SOS: The Most Loved Race

It means Save Our Souls to anyone else, but to a triathlete SOS stands only for Survival of Shawangunks (contested Sunday past).

“As far as triathlons,” said Slowtwitcher Stefan Judex (baliman), “this is it.” Erica Mantay is another SOS-loving Slowtwitcher, a “50-something, very experienced, but not fast, triathlete and have done dozens of triathlons over the last 17 years, all distances from sprint to Ironman,” so says she… who, “worked all day today and I had no one to rave to about the outstanding weekend event that I had. This event was really the best ever!” (And this, from someone who’s been to an Xtreme Tri event.)

SOS starts – yes starts (so sue it) – with a 30mi bike. Then, a 4.4mi run followed by a 1.1mi swim (yes, people cramp). Then a 5.5mi run followed by a half-mile swim. Then you finish. Just kidding! Now you commence an 8mi run then – yes – another half-mile swim, and then you finish after another seven-tenths of a mile of running.

The race has been going on since 1983 where Don Davis (interviewed here last year) took the path of so many of us when exposed to the early editions of Ironman: He brought the spirit of Kona to his hometown, just, he brought the spirit, not the distance.

“It is the only race I care about,” said Judex, who finished 3rd overall this year. "It is just so much more than a race. It is a celebration of our lifestyle. It's not that we dislike traditional races. Enough of us have qualified for Kona multiple times.” But he considers most of these other races an “artificial format.” SOS is “a race format that actually makes sense,” and by that I take it he means an event handed to you by the geography – you accept it as nature delivers it.

Sound interesting? Want to sign up? Not that simple! Only about 150 people get to contest this event each year. In the race’s early years it wasn’t hard to enter. Then one year it sold out in May. Next year, registration closed 2 days after it opened (even while still in the era of mail-in registration). Now, registration is online. I asked Michael Bakker (Murphy’s Law on Slowtwitch) how hard it is to register for this race. “LOL!,” he emailed me back. “It is way harder to get into S.O.S. than any M-dot event!”

“It now takes about 3 minutes for the race to fill up.” Judex told me.

Each year this race gets diverges further from your average triathlon. “Various people associated with the race have passed [away],” Bakker explained. “Different segments – 8 in all – have been named for them.” Doug Stern, a swim coach beloved in his hometown of New York and on Slowtwitch before his untimely death from cancer was the long-time bike draft marshal for SOS. The fastest women's bike split is named for him. There was a new one this year – one of the swim segments – named after Total Immersion founder Terry Laughlin, and his daughter was there to present it to the winner. The Mike Kelly Memorial Award is won by the fastest First Responder.

Let’s get to this year’s race, and please pardon if the images shown here don’t quite match with the text below. The images were chosen to express the spirit and geography of the event.


Hudson Valley native Jamie Turner now resides in Memphis, Tennessee, and is a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. She returned to the home of her youth to race SOS.

But it was Michelle Morrill of New York City who was fastest over the 30mi bike course in 1:36:13. Over five minutes behind, Jamie battled with multiple time SOS podium finisher Eri Spaulding of Manlius, NY, and first time SOS competitor Katie Dodge of Boynton Beach, FL.

Turner clipped 2 minutes of her deficit to Dodge on the first 4.4 mile run, which includes a 20 percent climb known as Cardiac Hill, and is the first of this event's distinctive land features.

Then it was time for the first swim, where Turner felt more at home. Her 8-minute faster first swim in Lake Awosting – she used to lifeguard on this lake as a teenager – propelled her to the lead. Both Spaulding and Dodge used strong swims in Lake Awosting to form what would be the top three for most of the day.

Turner’s second run over Castle Rock’s 5.5mi was 15sec faster than the rest of the competition. Castle Rock reaches the highest point on the race course, at an elevation of just above 2400 feet. This time Turner entered the water in Lake Minnewaska clear of her closest competitors, Spaulding and then Dodge.

But Katie Dodge can swim too, and her 13:10 split for the half-mile swim closed the gap to Turner and Spaulding. This time earned Dodge the Deborah Tappy Memorial Award for the fastest female in Lake Minnewaska. She had the fourth fastest split of the day in the glacier-formed lake.

Once back on land, Turner made the transition quickly onto the 3rd and most challenging run. The Trapps Run is 8mi long, passing Awosting Falls, en route to Lake Mohonk for the third and last swim of the day. Competitors climb Godzilla, the longest climb of the day that comes at mile-17 of the day’s total 19 run miles, with an average pitch of 11 percent.

This was what race vet Spaulding was waiting for, using her SOS experience to produce the day’s fastest split among the top three, 1:08:54, to keep the pressure on.

Once back in the water of Lake Mohonk, Turner used a 12:38 swim to hold off both Spaulding and Dodge, who caught up a bit with a 11:21 split.

Turner exited water in front of the 150 year old Mohonk Mountain House resort with solid lead for the final .7 mile run to Sky Top Tower and the “Survivor Line.”

Survival of Shawangunks
September 9, 2018
New Paltz, Ulster County , NY
30 mile bike; 4.4 mile run; 1.1 mile swim; 5.5 mile run; .5 mile swim; 8 mile run; .5 mile swim and .7 mile run

Womens Results

1 Jamie Turner 5:21:27 Memphis, TN
2 Eri Spaulding 5:27:03 Manlius, NY
3 Katie Dodge 5:27:59 Boynton Beach, FL
4 Katherine Tobin 5:33:27 Washington D.C.
5 Julie Deery 5:40:26 Bala Cynwyd, PA

[Pictured below, from left, Eri Spaulding (2nd place) Jamie Turner (1st place), Katie Dodge (3rd place)]


This race was close. NY City resident and Every Man Jack team member Greg Binns rode 1:21:00 to earn the Ned Northrop Memorial award for the fastest bike split. This gave Binns a 5:40 cushion leading into the day’s first run.

The men’s top 10 off the bike included 2016 SOS Champion Stefan Judex (baliman on Slowtwitch), 3-time runner up Philip Vondra, Bakker (Murphy's Law on Slowtwitch) and retired pro triathlete and now New York City fireman Timothy Clarke.

Clarke used the day’s second fastest first run split of 31:50 to cut into Binns overall lead. As the top eight men reached Lake Awosting, the race was tightening. Judex used his 14-time SOS Survivor experience to lead this group through the 1.1 mile swim in a time of 26:28. In the swim, Binns rebuilt his 8min lead on Clarke.

The 5.5 Castle Rock run was a struggle for Binns. Steep vertical over the first 2.5mi took a toll on everyone but Clarke, who used a 38:17 split motor up most of those in front of him.

Binns still lead entering the swim in Lake Minniewaska. As the competitors swam under the 200 foot sandstone cliffs Clarke’s 30sec faster swim brought him yet closer to Binns. Exiting the water, Binns looked good, but Clarke had already proved the superior runner as all the men faced the 8mi Trapps run. Binns’ 57:19 split was good, but Clarke’s blazing 52:54 was great (and earned him the day’s Thom Scheuer Award, given to the fastest along the 8mi section).

Clarke went full swim-run during last swim, choosing to swim in his run shoes over the last half-mile swim leg, while Binns stuffed them in his trisuit (as has been the norm at SOS). Clarke exited the water full sprint, scrambling up the final steep climb while Binns replaced his shoes – never an easy chore over wet feet. Clarke’s lead was insurmountable, and he took the win.

Survival of Shawangunks
September 9, 2018
New Paltz, Ulster County , NY
30 mile bike; 4.4 mile run; 1.1 mile swim; 5.5 mile run; .5 mile swim; 8 mile run; .5 mile swim and .7 mile run

Mens Results

1 .Timothy Clarke 4:38:15 Astoria, NY
2. Greg Binns 4:39:58 New York, NY
3. Stefan Judex 4:42:02 Port Jefferson, NY
4. Philip Vondra 4:50:12 New Paltz, NY
5. Billy Edwards 4:55:20 Niwot, CO

The two most inspirational races of the day belonged to, first, Eric McElvenny. Eric lost his lower leg in an explosion while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan in 2011. No athletic slouch, with a 10:20 Ironman PR, Eric had to deal (as all competitors do) with run shoe management during the race’s three swims. McElvenny had the additional burden of dealing with his prosthetic leg. He swam with a waterproof backpack, dismantling his prosthesis into backpack-sized pieces. Finishing in 6hr flat, Eric earned the event’s much-coveted Survivor’s shirt.

Then there was New York’s Adam Cohen, who lost his left shoe during the first swim of the day. Fain to violate the spirit of the rules by accepting outside assistance he ran the remaining 15mi on surfaces of crushed shale, stone, dirt and pavement, refusing numerous offers for a replacement, in his one remaining shoe. Upon reaching the Survivor Line in 7:54:44, he turned down the medical team's offer of a ride back to the post-race meal, saying “I can just walk the 0.7 of a mile back down.”

I asked Slowtwitchers what is the, “Best triathlon you know of that is not an Ironman, and that you would drive to in order to do it. ‘Best’ in this case means best produced, must fun, scenic, very good local competition.” Savageman got several mentions, as did Barrelman, Pat Griskus, Lake Chisago, Lake Logan, Musselman, American Triple T, Pacific Crest, Chattanooga Waterfront and others. But the top vote getter was S.O.S. “You can tell that I am rather passionate about this race,” said Stefan Judex.

Here's more about the race. Here are full 2018 results.

[Notes and Credits: Thanks to Mike Halstead and Amy Sherwood for the race coverage itself. The images above were provided, variously, by 360 Media Ventures, Shelly Halstead, Ron Zuckerman, and Chris Acosta.]