The first thing I have to say about the event is it's iconic. It's a total bucket list event. It must be experienced if you're a triathlete. It sells out every year and this year was no different. Here's the website for a jump on next year's registration: SavageMan. It benefits Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation. You can raise funds and get cool swag. This year 6 time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott was participating and speaking at the pre-race dinner.
I thought about doing this race last year but based on my run focus for qualifying for Boston I knew it wouldn't be fun since the cycling portion is probably the hardest half Ironman distance in the sport. I put it out my mind as this year was all about Ironman Arizona until July. In July, my diet had netted a lean 142 and during my visit to Oregon I almost PR'ed a cycling climb even though I was nowhere near in top cycling shape. I got home from Oregon and went to register...it was full already. Bummer oh well maybe in 2012.
In early August, it was posted by the race director on Slowtwitch that they were opening up additional slots because they got permission to increase the size of the bike racking area. I jumped head on in and signed up as did a few other ST'ers. Okay now I'd have to hit every little hill in DC as hard as I could in as big of a gear as I could. The lure of making it up the dreaded Westernport Wall without falling over and getting forever immortalized on the wall with my name on a brick.
Executive summary: 28:33 swim(PR but the course was a bit short), 4:46 T1(slowest ever due to putting on all kinds of clothes to stay warm on the bike course), 3:12:18(didn't fall on the Wall and just survived), 2:29 T2(slowest ever due to removing all the cycling clothes), 1:32:45(this includes a Honey bucket stop for being over hydrated). Overall time 5:20:49, 5th fastest run split and fastest non-pro run split. 6th in the "elite" division out of 15 and 15th overall.
With quite a few ST'ers coming to the race, a few of us decided to meet for dinner at a local brewery. It was nice to associate faces with screen names. Everyone had beers and pizza well I just had pizza. We were all talking wall strategies and what gears we brought to hope to accomplish the feat. I brought my 34-25 and one of the biggest gears of the bunch. Hmm..I wonder what they knew that I didn't. The only thing I had going for me was I was probably the lightest of the bunch. I've never had pizza for a pre-race dinner so I was hoping it would be alright. Overall this race was mostly a training one and I just wanted to experience it and not worry too much.
The race started at 8:30 and I was in the first wave. I begged the race director to let me participate as part of the "elite" wave. I figured the brick was more important than dealing with a ton of folks on the wall and racing in my 40+ age group. I got up and started with my Infinit pre-race nutrition. It was still dark, windy and maybe 50 degrees. The weather forecast for the race was partly cloudy with highs in the low 60s. Joy!! NOT! I'd be putting on as many clothes as I could find in T1 so I wouldn't freeze. So much for a fast T1. I bundled up extra for the weather as well with two sweatshirts since I don't have an "inner sweatshirt" like some folks.
I got to transition and laid out my cycling vest, arm warmers, smart wool gloves, and knee warmers. I also thought if I feel cold I'll put my socks on as well. Usually I go sock less for the bike and then put them on for the run. I was relaxing and chatting with fellow athletes racked next to me. It was getting close to the start so I put on my wetsuit and made my way down to the water. We were able to swim a bit for a warmup. The water was warm compared to the air, 65 degrees. It actually felt warmer than my LA Fitness pool that has a broken heater.
It was an in water swim start. It was the pro/elite men and all the female athletes. I positioned myself in the middle about 2 swimmers back. There was lots of room as most of the athletes were waiting in the knee deep water rather than out by the buoy line. I wondered if they had anticipated a tough scrum in the first 100 yards. Hmm...I figured after the last race I'd go more with the faster swimmers and see if I could draft.
The horn sounded and we were off. I hammered hard for the first minute or so trying my best to stay with the faster pack and get a real draft. I sighted and had a few folks right in front of me so I did my best to stay with them. That didn't last too long as for some reason I was all over the place. I couldn't swim straight to save my life. I usually not too crooked but something was different. I ended up zig-zagging a bunch in the first 1/3 of the race. This cost me any draft and I was by myself. I moved right on top of the buoy line in hopes of trying to stay straight and rounded the first turn buoy.
I decided it was time to speed up as I felt like I hadn't been going so fast. I started to really push myself and as I finished probably the 2nd third of the course I saw a small group of swimmers ahead. I told myself to surge to get onto their feet for some draft. I put down some speed and reached a guys feet. I relaxed and just maintained.
He was swimming perfectly straight and I had to keep adjusting to stay with him. I was still swimming crooked for some reason. Doh! It was also hard to see his feet so I'd sight to make sure I was still in his wake. It felt easy to swim in his draft almost too easy. I thought okay lets get out of the draft and try to overtake him to get ahead to the next swimmer just ahead. I started swimming hard and was gaining no ground. DOH! Okay, back into his draft I went. I stayed with him all the rest of the way.
I hit the timing mat and some yelled 28:30. Holy crap!! That's insanely fast for me so I'm guessing the course was a bit short like Rev3 was a bit long. Based on everyone else's post race report, it was probably 1.1 miles instead of 1.2. Overall still a tiny PR. Yay drafting because I wasn't anywhere near as tired as at the end of the Rev3 swim. I felt fine like it was just a short easy swim.
I proceeded to run up the first hill of the day from the beach to transition. The swim was the only flat part of the course. I got the top of my wetsuit off easy which was great. My arms didn't get stuck. Yeah chicken arms. I hit my spot and was actually able to get off the legs easily as well. I didn't feel light-headed so that was great as well. I started to proceed with the slowest ever T1 time as I put on my vest, gloves, arm warmers, knee warmers and socks. It was just cold and the first 18 miles of the bike course is all downhill. I also practiced the plan for IMAZ by carrying my shoes out with me to the mount area and putting them on there. It worked smoothly and was fairly quick.
The MEAT aka Bike
OMG! OMG! OMG! That's the best overview of the bike course. It's the hard 55 miles I've ever ridden as far as hills. You hit the first hill at about a mile or so in and it's an 8% for a half mile. The cool thing is each major hill has a sign with it's length and gradient. The longest climb Big Savage has a sign for each mile after the wall. After the first hill, you hit some rollers. My legs weren't responding very well and I was worried that just didn't feel fresh. After a bit you start a massive descent that takes you to the base of the wall. It lasts for at least 13 miles. You could really bomb this descent if you knew the road which I didn't so I was tentative in various sections.
You get to a light in a town and turn left. Before you even get to the neighborhood in the helmet cam video above it goes up and you know it's TIME. I crossed the timing mat and immediately got butterflies. I shifted down and tried to relax. You go about 200 meters and make another left and there it is the hill with the wall in the distance. I shifted all the way down or so I thought more on that later. I remained seating and started the lower portions spinning easy. There was one larger guy in front of me about 20 to 30 yards. He was going at a nice pace so I felt that he wouldn't impede my attempt at the wall. Even on the "lower slopes" I could hear the screaming of the crowd gathered on the wall. Right before the wall starts there is a cross street so the road flattens out for that. I hit that point and stood up and started to drop the hammer to hit the wall as fast as possible.
I hit the stones that make for pavement on the wall and immediately popped my front tire off just a bit. I settled that down and just kept cranking. There were volunteers right up next to me sort of running with me. It freaked me out a bit as I was worried I might run into one of them. I guess that's what the grand tour riders feel like as they ride through the crowds on those climbs. The middle of the wall started to tired out the legs quite a bit. I just kept focused and then the last bit really was hurting. The crowd was so loud in my ears that they willed me in those last 20 or so meters when I was almost coming to a standstill. I hit it hard for the last push I had in me and made it. PHEW!!
Video of my ascent and another one.
No relaxing though as it levels to a meager 4% and the aid station is right there. I was pretty shelled and then as I bent over my top tube trying to find some air I saw my rear cassette. I wasn't in my biggest gear(25) but in the 23. I had another easier gear. No wonder if was so fricking hard. IDIOT!!
I shifted into the 25 and proceeded to start the 12% section that was right there. I was barely moving and just trying to recover. Luckily we hit a mile where the average was 1% grade. This was because a good portion of it was downhill and the rest of that mile was only 8%. Joy! The last mile is a good clip of 12% average with that last 200 meters being in the high teens. The 25 saved me getting up to the top. Big Savage done only 2 major climbs left, Savage River and Killer Miller.
Even after a bunch of descending, the Savage River climb felt harder than it should. It was on smooth pavement and only 4% but I just felt like I was a Matrix slo-mo effect barely moving. It came and went.
Another big descent where it sort of opens up to a nasty hairpin turn which flattens out for 300 meters or so before the start of Killer Miller. It starts you off at 12% for a nice 300 meter or so section. I got my hopes up as it looked like there was a turn but we were at the top. Well my perception was dead wrong. You turn and it kicks to 22% for 400 meters. The legs were so cooked that I had to give it everything I had in the 25 just to make it up without falling over. The race director and course architect was right there in the steepest section taking pictures. I wanted to SAY THANKS for the suffering but I couldn't even mumble. The only good thing about Killer Miller is it's pavement is smooth.
Overall it was the toughest climb of the day for me. I hit the top and was so relieved that I didn't even notice they were handing out Miller beer for anyone who wanted one. Hilarious.
The last 12 miles or so are a gradual downhill with small flat sections. I was just trying to recover and get the legs underneath as the half marathon loomed with some serious climbing.
I finally got to the point where the bike course merges with part of the run course and saw the overall leader just hauling ass. I didn't know the finish very well so I got onto the top of my shoes a little earlier than I should've but probably only cost me a minute or so.
The tight dismount area made it quite interesting but I managed to get off without falling down.
All I can say in summary that the bike course was just EPIC. This puts the event at the top of bucket list for triathletes. It's just so different than anything else out there.
I proceeded to remove all my cycling clothes(vest, arm warmers, knee warmers, gloves, etc.). This took some time. I got the running shoes on and grabbed my hat and fuel belt. The Honey buckets were outside transition so my pitstop was going to be added to my run split. Oh well...
I started the run which starts out on a trail for a bit. I was just sort of easing into the run trying to conserve for the heinous fire road hill that in my mind was going to be a mile long in each of the two loops. I got to the pavement section and just kept turning the legs over. The mile splits for the first miles were all under 7. Perfect and then I hit the first major climb which is into the neighboring campground. You do get a nice downhill after that so it all evens out.
I hit mile 4 and then you turn onto the fire road which looks like it just goes straight up. I was doing my best to keep some turnover but not much. I kept going but then all of sudden it was over. WOAH! It was only like a quarter mile. I came back down and was just so relieved and happy. This wasn't going to be so awful.
Throughout the run since it was two loops and lots of out and backs, I kept seeing folks from the ST gathering and wishing them well. It definitely helped break up the run.
I kept cruising and then I sort of started feeling my hamstring. Uh-oh, well that really makes it just a cruise run. Mentally, I kept telling myself to be careful on all the downhills. This is where it would bother me most and there was no way I wanted to get injured. Just not worth it. I pick up the pace on the hills and flats and just be tentative on the downs.
I made it up the campground for the last time and hit mile 8. Wow, it didn't even feel like I was out there that long. During the Rev3 half in July, mile 8 seemed to take forever and started a death march. Sure I was hammering at Rev3 but it's good to feel in better shape now.
The last fire road ascent was pretty slow as the legs felt slight cooked as it comes at mile 10. I took it real easy on the descent and then hit the 12 mile marker with no more downhills. I decided to up the pace and just see how I could finish. My last mile was 7 which was just fine and I finished.
This was best I felt at the end of a half marathon run. I was tired but not completely shelled. My run split was 1:32:45 which was 2:45 slower than what I had thought. I think if I would've pushed hard I could've hit my 1:30 goal.
Being old allows me only one A race per year so oh well. My run split allowed me to catch and pass the overall female leader so in the end I didn't get chicked. Plus my run split was faster than Dave Scott(6-time Ironman World Champion) but he is 57. ;)
Some other interesting tidbits, my swim was 42 overall, bike split was 30th and the run was 5th. That's more normal with the bike being better than the swim. Another interesting thing was they timed the Big Savage climb and I was 10th overall as compared to my 30th overall bike split. I guess being light lets me climb but kills me on the descents.
The volunteers were awesome. There were some serious remote areas on the bike but there were vocal and enthusiastic volunteers at every potential turn and intersection. If you watch the Wall videos, you'll see volunteers going up and down the wall with reckless abandon helping participants as well as screaming their lungs out. A++
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