2012 Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon

Sunday’s Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon (S.O.S.) was a humbling experience. I was thrilled just to get to the Survivor (finish) Line after 5 hours and 18 minutes of total suffering. I had one of those rare off days that left me cramped and exhausted. I’m actually pleased with my effort given the circumstances. I took my own advice and hung in there.

I’ve had some really good races this year and I’ll have good races again, but it is important to struggle through the difficult ones too. Those good days wouldn’t be good if you didn’t have an occasional bad day.

SOS has been on my radar for many years. I did the inaugural American Zofingen Duathlon and met some folks who said that I had to return for SOS. I have some friends in HEAT who warned me about the challenges, but gave me tips and ensured me that the SOS experience was a good one.

I have a good friend who owned this race for many years and he encouraged me to try it out. In hindsight, I went into the race without enough endurance training. I’ve been racing sprint triathlons all summer, but with the exception of Wilderness 101, I hadn’t done anything over four hours since early June. I also haven’t swam enough to get through two miles of cold lake swimming, while carrying my shoes.

SOS is an amazing race on an amazing course. The format is non-traditional: 30 mile road bike/4.5 mile trail run/1.1 mile swim/5.5 mile trail run/.5 mile swim/8 mile trail run/.5 mile swim/.7 mile trail run. Once you transition from the bike at Minnewaska State Park, you have to carry everything you need to run and swim, all the way through the Mohonk Preserve to the finish at Skytop overlooking the incredible Mohonk Mountain House.

The morning dawned incredibly foggy. We camped at the start at the Ulster County Fairgrounds. We had arrived in New Paltz on Saturday afternoon in time for the pre-race meeting/spaghetti dinner at the SUNY campus. We swung by Lagusta’s Luscious for a snack and then had dinner at a fine Turkish restaurant, called Anatoli’s. I was in New Paltz three weeks ago to scout the course, so I had the lay of the land, particularly I knew where the chocolate shop was.

I had an OK bike leg, but it was nothing special. I couldn’t keep up with the fastest guys in the first 40-44 wave, which went off two minutes after Men’s Open. We started in waves, but needed to separate immediately because drafting is not permitted. SOS is limited to 150 athletes and my age group was the largest and most competitive. Debbie and the kids crewed for me, which required them to be at Minnewaska State Park to take my Seven Kameha SLX. They laid out my run/swim gear on a towel.

SOS has had various courses over the years, but in 2011, the race was shortened because of trail damage caused by Hurricane Irene. In 2012, lingering storm damage issues forced changes again. The course was the full distance, but the Lake Awosting swim was done in reverse from the traditional direction. So, after the bike, which included the final five-mile uphill stretch to the park, we ran straight up the Sunrise Carriage Road to the Lake Awosting carriage road.

I also had an OK first run, but things got worse from there. SOS is known for cold water, but this year’s higher than average heat had lifted the water temperature in the three lakes to the low-70’s Fahrenheit. I went minimalist with tri-shorts, running shoes, goggles, swim cap (required), running cap, and I carried a flask of Perpetuem. Some people wore tri-suits, jerseys, and even wet suit tops.

The biggest challenge for me was calf cramps. My core didn’t get too chilled, but I had horrible calf cramps during all three swims, which left me hobbled during the 18 miles of running. I’m a slow swimmer, but I was slower than normal. With three runs following the three swims, I was doomed. I didn’t make up any ground on the runs, which would have been my only hope to get the top-10 result that I wanted. I was well off that mark in 24th. 10 guys in 40-44 finished in front of me, which shows how strong this new age group really is.

The Lake Awosting swim was beautiful. The water was crystal clear and I hugged the north shore. I got passed by a lot of guys, which was demoralizing. The run to Lake Minnewaska was OK. I started to get it going, but in the end, my time shows that I was just plodding along. Still, it was a beautiful run with the most amazing vistas. You could see forever and though I was pushing, I paused to take in the views. The morning fog lifted early, revealing deep blue skies and the white cliffs of the Gunks in all of their glory.

My Minnewaska swim was just as painful as Awosting. I was so slow. I hugged the rope, which went the length of the lake. When I got to the far shore, I sat on a rock and struggled to get my shoes back on. For all three swims, I shoved my shoes sole facing out with the heels down on my butt cheeks. This is how I experimented during the course of the summer, so I didn’t risk a change in strategy on race day. People tried various methods. This seemed to work for me. Aside from the leg cramps, which I know others suffered from too, I didn’t have major issues. Running in wet shoes (three times) wasn’t a major problem. I have some rubbing on the tops of my toes, but it didn’t contribute to my slow pace.

The long run to Lake Mohonk was nasty. The trail was beautiful, but I was stuck in no-man’s land. I didn’t catch anyone for seven miles. I didn’t get caught, but I had no one to run with and I had no speed. My left calf was worse than my right. It felt like I had a giant knot just below the back of my knee. My stride was shortened and stunted. The last mile to Mohonk was up a hill that they call Godzilla. It slowed me even further. I was so happy just to get into the lake, knowing that the Smiley Memorial Tower at Skytop and the Survivor Line were so close.

I zig zagged my way across the lake and crawled out on the other side. I donned my shoes and hat for the final time. I wanted to save some face and push the final .7 of all up hill trail to the line and I mostly accomplished that task. The crowd at the swim out urged me on and the trail to the summit was lined with family and crews. I got to the top, saw Debbie and the kids, and sprinted for the line. I crossed it and doubled over. My son had followed me to the line. I gave him a hug and a kiss, but my legs were killing me, so I found a rock to sit on.

I knew that the look on my face was etched with pain, and I was pretty emotional. I immediately told Debbie how much I had suffered, but she didn’t need to be informed. She knew. She saw me at T1 and had been watching the clock. It was a rough day for sure. The view from Skytop was awesome. What an amazing finish. What an amazing course. I immediately said, “Never again,” but moments later, I was already talking about a “comeback.”

If I could only figure out how to swim competitively. I just haven’t applied myself. I have to if I want to progress with triathlon. The swim is my Achilles heel and SOS exposed that in the worst way. With the three swims broken up by 18 miles of hard running, my mortal weakness was magnified.

We hung around the summit for a little while. Debbie and the kids went to the top of the tower. Then, we returned to the van to change up. Debbie took advantage of the incredible Mohonk Preserve trails, and ran for 90 minutes while I hung out with the kids at the Mohonk Mountain House. We fed the fish, checked out the lobby, walked the decks, and cheered on the remaining Survivors.

There were more than 240 volunteers for the 150 racers, and they were amazing. The course was well marked. The aid stations were spaced well and stocked with good energy food options. Other than my Perpetuem, which I carried (I just shoved the flask in my shorts during the swims), I took some GU’s, electrolyte capsules, and water at the aid stations. The post-race party at the pavilion/ice rink was awesome. There was so much food, thoughtful awards, and we enjoyed swapping stories with new friends. New Yorkers dominated the ranks of the athletes, but there were folks from Florida, Utah, and elsewhere. Just being a Survivor was awesome, but there were some talented athletes on the course. First man was Keith Strudler in 4:28:47. He was followed by Stefan Judex and Michael Mashner. The women’s race appeared to be very close. First was Rose Shabet in 5:24:07. She was followed by Bernadette Taylor and Michelle Rosowsky.

Just getting into SOS was hard. I had to register last year on Halloween night/November 1st at midnight. Because of the freak October snowstorm and power outage, I had to go to my parents’ house in Old Lyme to get an Internet connection. The race sold out in minutes. I’ve got six weeks to think about 2013. I’ll have to give it some thought if I’m going to come back next year for another crack at this beast of a course.

Race Results

16 Responses to “2012 Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon”


  1. 1 Anthony Bagnetto 11 September 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Great recap. I was about 45min behind you. I’m a swimmer and running is my nemesis. So 18 miles was no fun indeed. Should be posting my own recap soon. Maybe I’ll see ya next year? Congrats.

  2. 2 Steven Wolinsky 15 September 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I completed my 11th SOS this year, and it was my 8th in a row. This race never gets old with the world class scenery as well as the warm camaraderie and spirit of the athletes, wonderful volunteers and families. Although my time has been relatively slow, I have enjoyed every second of the 7 hr 27 minutes to 7 hrs 48 minutes that it has taken me to finish the race every year since 2006 ( except for the much faster time in the shortened course of 2011). This year I was blessed by being met by 3 of my grandchildren at the finish line. I look forward to seeing all of you back again next year. I especially hope that next year, Don Davis, the founder and director of the SOS, will be once again be an SOS competitor and an age-group winner.
    Steve Wolinsky

  3. 3 SL 18 September 2012 at 7:21 am

    Anthony and Steven, thanks for sharing your comments. Yes, maybe again next year…

  4. 4 Josh Spector 23 September 2012 at 12:40 am

    congrats Scott! Despite your struggles you survived and your result is nothing to be the least bit ashamed about. It’s a tough tough race. I was bummed not to be there this year and I won’t be there next year either, but hopefully someday in the future I’ll make it back!

  5. 5 deltaseed 4 December 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Scott, curious if you decided to register for 2013. I stayed up Friday night and got a slot. Event sold out in 21 minutes. This will be my 9th or 10th SOS Triathlon, looking forward to it. Erik Grimm and I did our first SOS in 1991, back then it cost $100 and it didn’t sell out.

    • 6 SL 5 December 2012 at 9:49 am

      I’m in. The technology was touch and go for a while there, and I don’t think I got my confirmation until about 12:15 A.M. The entry fee was a momentary deterrent, but I have unfinished business with that course. It doesn’t suit rookies, so I’m looking forward to returning as a sophomore.


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