SOS Race Report

September 19, 2023

I recently participated in SOS Triathlon and I wanted to share my race report. To start, I will say this race is the most challenging but most incredible and adventurous race I’ve completed to date. For some brief history on the race, SOS started in 1983. The event founder would use this course as training grounds for IRONMAN Kona and other IRONMAN events.

The race consists of eight stages including biking, lake swimming and trail running as the course makes its way up to the top of the Shawangunk mountains. To participate, you must complete a qualifying event within a specific timeframe and you must carry and swim with all your equipment (shoes, socks, goggles and swim cap) as you progress through the event. The race only accepts 200-300 athletes each year and typically sells out within minutes.


Stage one begins with a 30-mile bike ride which gains over 2,300 feet of elevation. One thousand feet of this elevation is gained in the last five miles.

There is only one transition area in the entire race which occurs directly after the bike. From this point out, you must carry and swim with all your gear. The first two stages of the race you must provide your own nutrition and hydration. After this, aid stations are plentiful, providing abundant nutrition and hydration throughout the course.

To start, I loaded my bike with two bottles of water halved with Osmo nutrition and brought two packs of shot bloks. My goal was to try and front load just slightly with nutrition and hydration on the bike knowing 1) this is a very difficult race and 2) I had to rely on course aid stations for all nutrition and hydration for the remainder of the race. I finished most of each water bottle and ate 1.5 packs of shot bloks, taking these in every 30 minutes and ensuring I took the last 3 bloks in just prior to the final climb.

While the bike course was challenging, I was pleasantly surprised by how those last five miles (the final climb) felt. I was envisioning a very painful, almost undoable, final five miles, but this turned out to be easier than I thought. While the bike was challenging and many were struggling, this section was doable without ever having to get off the bike or even consider the thought. With that said, the training must be there prior to the race to feel this way.

My goal for this race was to finish, enjoy and learn knowing this was a very challenging course and unique style of race. I paced myself well on the bike, saving good reserves for the final climb and remainder of the race. My strategy was to negative split the race as a whole and focus my thoughts and energy within each stage, taking the race one leg at a time.

The bike finishes at the top of the final five mile climb. You hop off your bike and run with it to the transition area inside of a large parking lot. Prior to the race, you are provided with a “bike to run” bag for anything you need for the rest of the race. This bag, plus a bucket to sit on and a rack to place your bike in is waiting for you inside transition. Volunteers direct you to your transition space so you don't have to find it yourself.

I racked my bike and put all my bike gear back into the “bike to run” bag. I put on my run shoes, grabbed my goggles, swim cap and two gels and headed out for the first run.


Stage two consists of a 4.5 mile trail run with an elevation gain of 495 feet. Immediately coming out of transition there was an aid station with water only. I used this as an opportunity to take my first gel and drink a cup of water, then I set off on the run. The other gel I stored in a gel pocket inside my tri-kit as a spare for any point in the race. I never ended up using it.

The trail for most of the first run was packed earth and gravel, while the last few miles got more technical. The trail tightened and roots and rock were prevalent, though nothing higher than about a foot out of the ground. A section of this run was long and steep, but mostly this was a gradual climb in its entirety. For the long and steep portion, I power walked. This allowed me to run at a strong pace as soon as I hit the top.

Overall, coming off the bike and heading into this run, I felt very strong. I was ready and feeling good as I entered into stage three.


Stage three consists of a 1.1 mile lake swim. This race is known for having cold swims, typically in the mid- 60’s. We were fortunate on this race day to have swims in the low- to mid- 70’s.

Since you must carry your shoes and socks as you swim, part of the difficulty of this race is learning the best way to do so. In training, I found the best solution was to wear my one-piece tri-kit and stick my shoes down the top front with my socks inside my shoes.

No matter how you carry your shoes in each of the swims, you will experience drag and feel heavier. Some choose to wear lighter shoes that drain easily and keep their shoes and socks on as they swim. Others choose to put their shoes on their backside against the curves of the behind. Thinking these options through in- and post- race, it became clearer to me the best solution is to place your shoes inside the front of your kit by your chest and stomach.

Physiologically, this may be the best solution. Our center of buoyancy is near our lungs, which is at the chest. By strategically placing our shoes here, we would experience less drag and drop than anywhere else. By placing our shoes near our behind in the back of our kit, this will make the legs sink, which is also exacerbated slightly by the lack of salt in fresh water. By keeping your shoes on your feet, you not only increase your drag the greatest, but you also tend to kick more which, in this race, not only reduces efficiency in the swim, but can easily trigger a cramp. This race is well known for causing cramps from having to transition so frequently from running to swimming. Plus, you're fatiguing the legs to a greater extent for the runs.

While the results show this as my best swim of the day, it felt like the worst swim of the day. We followed big orange buoys with kayaks and lifeguards all around.  One mental difficulty was you could not see the end of the swim from the beginning. Specifically for me, I felt as though I was making very little progress in this swim. I felt stagnant most of the time, but I believe this is because of the way the current felt as I swam.

Halfway through the swim, I lifted my head a bit higher to sight more because my goggles were beginning to fog. To get back horizontal, I had to kick more. This more aggressive kicking instantly triggered a cramp in my right hamstring. This went away quickly but made me nervous about another potential cramp as I would climb out of the water. As I made it to the swim exit, there were four to five people sitting on the rocks in the water clearly suffering from debilitating cramps in their legs. Thankfully, I did not have another cramp at this point in time. I made my way out of the water, put my socks and shoes back on and headed out on the hill which began the next run.


Stage four consists of a 5.5 mile trail run with 565 feet of elevation gain. This trail was all packed dirt and gravel. The first half of the run was uphill and the second half of the run was mostly downhill.

Shortly after coming out of the water from stage three was the first real aid station. At this point, the race provided water, two flavors of body armor, pretzels and Honey Stinger products including waffles, caffeinated gels and chews. I was thirsty and hungry but none of this sounded good to my stomach.

One thing to remember with races at altitude is your appetite becomes suppressed, so it becomes even more essential to ensure you are getting frequent nutrition and hydration as you race and continue to climb. I drank a cup of body armor, a cup of water and opened two waffles (leaving the trash there) to take with me and eat as I began the run. I was able to eat 1.5 of the waffles and then tossed the rest off the trail for the forest animals to enjoy.

In the beginning of this run, I was feeling the fatigue of the climbing, altitude and prior activities. I ran slower than normal as I fought the mental and physical fatigue. About halfway through this run, we hit another aid station. This aid station was strategically placed on the side of a cliff with a breathtaking view. I grabbed another cup of body armor, a cup of water and two small caffeinated chews. At first, this really upset my stomach because I have never had body armor or honey stinger chews. After about 5-10 minutes, this went away and I began to feel the benefits of the nutrition and hydration. My run got much stronger and I held a solid pace to the next swim.


Stage five consists of a half-mile swim. This swim was mentally easier from the get-go as you could see the end from the beginning. There was a rope line with occasional buoys across the water which you would follow the entire swim. This swim flew by and my method of keeping my shoes in the front of my kit seemed to work very well. I experienced a brief but intense cramp about halfway through the swim, this time in my right calf. Just like in the prior swim, I reduced my kick to minimal and this kept any other cramps at bay.


Stage six consists of an eight-mile trail run with an elevation gain of 600 feet. The first quarter mile of this run was on pavement and then turned to packed earth and gravel. The last two miles is a climb called Godzilla, where most of the elevation gain takes place for this run and the trail eventually gets more technical.

Aid stations are set at miles two, four and six. In this stage, the race provides coke in addition to the other nutrition and hydration items. The coke is a welcome addition at this point in the race. True to strategy, I took in a cup of body armor, cup of coke, cup of water and two caffeinated chews at each aid station.

There were many points on this run I was in complete solitude with runners far in front of and behind me. This run held beautiful views including a waterfall, breathtaking cliff-side views and huge rocky areas where people rock climb. I ran most of this run, but did walk on and off on Godzilla as it was so long and steep. I was also cognizant of the remaining half mile swim and having the energy reserves to do well in (and complete) the swim.


Stage seven consists of a half-mile swim. The entry into this swim is a bit more difficult as you climb down a short but steep path into the water. In this swim, you follow big orange buoys and you can see the end from the beginning. This swim went by very quickly. I debated wearing my shoes so I could head right into the final run finish, but ultimately decided to follow suit with my strategy and placed my shoes inside my kit. Ultimately, this was a good decision and as I climbed out of the water to put on my shoes, this time I carried my socks.


Stage eight consists of a 0.7 mile steep and winding trail run with an elevation gain of 279 feet. Eager to finish the race, I began to run hard up the steep climb. I quickly realized how fatigued I actually was and this pace did not last. I was so tired at this point, I put my hands on my knees and leaned into the earth to continue to walk forward. Knowing I had so little to go, I began to walk/run in intervals the best I could as I went up this steep climb. At a certain point, the climb turns into a gradual slope directly towards the finish line and I was able to “sprint” finish to the end at Skytop Tower.

Overall, this was a challenging and adventurous event with arguably the best views of any race course. I would highly recommend this race, but be sure to do your homework and your training before heading in!

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