My goodness, where to start. This race, holy hell. If you want a very challenging and unique early season kick off triathlon, this is absolutely the race to do.
The Rat Snake is unique in both the fact that it is run backwards and has very unconventional distances for every discipline. It breaks down into an 18k trail run, followed by a 29 mile bike ride that will leave you cursing, then a “slog” of 26 yards through the water before crossing the finish line.
The race itself is a tribute race to Dr. Ken Stalter who was an accomplished surgeon and extreme endurance athlete. I mean, the man climbed Mt. Everest and ran the Marathon de Sable amongst a million other amazing endurance accomplishments! Bad ass much? So the race is made challenging intentionally and run in his honor. All the distances are set as such to honor his children. It’s very touching and makes the race feel even more humbling.
So, let’s get into the nitty gritty here.
The part of New York state where this race is held is currently half flooded. We’ve had an incredibly rainy spring, so much so that when we drove in Friday night a portion of the road we had to cross had flood waters pouring over it. Don’t worry, the Crosstrek was a champ at traversing flooded roads. But it poured all Friday night, which did not bode well for the first leg of this race, a trail run. We were forewarned about mud and an overflowing ice pond thanks to some jerk beaver ahead of time, but I was still shocked by the trail conditions on race day. With the run being a double loop it included a special needs area in between loops. I left myself a second set of socks and running shoes there but ended up not bothering to swap shoes. Just for reference, here’s what we were running through-
|Clearly dry shoes at the halfway point would not save me|
|View from the top of the hill labeled “walk” on the elevation chart. I swear to you it was basically a 90 degree angle. And a long one at that.|
|Oh hey, there’s me! This is what about 75% of the trails looked like and this was a half way decent stretch believe it or not.|
|The overflowing ice pond. Thanks stupid beaver for damming it up! The water was mid shin deep on me here. It was kind of crazy.|
So yeah. And the fun part was running all of that twice. I did a lot of hopping and side stepping at first trying to keep my feet dry, but about ten minutes in and I was soaked. At that point I just conceded to the water and mud, gave up on trying to stay dry or mud free, and just ran. And consequently, I loved every second of this run. I am not a trail runner, but I truly enjoyed this run and could have died happy if all I did was finish this part.
|Heading into my second loop|
I ran most of the first loop, only stopping to walk in places where I felt unsafe to run and that giant ass hill. Even just walking it my heart rate spiked into the 180’s. It was nuts. My second loop I did walk a bit more. I wanted to make sure I saved my legs some for the bike ride that I knew was going to be arduous to say the least. I tried really hard not to “race” this race. I did pass a few people on the run though. I can’t help myself when I start to close in on someone. Just gotta pick em’ off!
My official run time was 2:06:57 putting me at 11:21/mile. All that walking caught up to me, but that’s okay. This is actually really good for me to see because this still slates me for a for sub-2:30 half marathon, which is my run time goal for IMCuse. Not to mention during regular training runs and any other race I’m always making sure my average pace ends up sub-10 minute miles. I think this is the first time ever in my life I’ve been pleased to see myself come up with such a slow average pace. But it gives me a lot of perspective, so I’m happy with it in that regard.
|Gotta look good to feel good!|
Transition was weird. I didn’t set up as meticulously as I would for a “regular” triathlon. My stuff was just sort of piled where ever, my transition bag was left behind my pile, and I forgot to even take my helmet out of my bag. And because of the run conditions I had to sit down and seriously wipe my feet off. Also, it was backwards. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around that. My T1 time was 4:29. Not super fast, but since I had to sit down and clean my feet off I feel like this was okay.
And let’s talk about my feet for a minute. I broke the cardinal rule of racing- never try anything new on race day. Because I originally planned to swap shoes at the half point in the run and only have one pair of Brooks at the moment, I brought my Saucony’s that I use for my walking around shoes. I started the run in those, having never once ran in them before. I’m happy to report they provided me excellent stability on the uneven trails, being a neutral shoe as opposed to my usual minimalists. And for being as wet as my feet were the whole time I got zero blisters. Shoe win!
The bike, oh goodness. This race made me realize that order matters. In a traditional triathlon if your legs are tired by the time you hit the run you can walk and it’s easier on your body. But when you’re on a bike you can only slow down so much and you are still at the mercy of being clipped onto a bike and having to forcefully propel yourself and your bike forward to avoid tipping. And getting onto my bike after running over 11 very difficult miles was tough on the old thighs to say the least.
In case you forgot what the bike course looks like. Plus I’m going to reference those labels, so stay with me here. The bike course was my point of suffering in this race. First of all, there were no volunteers to point us in the right direction in and out of the park. I found myself with two others biking in circles in the park for about five minutes, confused by cone placement and trying to figure out the correct direction to get out of the park and onto the roads. In this time though the gentlemen who was part of our threesome of confusion told me he tried to catch me the whole run and that I was “too fast” which made me elated. Especially running 11:21/mile. Fast? Please! But I’ll take the compliment. Once we finally got out on the open road though he took off ahead of me and I never saw him again.
I did all right chugging along on the course at first. I felt okay and was managing the varying terrain just fine. I used my small chain ring more than ever but found myself settling into my big ring to crank out some speed. Speed, oh speed. My Garmin malfunctioned on the run and I have a tangent waiting to burst about this, but just know that I had my Garmin in multisport function and it failed to ever lap out of T1 and into bike mode. So I rode the entire bike course blind in terms of distance and speed. I only had my heart rate and overall race clock time the entire race, which kills me. More on that later though, less getting side tracked.
That part of the elevation course labeled “just a long grind” is probably where I first started to fall apart. The turn onto that stretch of road put me right into a direct headwind. So not only was I climbing steadily for miles, but was doing so against wind. It’s like swimming upstream against a current and up a waterfall. I felt like I was biking through molasses and my overall speed agrees.
And to let you know how hard a difficult run followed by an even more difficult uphill ride is, I stopped at one point on this steady climbing stretch because I ran into two fellow racers who had stopped. I pulled over to refill my aero bottle and make sure both were okay. The guy dressed in a Spiderman tri kit told me his legs just gave up. Like they literally just stopped working. He couldn’t even get them to function enough to unclip from his pedals and he couldn’t pedal anymore and just let himself tip over. He said he was fine and funny enough feeling better at this point than he did last year at the same point. WHAT!? Your legs literally stopped functioning and you fell over and you want me to believe you feel better than last year!?!?
That is the kind of difficulty this course presents. That bad omen type disclaimer on the Rat Snakes website under the bike elevation chart does not lie. This hurts.
Now, let’s talk about the part of the bike course labeled “Ouch!” Um, ouch indeed. For the first time in my entire life I dismounted my bike and walked up a hill. I could see people ahead of me walking. I could see people behind me walking. I heard people proclaiming confusedly about how they’ve never walked their bike in a race before today after all was said and done. Straight up, winding, and over a mile long, I cannot imagine anyone rode that entire first hill. If they did, more power to them because I sure as hell would never have enough momentum to get up it. In fact after that hill I hopped back on my bike and tried to pick up enough speed, but the hill labeled “sob” ended up getting me too. As well as the other gentlemen who I caught to and passed while walking my bike up “Ouch”.
I kid you not. Hardest ride ever. My final bike time was 2:24:43. That means I was 24 minutes slower than I projected and came in at an embarrassing 12mph average speed. Probably mostly due to walking a mile and half of the bike course, in my bike shoes and cleats. Also the Spiderman stop and the headwind didn’t do me any favors. But really, 12 mph. Gaaawwwddd, slow. Not even my training rides have ever been that slow before!
My T2 rocked though- only 21 second, count it! T2 consisted of merely kicking off my bike shoes and sprinting my booty down to the water.
The “swim” of a short 26 yards was nothing more than jumping into the lake, splashing my way out the pole I had to run around, then I splashing my way out, up to the grass and under the finish arch.
|Didn’t even take my helmet off until I was out of the water. And I was not the only one who “swam” with theirs on.|
My total “swim” time was a blistering 49 seconds. I don’t foresee a repeat of that speed in any future races, ha!
My total, official race time clocked in at 4:37:21. So I was about a half an hour or so slower than I had hoped for, but I didn’t intend to “race” this race, so I don’t really care. I mostly feel bad that my gross underestimate of my time meant Hubby had to stand around that much longer waiting for my pokey butt to get done.
Best husband ever. Seriously, how does a girl get so lucky to have a man who will go so far out of his way to stand alone holding the dog for over four and half hours just to see me for like six minutes total during a race? He deserves many praises.
|Coolest medals ever!|
Now, I’m going to rant for a second, bear with me. My Garmin, that rat bastard. It malfunctioned immediately. Like only 52 feet into the run. I know this because this was the distance it was stuck on the whole run. I thought maybe it just couldn’t get satellites since we had no service of any kind. But no. I hit lap to switch it into T1 and that worked okay, but then when I tried to lap it into bike mode it refused. So I ended up doing the remainder of the race with my watch frozen on T1 and only being able to watch my total race time tick away. And consequently, nothing uploaded. NOTHING. I have zero data to show for all my hard work. I lost what would have been a GC PR on bike elevation that I would probably never top because it decided to not work. I have no course maps, no splits, no nothing. And now, since it wiped the workout out it’s working fine again, of course. I’ve used it in multisport loads of times and never had an issue. The fact that it crapped out on me mid race makes me seriously hateful. Gah!
Anywaysssss… The race was awesome! I had a great time running the Rat Snake despite the trail conditions and the brutal bike course. I think my only complaint would be the lack of volunteers directing cyclists in and out of the park that cost me and others a few minutes of confusion getting lost. Otherwise this definitely tops the charts as a unique, fun, crazy race that I would highly suggest to anyone looking for something a bit more adventurous. Also, rent a cabin and stay the weekend. We ended up skipping the post race BBQ because I’m pretty sure pounding a beer after that would have caused me to vomit. But all the athletes are invited over to the race director’s cabin to hang out and it looked like lots of people did. Overall the whole atmosphere all weekend was very laid back, have fun, and just enjoy the ride kind of a vibe. And I really liked that.
|And I was never that clean again all weekend!|
So, two big thumbs up for the The Rat Snake!
I am officially scratching that one off the bucket list! On to the next race! Ironman 70.3 Syracuse in less than five weeks. Bring it on!