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Race Report: SavageMan Tri

Race Report: SavageMan Tri

What a weekend!  Kim and I traveled to Western Maryland last weekend for the 5th anniversary of the SavageMan Triathlon Festival. The races are held in Garret County, near Wisp Ski Resort. On Saturday, the race weekend starts with a 30.0 mile Olympic Triathlon. Jeff, Alan, and I volunteered as road marshals for the Saturday race, with Jeff dressed as Gumby and Alan and I dressed as a dynamic duo from Super Friends. Everyone enjoyed seeing Gumby, and I think that the people who recognized our duo also found it humorous.

On Sunday, the 70.0 mile Half Iron Man distance triathlon takes place with a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a half marathon. SavageMan is known for being one of the hardest, if not the hardest triathlons in the country. During the bike course, racers climb more than 5000 feet over several mountains. The climbing starts in Westernport Maryland, where racers are greeted with their first hill, the Westernport Wall. The “Wall” is the culmination of a 4 block climb which, although not long, has an average grade of 25% and peaks at 31%. Racers who manage to make it up that last block without falling off their bike are rewarded with a brick in the road with their name. But even if you do manage to make it past the wall, you are only at the beginning of the climbing with another 6 miles to the top of Big Savage Mountain.  This race is truly a test of an athlete’s endurance and it definitely was a challenge for me from the start to the finish!

Swim

The temperatures in the morning of the race was in the upper 50s. The water temperature was around 65. Standing on the beach in my wetsuit waiting for my wave, wave three, to start I was definitely shivering a bit. Once in the water, I felt a bit warmer, but that only lasted for about a minute before I was cold again. Luckily, it wasn’t too long of a wait and the swim started. Despite not having been in the water for a couple weeks and not having done an open water swim since the NJ State Tri, I felt good. I quickly got into a good pace and my breathing was doing great. It felt like forever until we got to the first turn, a gigantic floating turtle, but I wasn’t tired and made the turn and continued on. There was a bit of chop during the next leg, but it didn’t throw me off too much. I did catch a couple of waves in the face though. The second and last turn is a boat that looks like swan. I was really happy to see that swan when I got to it, I knew the finish was in sight.  I made the turn and picked up my pace a bit. As I approached the final buoy to turn in to the finish, there were a lot more people which made it tricky to not swim into people. Once I passed the rocks, I stood up and took some short steps and was out of the water. I waved to my parents and then heard someone yell “Alan”. I looked ahead of me and a few steps ahead of me was my friend Alan, who I had started the wave with! We ran into transition together and began to layer up for the bike ride.

Bike (Course)

The first twenty miles of the bike ride are pretty much downhill, with a few technical descents and not much of a chance to pedal and work up some heat. So for the bike ride I put on a bike jersey, arm and leg warmers, a vest, and winter bike gloves. I even put toe covers on my shoes, although my feet were still frozen most of the way, they did help keep some of the cold air out of my shoes. Even with all that clothing, I still think I had a decent time getting out of T1. I got on my bike and tried to pedal hard out of the park, trying to build up a little bit of warmth. Not very far into the bike, after only a couple miles, I had my first and only mechanical problem. I was trying to shift from my big ring to the little ring, and for some odd reason, my chain locked up. So I got off to the side of the road and pulled the chain links that were stuck on the big ring off and back on to the bike I went. This made me a little nervous because I knew when I reached Westernport I would need to be in my little ring to make it up the wall. I made a mental note to shift down early so that if it happened again, I could at least stop to fix it long before the wall.

Heading into Westernport, Alan caught up to me on the bike, as I knew he would. He flies down the hills and I figured he would catch me at some point. So we pedaled towards the wall together. As we approached the wall, he had his own gear problems and slowed a bit. I moved ahead and tried to pace myself. I had successfully gotten up the wall in both of my previous attempts on training rides. So I knew I could do it. The problem was, I couldn’t control the people in front of me. If someone fell over in front of me, there was not much I could do. So I slowed down as much as I could and let the people in front of me put as much distance between us as they could. I checked behind me and there was no one there. I thought “perfect, I should be able to set this up pretty well”. Then a few seconds later, two guys passed me, ruining the perfect gap I had been building. At that point I decided I just had to go for it. The right side of the wall is the best to go up on, so I tried to stay right. About half way up, one of the two guys in front of me fell over, luckily falling towards the right and giving me enough room to go around him on the left. But the other guy in front of me was zigging back and forth, not giving me much room for error. I could hear Kim yelling for me and with that little boost I held my line and avoided some of the big potholes and made it to the top of the hill. As I road past the bricks in the road with the names of those who had conquered the wall in the previous four years, I knew I had earned my own brick in the road, assuming I could finish the race.

You can watch me climb the wall on this YouTube video starting around 27:20.  I am the first one in the green vest.  Alan is right behind me (also in a green vest):

Thankfully, the rest of the bike ride was pretty uneventful. I did drop a water bottle at a fueling station which was a bummer, but otherwise it was just slogging through miles and miles of uphills. After climbing up the wall and Big Savage Mountain, I still had to climb through Savage River State Forrest, and up McAndrews, Otto Lane, Killer Miller, and Maynardier Ridge. As hard as Westernport is, Killer Miller is harder with a 1.3 mile climb averaging 8% and peaking at 22%. I even saw one guy pushing his bike up Killer Miller.

But finally I had finished all the climbs and pedaled my way back into the State Park. I felt good despite all the wind I was pedaling through, tired, but ready for the run.

Run

The run course consists of two loops through the state park. As I was leaving T2 I noticed that the race clock said 5 hours and something minutes. About then, I realized I had forgotten my Garmin, so I wouldn’t have any idea what pace I was running. I decided not to worry about it and just tried to remind myself to start easy. Shortly after mile one, I passed Alan who was coming from the other direction. So I knew it wouldn’t be too long until he caught up to me since he’s a pretty fast runner. After mile one, you take a turn and do a loop through the state park campgrounds. I saw Alan again somewhere in the campgrounds. Around mile 4 there was a aid station that offered pop, so I decided to take a cup. After drinking water and sports drink all day, it was a nice change. After that, I did my first loop up the fire road. I think they put the fire road loop in there to remind you that you’re doing SavageMan just in case you had forgot. I walked both times up the fire road. In fact, the first time, there was a guy ahead of me who was trying to run and I was walking just as fast as he was. So I figured there was no point in trying to run up it. Once at the top I got a quick cup of water and made the turn to go back down the fire road, letting gravity help me run down the hill but making sure to be very careful where I put my feet. My buddy Mike had twisted his ankle on this part the day before, and I didn’t want to repeat that.

I made it down the fire road and at the next aid station got a piece of banana bread which was freaking awesome. That gave me a little more energy to push through the end of the first lap where I saw my parents and Kim and the rest of our friends. Alan ran with me until we reached the campground again and then he picked up speed on the downhills. I actually caught back up to him at one point, but fell back again as I was losing steam. I walked more the on the second loop and I was starting to battle mild asthma attacks which left me gasping for breath. I used my inhaler several times which seemed to help for short periods. I stopped at the same aid station for another cup of pop and walked back up the fire road again knowing that it was the last big hill I needed to get up before the end. I was feeling good as I started to run back down the hill, but after I got back on the state park road, I found myself gasping for breath again. Another shot from the inhaler and I continued on. Once back in the park I tried to pick it up as I knew I was closer and closer to finishing. I saw my dad with 3/4 of a mile to go and tried to smile despite the fact that I couldn’t breath. But I could see the finish in the distance and so I kept pushing. In to the finishing chute Kim and the others in our group were cheering me on. Mike, Kevin, and Alan were all on the sidelines with hands out to give me fives. I knew I probably looked terrible as I was gasping to get any air I could. But the finish was right there so I pushed on through, finally crossing the finish line 7 hours 30 minutes and 36 seconds after starting the great adventure.

I got my finishers t-shirt and mylar blanket and headed back to where my family was waiting for me. The problem was that I couldn’t breath and so as I walked towards them I kept taking my inhaler, but still couldn’t catch my breath. I probably freaked my mother out as up to that point I had been smiling the whole time. I was a bit panicked as it had been years and years since I had an asthma attack like this one. I’m guessing it was a combination of the higher altitudes, fall allergies, and having just finished a 7 hour long race. After sitting for a few minutes, I finally was able to breathe a little better.

I was pretty happy with my final times since they were all below what I had realistically expected:

Swim Time

38:41

Swim Rank

289

Transition One

6:30

Bike Time

4:07:02

Bike Rate

13.5

Bike Rank

262

Transition Two

3:49

Run Time

2:34:37

Run Rate

11:48

Run Rank

319

Overall Time

7:30:36

Overall Rank

290/390

Age Group Rank

36/44

And my Dad got quite a few good pictures at the event.  Here’s me coming out of the water:

Coming out of the Water
Coming out of the Water

Leaving transition while still putting my gloves on!

Leaving T1
Leaving T1
Looking Up The Westernport Wall
Looking Up The Westernport Wall

Kim got this AWESOME shot of me climbing the Westernport Wall:

Climbing the Westernport Wall
Climbing the Westernport Wall

Coming in from the bike course.  Not sure what that look on my face was about.  I guess I was relieved to be off the bike.

Bike Finish
Bike Finish
Run Start
Run Start

Here is Alan and I finishing the first lap:

One Lap To Go
One Lap To Go

And finally, me running towards the finish line:

Almost Finished!
Almost Finished!

Although it was hard, it was a lot of fun to get to race with my friends and have friends and family there to cheer me on.  I was so glad that my parents were able to make the day trip down to Deep Creek to watch me race.  And I am also thankful to Kim for enduring 3 of the 4 Triathlons that I have done this year.  She has cheered me on and listened to me complain about being tired and sore.  I owe her big time!

That’s the end of my Triathlon season for the year.  Kim and I have a couple more half marathons yet to do this year.  We’ll have to wait and see how those go and what crazy challenges we come up with next year.

 



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