March 15, 2020 - It’s not just a race, it’s combination triathlon and ADVENTURE!
For six years I tried to register for the SOS triathlon – the Survival of the Shawangunks – a non-traditional 8 stage race that is not only epically hard it is hard to get into. Last year my brother did get in on his first attempt and my jealous ass got to witness his incredible day. In August a new race was announced an SOS race in Curacao and I immediately jumped on it and got in!
On March 8th - SOS in conjunction with PC racing held a 6 stage race on an island off the coast of Venezuela – the very beautiful Dutch Protected Curacao. Honestly I hadn’t ever heard of this island and traditionally suffer in races in hot climates since I am constantly fat (my fault) but I wanted this race experience and wanted to give my wife a quality race-cation as we have never gone anywhere tropical in our 24 years married.
Some logistics leading to race day – got direct flights on JetBlue from JFK (in NY) and had to pay the baggage fee of $150 south and $100 north for the bike to travel. I had wanted to rent a bike but when I had attempted to do so the website for bike rental was stating none available – I could have rented a bike from my resort – live and learn. We stayed at the Santa Barbara which was the resort where the race started. Since we arrived on a Monday, we had four days to explore the island and lounge at our resort pre-race and we took full advantage. We did a tour of beaches and caves with Irie tours and I got to swim with sea turtles which was awesome. We explore the capital city which was “meh” in my opinion but we took some nice pictures. The water at the beaches was like being in a pool but with fish like from Finding Nemo. I swam every day and did some runs and a bike ride leading up to race day – the swims were awesome, but the runs and bike I found my winter training did nothing to prepare me for the tropical sun and heat.
The race itself was set up as follows: Start with a mass start rolling 20k bike – followed by a 1k swim – a 5k run – 1.4k swim – 6.3k run – and finally a 1.2k swim to the finish.
I finished an hour and a half after the winner – Pro Triathlete Tim Don who smoked the course and is a normal down to earth nice dude (more on Tim later) – now onto the race breakdown.
The race started at 1:30pm basically the hottest part of the day in Curacao. The start point was a parking lot at the Santa Barbara resort with a rolling start behind a pace vehicle. I drank 20 ounces of my Infinit bike blend the hour leading up to the race – I wanted to pre-hydrate and I’m glad I did since it was immediately hot on the bike. The course left the grounds and headed steadily uphill through the Mijnmaatschapij which was the private property of a mining company. I felt cross winds and a steady head wind on the return trip and consumed another 20oz of Infinit while on the bike. My goal with the race was to have fun and not come in last – I wasn’t last coming off the bike but I was well off the lead pack. Enjoyed the bike and made sure I did not push too hard that I would implode – my goal here was to have fun with my fat self not have a stroke on a Caribbean island.
After racking the bike (you had to have a race buddy who would take your bike stuff after all bikes were in – Lydia grabbed my gear and brought it back to our room) – then run down to the beach for swim number one. One of the rules with this race is you had to take everything with you start to finish and the race (unlike SOS NY) required you to carry an inflatable buoy which they graciously provided. Most people opt to swim with their run gear tucked in their shorts or in the buoy – I went point to point in my shoes. We were also provided with a race piney – I’d only ever had to wear a piney in the Casco Bay swim run and they said it was to count everyone going in and out of swims – A+ for safety so I and everyone else wore the piney for all the swims. The swim started along the Santa Barbara beach and then you had to crawl under a bridge and swim across the main waterway to the first island. Nice 1k swim – no issues with the shoes.
Upon getting out of the water most people sit down to do their shoes – I tucked my swim cap and goggles in my tri top and pulled out my bandana. I need to protect my bald dome from the sun! So the first 5k run on Caraccas Baai was mostly single track on a mostly deserted desert island. I had a handheld bottle with my Infinit run mix so hydration was on point. This run had some awesome scenery as we ran past an old quarantine hospital and as we ran up hills you could see the entire shore of the main island. The final 250 meters was on narrow goat path with same gnarly roots but I came through unscathed.
At each water entry and exit point the red cross was there asking if we felt well enough to continue – at this entry point I said I felt great as I was anxious to experience what was the swim that everyone hyped coming into the race. So this swim had some large swells and initially you had to swim out from the beach and around a blind turn. The swells were large and I sighted poorly and instead of swimming the way I was supposed to I swam in the direction of two jetskiers that were out there in case people went stupid wide. I don’t think they expected to be swam towards and they started shouting and waving at me. Upon stopping I saw I has swam way left toward the outside of a large boat, we were supposed to swim right and keep the boat on our left – they did say this multiple times in the race guide and in the prerace meeting – my bad. Once I was back on track I got to swim over a sunken tugboat which was awesome and many schools of tropical fish as I swam under two bridges and over some sick coral formations. As I came close to shore I got a wicked cramp in my left thigh. I stayed in the water and worked it out but I lost a bunch of time and was passed by a bunch of people – oh well – I knew I wasn’t last but with another run and swim to go I hoped to keep the cramps at bay and not slide into that last position.
The next 6.3k run was through the residential neighborhood of Jan Thiel and then down into the “salt flats” and then back up into the hills. I had refilled my handheld bottle with another 20oz of water and my final pouch of Infinit and I headed out. The run through the neighborhood was slightly uphill then as soon as you reached the salt flats it was a downhill cruise and then leveled out. I was feeling good until I realized how hot it was and then the course went up and I was reduced to periods of walking. This run had some nice views but the run had a lot of dangerous surfaces so I spent most of my time looking down so I would not trip. Eventually coming out of the trials the run curved left into a resort area then through a dive school until you reached a beach. At this point you were very close to the finish line – you could hear it but there was still a 1.2k swim to complete before the finishers arch.
I gave everything I had in the final swim – no trying to look at tropical fish – just swimming all out. I knew I wasn’t coming in last but I thought maybe I could catch a few people on the final swim. I passed a few and turned the final red buoy to head to the arch. As soon as I stood up though the exhaustion hit me and I stumbled under the arch muttering incoherently as I was announced as a Survivor.
Fantastic event with great volunteers all over the course. The finish line part was at a resort called the Lion’s Dive which we got to watch the sunset while enjoying adult beverages before the award ceremony.
My wife and I shared a ride back with Tim Don to the Santa Barbara where he was also staying. Since we were all trapped together we (and our local driver) had some very interesting and enjoyable conversation not about racing or the race but about the island and what we all thought of it and the state of the world and how we’d have to go back home into a world of confusion.
Back home now the diet is in full effect – run training has kicked up – I got into the SOS in New Paltz and need to get ready – finally after six failed Halloween registrations I got in this year so hopefully the world is calmed down by September because I have another epic adventure on the docket.