This season has been quite strange. I spent large portion of it either injured or re-building my fitness. Not ideal in many ways, but I guess the sport is not only roses and successes. This year was certainly year of few setbacks and many getting back on the horse. I was glad that I was able to re-build my fitness just before the Savageman which was my second A-race this season. And I had more than 2 weeks of running in my legs, much better than what I started with in Rhode Island. I did this race with one goal - get the brick in the Westernport wall. If you have not heard about Savageman before here are few highlights - as opposed to most triathlons this one is very hilly (which is understatement) and that goes both for bike and run. Bike is more brutal than run, but more on that later. If you want to look at the race details I recommend to check out the race site.
I guess the biggest novelty of the race is the climb on the Westernport wall where you have chance to get your own brick in the wall if you climb the wall without unclipping and finish the race. But that really is not the biggest challenge. But let me start from the start of the race. I'll skip all the prep work, food and bathroom stops. Lets briefly talk about the swim which is quite nice - it is done in parallel to the shore which makes sighting easy and the buoys are easy to see. The interesting thing are the turn buoys which are big turtle on one side and if I recall correctly we swam by big swan and turned back at another colorful buoy on the other side before returning to the beach. Overall the swim is easy to navigate, visibility is great and in water start is what I generally prefer. The only thing to watch for are the rocks on the bottom of the lake - just be careful there are many and few are pretty sharp. My swim was very good and felt great after exit from the water. Now onto the bike.
I knew bike will be challenging, unfortunately I did not have enough time on Saturday to scope out the course so I was riding it based only on what I knew from the race site and maps that they provided. Which is actually plenty compared to other races. This is one of the few races that provide video of the race course, Google maps, Garmin files and turn by turn directions (for all three legs of the race). So back to the bike - it starts with some rolling terrain during the exit from the park and then onto the first hill. It is not a hard one to conquer, but it is just a warning for what will come later in the race. The next few miles are rolling terrain which is good to recover from the first hill. Enjoy that because later you will not have that luxury. First long downhill is marked as dangerous and I caution anyone to be very careful. The descends are steep and curves pretty sharp. Combine that with loose gravel on the road and it pays to take it little easier that you would on normal road. The descend is very long and takes you all the way to the city of Westernport. There is really nothing much to talk about here other than the views are stunning and the ride feels more like your weekend ride through nice area than like race.
When you get to Westernport you have completed 18 miles and it feels like the bike is going to be pretty fine. But rememer you were descending for good portion of those 18 miles and what goes down must come up. And in Westernport it starts to come up. The wall itself is hard to climb and you really need to pace it. When I hit the bottom few kids yelled at me to "not use all I have in my legs on the wall" and little later someone yelled to make the BMC proud. It was one big party with people lining the wall and cheering on the racers. I really do not remember much about the people on the wall as I was focusing on keeping steady rhythm up the wall and avoiding other racers that could potentially take me down. As I was climbing the last segment that is 30% grade (yeah that is not typo) and I was doing about 0.5 mph my handlebars came loose. Thanks to all the track racing I did earlier I was able to stabilize the bike in track stand and resume climbing with putting very little power onto the handlebars. I was glad to be done with the wall and stopped to ask around if anyone had bike tool so I can tighten the bars. Well I could not find anyone with bike tool so I decided to keep going to the next aid station that is only 6 miles away - well 5 of these miles are uphill at pretty good grade. You can read more about the climb to Big Savage Mountain on Savageman site. My handlebars were getting more and more loose and I was really concerned if I will be able to continue since nobody I asked had the tool with them. Luckily at the top of the Big Savage the aid station had few bike tools so I stopped for about 5 minutes to make sure my handlebars are tight and secure since we were about to do some serious descending.
While the roads from Big Savage are much better than the first descend I recommend to take them easy - there are quite a few hairpin turns and you do not want to go too fast - this is the only race course where the organizers do not lie when they say that you could get killed there. The hairpin turns are reminiscent of alpine turns with hill on one side and long steep ravine on the other. But the course is very well marked and all you need to do is read the signs and slow down when they warn you to do so. No kidding - I ran into one guy in the bathroom after the race and he has broken collar bone on the course - just saying. There are several other climbs and they come quick - that is one thing about this course - the climbs seem very long and steep and descends are steep and fast so there is very little time to recover. Next year in prep for this race I can imagine doing my own version of Emmaus 2-5-10 since it is very close to how you feel on those hills in MD. But back to the course. The several climbs and descends will take you to mile 38 where is the Killer Miller - and it really deserves its name. By that time I was seriously overheating, tired from all the climbs and this one takes the cake. It is quite steep and relentless. It takes a lot of mental energy not to unclip and walk which some people did. Once you unclip there is really no way to re-start the climb - it is that steep. I ended up zig-zagging the top part of it as I was getting into the bonk zone. I stopped at the aid station on top of the Killer Miller, declined the Miller Light since I don't drink that beer and instead got more gels, salt tablets and water. I knew I was on the edge.
The final few miles to T2 are not really flat by any means. You will experience some hills that you will chuckle about and call them false flats since they feel like that after all that climbing. But there are few hard short climbs that sap your energy before the run. Savageman site provides this nifty table of all the key climbs which really sums the bike course well though it leaves out some smaller climbs:
|Name||Location||Length||Avg Grade||Max Grade|
|Toothpick||0.5 mi||0.25 mi||9%||16%|
|Westernport||18.5 mi||1.2 mi||12%||31%|
|Big Savage Mtn||23.4 mi||2.4 mi||6%||21%|
|Savage River State Forest||30.0 mi||2.8 mi||4%||7%|
|McAndrews Hill||32.8 mi||0.6 mi||9%||19%|
|Otto Lane||35.1 mi||0.6 mi||8%||17%|
|Killer Miller||38.1 mi||1.3 mi||8%||22%|
|Maynardier Ridge||43.8 mi||0.25 mi||12%||23%|
One thing that I liked a lot on this course is how close you get to other people and you can not really be drafting since you all go about 3 mph up the hill. Second is that the bike course is simply awesome - it beats you up like nothing around here. I loved the Black Bear Half which is no longer on calendar and thought that was hard bike - well not any more. This is the new benchmark. I guess I need to check out Silverman in Vegas next...
This is the second race where I was glad to get off the bike - first one was Chesapeake Man Aqua Velo last year. I took T2 very easy - I mean I even sat down to change into my shoes and chatted with the Canadian guy that was racked next to me. At this point I knew that I'm solidly in bonkland and I needed to do some damage control before I can really run. So the first order of the day was to get in as much nutrition as I can tolerate without overloading the system. Hard to do when your brain is not thinking clearly. I was getting in few gels, banana and plenty of water. My first 5 miles of the run were pretty bad. I ran some of it, but I just had to power walk all the hills (and there are few through the camp site) and then walk the hill on the other side. Main concern there was that it is trail with many loose stones that are not well tolerated by my ankles. I was happy that I started to feel much better once I got back on the road and had about 2 miles back to the transition area to start my second loop. On the second loop I continued to fuel with water, Hammer Heed and things continued to go pretty well. While my first loop was horrendous the second one was not bad. I decided to run all the way to the trail and I did. On the way I passed many other athletes and some of them were only on their first loop which was encouraging. As I rounded the cone on the top of the hill I ran also down the hill while paying attention to my footing since last thing I wanted was to damage the ankle. I ran all the way to the finish. It was funny since I got passed by Jeff Mallett with about 400m to go. I knew Jeff was racing there along with Dave Scott. Unfortunately I did not have the pleasure if meeting Dave who was there on speaking engagement during the pre-race dinner. I do not believe he was racing.
So I got my brick and finished the race standing up. Lessons for next year - well first one is to plan nutrition for another 30 minutes on the bike that was a major mistake on my part that put me in a big hole. I will also need to re-think the mix of carbs and proteins for the course as well as the salt intake. The day starts cold and get warm to hot as it progresses and that requires little more salt than I planned. And lastly I'll shoot to improve my climbing time on the Big Savage - I can easily cut 5-7 minutes that I lost searching for the bike tool. That way I can get closer to time of Phil Graves who climbed the whole thing in 30.5 minutes (compared to my 43). Well not that I can compare myself with Phil. Funny note though - I was not the only one who bonked. On my first loop I caught up with one pro who was deeply in bonkland and we chatted a bit. He was really struggling to get to the finish and basically walked most of the hills to control the damage before resuming run on the downhill on the way to the finish. If you like unusual races with their own flavor in great and nice part of the country I can only recommend this one.
After crossing the finish line - which looks like I danced a little there, I reunited with my family and took Ian to the lake where I took the much needed ice bath and Ian was so nice to give me a proper post-race massage. I really like the area - it is beautiful especially at this time of the year. We spent day on the lake in rented boat which was great. We had opportunity to see the whole area and I did not need to walk which is always concern before any long race. And family usually does not want to sit in the hotel and watch TV - well we can do that at home. What was really great on the boat trip was that you could park the boat at different places around the lake and go for lunch, ice cream or coffee. That was really good.
For accommodation we used Suites at Silver Tree which is a great place - about 5 minutes away from race site by car and close to the local stores, cinema and restaurants. The area is quite rural so do not expect many chain restaurants or Whole Foods there. It is really nice site and we will be back next year to perhaps improve on the finish time a little bit.