It took several variations of the word “Shawangunks”, but like any committed Triathlete, I found it. It wasn’t a million miles, but it was somewhat longer comparable to a Half Ironman (30M bike, 5M run, 1M swim, 5M run, ½ mile swim, 8M run, ½ mile swim, 1 mile run up a mountain).
This is an incredibly amazing race. Possibly, the best race I will ever do in my life. The bike- 30M as challenging and a great warm-up. You start out in a pack with your age group. They give you 1.5 miles to spread out before they call drafting penalties. In this race, they tell you to stand down if they call you for drafting - that is, they make you stop and put your feet on the ground, then you can continue. If you get a 2nd draft call, you DQ. The ride is mostly flat with some rolling hills, until the last 6 miles. Then it is a pretty tough climb all the way to the first run transition.
Your crew meets you at the transition, where they take your bike, give you your run gear and send you off to the trails. I kissed Lucas, Sophia, and Rita hello and goodbye and took off. You run on fire roads consisting of compact dirt, rock and gravel. At times the trails were muddy, very rocky and/or uneven. It took me about 25+ minutes to settle into a groove and feel ok. At first my hip and ankle were bugging me.
The first run was mildly scenic and shady. I don't remember much other than hoping that my aches would go away. About the time I started to settle in the run ended and I headed for the first lake swim - 1 mile in Lake Minnewaska.
You prepared for the swim before you crossed the timing mat into the water. I stuffed my shoes into my shorts behind my ass, donned my goggles and swim cap and jumped into the 70 degree water. It was chilling and refreshing at the same time. During this first swim, I drank the lake water to quench my thirst. Then midway, some of the duct tape on my foot started to come off. Rather than let it fall off into the lake, I pulled it off and tucked it into my shorts. I am quite the environmentalist. I think the people in the safety canoes thought I might be drowning as my head went under water to pull it off.
I sat down in the water to re-don my shoes at the shore. I was a little wobbly from being horizontal, so the momentary rest was good. Once on land
I took a gel some endurolytes and headed off. By this time, I really found my running legs. I caught several people who were ahead of me. The run starts off with a long gradual climb, eventually giving you magnificent vistas. You could see for miles around. The views were so great, that you didn't even realize you were climbing steadily. At the height of this second run, there was a water station. It was also the perfect spot to take in the world. You were at the top of the mountain, in flat rocky terrain. At one point I hopped over a large crevasse in the rocks. The run ended soon enough, taking you down to the second swim.
This swim was much easier as they had lots of orange buoys tied together with a rope to mark your way. Since I was able to swim in a straight line by following the buoys, I made up lots of time and caught several swimmers. I used one athlete that tried to pass me, by getting on his feet and drafting him for the last quarter of the swim.
I sat down in the water once again to put on my shoes. By now my feet were in some pain from the blisters that developed. I mentioned this to a volunteer who asked me if I wanted to see a doctor. I said no and carried on.
The third run started out with a quick rock step climb, out onto a paved road. The road went steeply down hill making my feet feel like I had hot coals in my shoes. All I could think about was that I truly loved the pain. It was freaking awesome. Thankfully though, the course turned right back onto some trails.
You started down another downhill section and soon enough you heard the roar of a waterfall. After a while you could start to see it to your left and ran right passed the base of it. It was magnificent. I would have stopped if not for my competitive nature.
Soon you headed uphill again to lots of rock cliffs. The trails were lined with rock climbers practicing their skills. Sometimes they would offer encouragement, other times you would be ignored. All I knew was that I had a great endorphin high going and felt like I was running like the wind. I caught a couple of more people, including the 4th place female (who may still have beaten me, since the women started after I did).
At the third and final swim, I decided to keep my shoes on. I really couldn't contemplate taking them off. I said to the volunteer that I was going to leave them on. She said I should. We talked briefly about blisters and their prevention and then I headed out for the final ½ mile swim.
During this swim you swim towards the Mohonk Mountain house. You get a sense of everyone waiting for you to get to the shore. Once again there were buoys tied together with ropes. I passed a couple of more people and made it to the shore in good form. I didn't rest to put on my shoes, since they were already on my feet. I was very wobbly after I climbed out of the water. You literally climbed up several large rocks that sort of formed steps. I wobbled like a drunken sailor on high seas before I finally got my bearing.
The last and final run is a major .7 mile climb to the sky tower overlooking Mohonk Lake and the Mountain house. It was very steep. At several points you had to climb stairs, including the last 50 yards where you climbed up a stone staircase. After the staircase, you could finally see the finish and I sprinted as fast as I could across the finish line.
As a survivor, you got a nice T-shirt, towel, mesh bag, plaque and lots of food. Both at the finish line and back down by the hotel where they had a fantastic spread. Chicken, Ribs, Corn, Sausage, pies, ice cream, brownies and lots more. It was amazing. The description herein does not do this race justice. This is a race that has to be done. I will definitely be there again next year.