Intense Beauty

The Survival of the Shawangunks triathlon tests hardened athletes.

On September 10, athletes in top form will lace up their sneakers, hop on their bikes, and set off on the Survival of the Shawangunks (SOS), an eight-stage triathlon that takes participants on a course that’s equal parts grueling and beautiful.

Founder Don Davis – a self-described “triathlete before there was a triathlon” – was training for the Ironman Triathlon in 1983. He lived in New Paltz; the ‘Gunks “seemed like a natural place to train,” he said.

He was right. The wide carriage roads, crystal-clear lakes, and towering hills were ample challenges for Davis and his Ironman buddies. So the next year, they formalized the route into a unique 50.8-mile triathlon: Bike 30 miles. Run 4.5 miles. Swim 1.1 miles. Run 5.5 miles. Swim a half-mile. Run another eight miles. Swim another half-mile, then run seven-tenths of a mile to the finish line at Skytop Tower in Mohonk Preserve. Creativity abounds on how to keep shoes dry during the swimming portions (tiny pull-rafts), and how to carry wet clothing during the run.

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Related: Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon Tests The Most Hardened Athletes

Roughly 150 triathletes accept the challenge each year. Once registration closes, 20 additional spots are available for $1,000 each (plus the $500 race fee) to benefit the Preserve’s environmental education for underserved youth. At press time, there were just seven of the 20 spots left. Spectators are welcome to watch the race (Mohonk’s day-use fees apply).

Davis calls the run “intoxicating.”

“We get people from all over the country, complimenting us [on its beauty]. But I can’t take credit for it – the third glacial period put it there.”

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