SOS is one of the longest running and most uniquely challenging triathlons in the world. This was the going to be a great year for BCTC and myself as I felt good going into race day, we were interviewed the the NBC Sports production of the race. We had 4 members racing plus for the past 5 years we have adopted Don Griffin into our club and crewed for him at SOS. The other true members we had racing this year were Kevin McKale, Nelson Dunham & Lisa Kall. More on their performances later. For the past 3 years I have been fortunate to have at least 3 other BCTC members racing and each year we have rented a unique house, close to race site and have a great team dinner the night before the race as well as a kick ass after party on Sunday night.
SOS is truly a race of experience and this was year 6 for me, however each year is different at SOS mostly due to weather and lake conditions. Those conditions at first seemed to be good with air temps of 54 and water temps in the 70’s. Cramping is always an issue for me so this year a thought I had a great plan to deal with the cramps and hopefully minimize the cramps and hit my goal time of sub 5:30, which is only 6 minutes faster than my best time. I had done several race rehearsals in the Huub swim run suit I would wear while using a Xterra buoy to hold my shoes. I bought IceBug swim run shoes that don’t hold any water. When you can share your experience & learn from other Survivors that are willing to share their experiences it makes one of the toughest races in the world very rewarding.
The race starts with a 30 mile bike, the 1st 25 mile are fairly flat with some up & downs & a hairy S turn at mile 10, every year someone nearly crashes. At mile 25 you turn onto rt 45/55 & climb over 1000 ft for the last 5 miles to Minnewaska park where your crew waits for you takes your bike & sets your transition. The whole race is point to point. From this point you have to carry all your stuff you will need to get to the Survivor line. So the bike starts at the Ulster County Fairgrounds, this year Kevin & I planned to ride together as we did last year thru the bike course. That planned worked fine but little things possibly proved to turn into big things as I couldn’t clip in on my right side for about the 1st minute or so. I finally got clipped and caught up to Kevin and we were flying. By mile 15 my right calf started talking to me a little but I didn’t pay much mind but I did slow down a little and let Kevin go and rode the rest of the bike with Don. My bike time was 5 minutes slower than the previous year but I wasn’t too concerned as 1:35 was fast last year.
So after you get off the bike you run 4.6 miles on a loose gravel trail up Cardiac hill (aptly named) to lake Awosting for a 1.1 mile swim across the lake. This year thanks to a very warm summer with hardly any rain the lake was fairly warm about 73 degrees, however the air temps plunged into the upper 40’s. For the past 3 years I have gotten minor cramps on the run to the lake, however this year at the 1 mile mark I blew out my right calf. This dropped me to my right knee and right hand hit the ground to prevent me from falling on my face. I still tried to stay positive and took a minute to work it out and keep going. I dropped my pace to about a 9:30 pace and kept moving forward. I caught up to Doug from the Bistro who is a local and multiple time survivor. He kept me positive for the next 3 miles but with only 200 to go before the lake my calf cramped again not as bad as the first time so I walked it out got my Huub suit zipped-up at arrived at the lake.
The Awosting swims starts with a 3ft. plunge off a rock into 4ft. water. The 1st swim this year was a bit of a challenge with a serious head wind and about a foot chop. This caused more drag than normal with the buoy, in hind sight I should have only slightly inflated the buoy and stuck it between my legs. Now at about the 500 meter mark as I stopped to hang on my buoy and work out the cramp I found I was moving slightly backwards due to the wind and chop. Once I got back going again I was able to swim to about the 200 mark to go when I cramped again but this time it wasn’t quite as bad so a swam trough it although very slowly. The swim took 34 minutes, 5 minutes slower than my best time.
The 2nd run is a slightly hilly 5.5 miles to lake Minnewaska at this point the temp has dropped even further and later I was told a few had to drop at this point due to hyperthermia. The run starts with some short up hill sections and gorgeous views of the lake and Gunks. At this point I knew I had no shot at my goal time and the goal was now to just survive. The second half of the run is mostly downhill, however I could not get my pace better a 10 plus minute mile.
The 2nd swim is a long half mile, I didn't experience any cramping in Minnewaska but my pace was fairly slow. Getting out of Minnewaska is not easy as you have to climb several rock steps where I did cramp but at this point it was old hat and my time didn’t matter so I spent some time stretching and getting plenty of nutrition.
The next run is a grueling 8 mile lose gravel fire road run to Lake Mohonk & the majestic Mohonk Mtn. house. It starts with about a half mile or so of paved downhill that was really hurting my calves. Now the thought was don’t do any further damage walk when needed and get through it. This section is mostly flat event slightly down until mile 7 where you hit Godzilla, then when that finally flattens out you quickly hit the son of Godzilla. There is plenty support with aide stations roughly every 2 miles & that is the best way to breakdown the 8 mile run, The last 1/8 mile is gorgeous single track that opens up to lake Mohonk. This is a very happy place as you can hear Alex Sherwood welcoming the survivors to the survivor line and you know you are almost there.
One of the toughest parts of this swim was climbing over or under the split rail fence to get into the lake. I decided to keep my shoes on as I really didn’t care how fast my swim was and didn’t want to cramp in the process of taking them off & on. I never swam this section with my shoes on so I also wanted to see what it was like. This year’s winner had the 2nd place finisher hot on his tail going into Lake Mohonk and decided to keep his shoes on for the last swim. This was a great decision for Tim Clark because as Greg Binns was putting on his shoes Tim was running up to Skytop.
Now as you climb the 5 ft. rock climb out of Lake Mohonk all that is left is the 7/10th of a mile & a 400 ft. climb up to Skytop (Smiley Tower) & the Survivor line. They do give a separate award for the fastest run up to the tower as well as every other section. The last 5 years Don Griffin has won the Skytop run award, however this year Tim (the overall winner) knew he had to motor up the mountain to win the race and bettered Don’s Skytop run time by 2 seconds.
I ended up Surviving with my worst time of 6:36, but I had fun at the after party. Now it’s time to reflect and think about how to avoid these issues in 2019.
The rest of the BCTC crew all had great races. Kevin McKale in his 2nd attempt crushed the course in 5:22 good enough for 3rd in his brutally competitive AG. Lisa Kall in her 1st SOS crossed at 6:19 and Nelson Dunham worked through several cramping issues and Survived in 7:26 good enough for 2nd in his AG.
Registration opens on Halloween night at midnight. So stay up, eat all your kids candy & register for SOS 2019. Don't forget to register for IMathlete prior or the race will sell out before you complete both registrations and make sure your USAT card is good through September of 2019.
BCTC rents a distinctive house every year and we have a good group of crew members that always come up to support & party with us. Thank you to Shari Weston, Reg Schneider, Kevin Kall & Sian Kall for being this year’s Sherpas. Oh yes the party on Sunday night and the dinner on Saturday night are incredible. If this race is not on your Tri bucket list you better revise your list. http://sostriathlon.com/information/