July 05, 2007


I don't remember if I told you this before, but this September my sister and I are racing in an event called SOS, which is quite a fitting name for this extravaganza. SOS stands for two things as it relates to this race. The most literal translation is Survival of the Shawangunks. The less-literal translation is "are you f***ing crazy?!?!"

The Shawangunks are a group of mountains in New York just south of the Catskills. Which reminds me of an interesting but completely useless fact for you. Back in the early 20th century, a whole gaggle of Jews and their eastern European brethren made the Shawangunks a posh summer get-away. Not far from the Brooklyn bagel shops, but far enough to feel like you were in a different world, it was a perfect place for family resorts.

Well, things were going well for the resort owners but they knew it could get even better. So they decided to make some changes. A group of these folks decided that the Shawangunk name was far too difficult for all their immigrant clientele to spell and say, so they made the executive decision to change the name of the region. Better marketing, they thought. After much discussion, they opted for a much more catchy name: "the Catskills".

For some reason, though, the resorts in the area just south of the current Catskills didn't buy into the whole name change thingy. They stuck with Shawangunks. Clearly not the marketing masterminds behind that decision. Which is why you've probably never heard of these mountains.

What with the name change, the new improved Catskills area became hugely popular while the Shawngunks faded off into the distance. The Musicians and entertainers of the Catskills and Poconos were becoming stars practically overnight while the confusingly named Shawangunks faded into obscurity. Next thing you know, people still can't pronounce Shawangunk but over there in the Catskills Jennifer Grey is doing nasty things with Patrick Swayze on the dance floor.

Fast forward 100 years or so and all of the Catskills Jews have resettled in Los Angeles and turned that place into the new Jewish entertainment hub. Meanwhile, the mountain climbers and outdoorsy folk have overtaken the Shawangunks. Which leads us back to the SOS.

The SOS is an 8 stage race. Bike-run-swim-run-swim-run-swim-run. And if you think that's bad enough, wait'll you hear about the transitions. There aren't any.

Actually, there is one. You're allowed to have one friend take your bike from you at the end of that first stage and hand you your running gear. From there on out, you're on your own. That means you run through the trails with your swimming gear, and you swim through the lakes with your running gear.

Yes, you swim with your shoes. Then run with those same shoes. Then swim again. Run. Rinse. Repeat.

I suppose it makes this event part adventure race, part triathlon, part really really tiring.

The total distance comes out to about 30 miles of biking, 18.4 miles of running and 2.1 miles of swimming. Aside from the biking, the distances are a heckuva lot closer to Ironman than anything else I know. Which elicits one specific response in my mind: Uh-oh.

This race, which is sandwiched in my season between the Vineman 1/2 Ironman and the NY Marathon, is the race I am most nervous for. So what better way to calm my nerves than give the course a good ole test run.

As it turns out, I'm out here in the Shawangunk area right now. I love when things work out like that. My sister and I decided to wake up at 5am this morning all eager to do the first run/swim leg of the course. Fortunately the rain hadn't started when we woke up, so we quickly drove out to the bike transition and set-off.

The first swim of the SOS race is in a beautiful lake tucked into the Shawangunks. The only way to access this lake is via a 4+ mile trail. No cars allowed. So we set-off a running.

In a matter of seconds, we were gliding through the middle of a forest expanse that would make Bambi jealous. Little foofie bunny rabbits were hip-hopping down the trail in front of me as the rustling of birds flittered about in the trees at my side. Even a turkey jumped out from the bushes at one point and gobbled its way down the path.

It was so serene and so beautiful, I was about as peaceful as I could possibly get given my slow pace and continual stopping to stretch my legs. I was happy. Within 40 minutes I had climbed to the top of Cardiac Hill (mental note, that'll be a killer come race day), turned a corner and was awash with the beautiful vision of the 1 mile lake stretched out before me.

In a few minutes we had run around the lake and got to a rocky out-cropping that enabled us to easily climb in. And climb in we did.

The water was around about 68 degrees. Cold enough to feel a little chilly, but warm enough to not need a wetsuit. And it was clear. Crystal clear. It seemed that not a drop of dirt had ever fallen in this lake. No algae, no trash, no foul taste. It was like swimming in a bottle of Crystal Geyser. Dorothy, I don't think we're in California anymore.

We swam for about 1 mile before we arrived back at the rock outcropping and were able to get out and dry ourselves off. After a few chomps of a Clif Bar we headed back down the 4+ mile trail to the car.

It is safe to say that I was happy. Excited even. Because somewhere between the little bunnies hopping, the crystal clear swim and the fresh air coursing through my lungs, my fear of the race turned into anticipation.

Somehow I realized that I can't wait to spend a beautiful summer day jogging through the Shawangunk trails, easing up and down the mountains, cleansing my body in the Shawangunk waters and playing happily with the mindless serenity that attracted all those Czhechoslovakian German Jews to the area back when the name Henny Youngman meant something.


Robin said...

Wow, that sounds like quite an interesting and challenging race. Your test run day sounds heavenly though, and the history lesson was quite interesting!

Trihardist said...

Sounds much better than swimming in Long Beach.

triathlonmom said...

So, how does Shawangunk translate to English? My mom grew up off of Shawan Road (Baltimore area) and I've always wondered about that.
Sounds like a beautiful if not crazy race.
by the way, can you take off your shoes and tie them to your feet? Might be faster!

No Wetsuit Girl... overseas! said...

Wow! Swimming in your shoes? That sounds like loads of fun, but the kind of loads of fun that doesn't seem so fun while you're doing it. I'm looking forward to THAT race report!