2013 Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon

I came back to the 2013 Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon after a less than satisfying inaugural race in 2012. My hope was that I would avert the leg cramps that dogged me from the first swim in 2012, improve my finish ranking, and feel better at the finish. I was forced to make the decision to race on Halloween 2012 when registration opened at midnight. The race sold out in minutes, but I was locked in.

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My 2013 race plan changed when I made the decision to race Ironman Mont-Tremblant, which was three weeks to the day before SOS. I normally wouldn’t have two “A races” so close, but I had no choice. I was going to have to do my best realizing that SOS would be impacted by my lack of a proper Ironman recovery. What I couldn’t really predict was just how busy 2013 would be. That had a huge effect on my Ironman performance last month. Work has been grueling. I’ve worked longer and traveled farther.

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Despite getting in some solid workouts, races, and exercise, the lack of rest and recovery has hurt me. I’ve experienced fatigue and injuries. Nevertheless, I haven’t backed off my schedule, though I plan to now. I went into last Sunday’s race knowing full well that it was going to be a sufferfest, but I only know one approach: all out. In addition to the less than optimal preparation, I also made some tactical errors with the unique swim segments.

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I’m a weak swimmer, particularly without a wetsuit. So, the fact that I also had to carry my shoes made the swim challenge even greater. I swam better last year, which shouldn’t have been the case. I attribute the worse outcome to something as simple as how I shoved my shoes in the back of my shorts. I didn’t practice at all. My shorts were too small (go figure). My shoes were too big (same shoes as last year). I didn’t push them in far enough. I should have experimented with one in front and one behind.

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If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then read my 2012 post for a little more back ground on this point-to-point eight stage race: Bike/Run/Swim/Run/Swim/Run/Swim/Run

I was pleased with my ride and didn’t think that I went to hard. I was a bit slower than last year. I absolutely love my Seven Kameha on this course. The tight turns, slick roads, and huge final climb are perfect for the design of my bike. It really rides like a traditional road bike, but with some added benefits of a triathlon bike. I improved on my 2012 position and transitioned to the first run with no issues. I am disappointed that riders still draft. It isn’t permitted and it is unethical, but I still saw several riders not leaving the required three bike lengths. I also witnessed a lot of illegal passing because the riders weren’t dropping back far enough before moving ahead again. Without more policing, this is likely to continue. It’s a problem because the race starts on the bike and it is hard to separate.

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SOS was back to its original course following the altered 2012 route. I preferred the first run leg this year, with a more gradual climb to start. It wasn’t nearly as jarring on the muscles as last year’s steep ascent from the parking lot. I held my own on the run and then jumped into Lake Awosting. It was all uphill (figuratively) from there. I tried one shoe in the front and had no room on my thigh. My shorts were way to tight and small for the size of my shoe. I shoved both in the back, but they were sticking out, which created a lot of drag.

I just swam, not thinking about it, but I was slow. I got passed by a lot of guys. The water was a tad cold, but it wasn’t bad. I didn’t cramp as badly as last year, but I still exited Awosting with knots forming in both calves and tightness in my hamstrings. My brutal right calf cramp at Tremblant was on my mind and it warned me on this swim that it was going to be a factor all day, but I was able to stave off a massive cramp like the one with two miles to go at the Ironman.

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I had a good run to Lake Minnewaska, gaining back a few spots. This section of the course has the most climbing and I took advantage of it. The air temperature warmed quickly and there are several exposed sections of trail. I was OK with it heating up because I was a bit chilled coming out of the water. Last year, I carried a flask of Perpetuem, but this year, I went without, simply relying on the Hammer Gels, Endurolytes, and water available at the neutral aid stations. Last year, I only wore tri-shorts, whereas this year, I wore a tri-top. It insulated my body a bit, though it too probably contributed to the extra drag on the swim. I did carry my small Patagonia cap, as I did in 2012. I like to run with something on my head to shield me from the sun. When I swam, I shoved it in my shorts. When I ran, I shoved my swim cap in the jersey and I wore my goggles backwards on my head.

My legs really started to tighten on the long and rocky descent to Minnewaska. I pushed through the discomfort and reached the lake. My Minnewaska swim was a disaster. I swam next to the rope that goes the length of the lake, but was terribly slow. I just couldn’t maintain any speed and my form was sloppy. It was a lot of things. Everything I mentioned factored, as did simply being tired. I cramped badly while trying to put my shoes back on at the far edge of the lake. I was so happy to get out of the water despite the leg pain. I refueled before scrambling up the steep slope before the downhill asphalt run to the park entrance.

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I was looking forward to making up ground (again) on the longest run of the day. I was demoralized by getting passed by so many swimmers, but that’s life. The downhill was ugly. My quads were hurting too, so I went slowly to avoid more damage and figured I would pick up the pace when it flattened out. It took longer to get moving than I would have hoped, but when I did, I sort of locked into a pace that would be like running a 3:25 marathon. I held that for a while before slowing. I caught a few guys, but not as many as I needed too. I knew I would give back those spots and then some on the final swim.

When I got to the second aid station, Debbie was there to cheer for me. Up until that point, it had been a gorgeous day in the woods and it got better from there. This race course has as much natural beauty as any I have done. I just love it. My only wish was that I didn’t have to swim! Debbie cheered for me before running ahead. The trail surface along the Trapps cliffs is so nice to run on. I enjoyed running by the climbers and the views to the east were tremendous. I slowed dramatically when the trail pitched up toward Mohonk. My legs were really hurting me and I had to walk the hills. I saw Debbie again at the final aid station before cutting into the trees for the final swim.

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At this point, I envisioned myself at Skytop, but I still had .5 mile of water in front of me and a .7 mile run. The Lake Mohonk swim was just as ugly as Minnewaska, though I did stay afloat. I got to the rocks near the Mohonk Mountain House docks and took my time to put on my shoes and catch my breath for the final “burst” to the tower. For a fleeting moment, I thought I could run the whole way. Ha, I started walking as soon as the path narrowed and pretty much hiked the whole way to the top. Debbie encouraged me again and I was thrilled to see my kids and Mr. and Mrs. Schieffer at the “Survivor Line.” There was little joy as I crossed the line. I found a rock to sit on and just shook my head in disbelief. What a nut. I muttered something about “too much on my plate,” but then managed a smile.

I took satisfaction in knowing that I had done little to physically prepare for the ordeal, yet still managed to “suffer through it” in true Livingston fashion. I always want to take the necessary steps (re: rest) before a big race, but I never do. It’s a problem that I’ll wrestle with as long as I do this stuff. I simply refuse to slow down the other aspects of my life in order to optimize the athletics. I won’t compromise on family, work, or volunteer commitments.

SOS volunteers are so dedicated. The woman at the start of the final swim learned my name from Debbie and she was screaming at me. It was super motivating. That extra effort from someone to help with encouragement is special and I appreciate it. I didn’t know her, but it sure felt like I did.

This year, we stayed at the Mohonk Mountain House. Last year, we camped out, but we didn’t have my in-law’s along for the trip. The post-race spread was well done as usual and I’ll cherish my medal, plaque, and Survivor t-shirt. I think the hardest part of the day was the walk down to the hotel from Skytop. I was as stiff as a board. Both legs felt broken. I was dreading the drive to Queens, the flight to JFK, the trip to San Francisco, Tucson, and Guaymas, but I figured I would approach it just like the race. Suffer through it!

Race Results

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