Back in September I competed in the Savageman Half, a race that’s a bit legendary in the mid-Atlantic region. How refreshing it was to do this race. In general I am very much inspired and motivated by my environment and the people around me, and the same is true when racing. Savageman features a beautiful, pristine lake swim, a race course that is as beautiful as it is challenging, an 8:30 start time, super easy logistics, and (for the pros racing this year) AMAZING homestay accommodations (many thanks to Race Director, Kyle!) It definitely reminded me why I love triathlon. For the sake of comparison, the last race I’d done in featured a 3am wakeup, stressful logistics, swimming in a river that had a sewage spill days prior, biking along a long, straight, very bumpy highway with the same exact view for 5.5 hours, and more money than I’d care to remember for a mediocre hotel room that won’t even let you bring your bike inside the building. I really had a blast racing Savageman, and coming away with the victory is always fun too.
After hearing about this race for so many years and participating last year in a relay team to fundraise for World Vision, I was really pretty excited (and a bit intimidated) for the race this year. Though I hadn’t originally worked it into my race schedule, I figured why not? It’s a race that’s on many people’s ‘bucket list’ because of it’s unique and extremely challenging course, featuring “the wall”, a very steep climb that most racers don’t make it up without falling or unclipping. The Deep Creek Lake area, where the race is held, is a beautiful area, and we have spent quite a few weekends biking, running, and swimming, in this area for the past several summers. Chris and I have also participated in the Gran Fondo of Garrett County Diabolical Double (a 125 mile ride with 16,500 feet of climbing that takes about 9 hours to finish) for the past three years in a row on many of the same roads covered by the Savageman course, which was a good preview of what was in store for the race!
We drove out to Deep Creek Lake the day before the race and got done with packet pickup within about 5 minutes, got in a quick spin on the bike, got settled in at the house, and I had my bike racked within record time. It was then time to try out the hot tub and get some dinner our favorite place to eat in Deep Creek, Mountain State Brewing Company. With a 6:15 wakeup time for race day, I didn’t have to go to bed until 10 or so and almost wasn’t sure what to do with myself as I’m used to trying to get to bed by 8 or 9 before most races (though I rarely succeed!) This was a welcome change!
After a great night’s sleep, I had a leisurely coffee and breakfast and 5 minute drive over to the race site with Chris to get set up for the day. We’d been warned that temps during the first hour of the bike can be in the 40s, and when wet and descending for up to 4 miles straight, you can get rather cold. I opted to wear toe covers (conveniently provided in the race goody bag) on my tri shoes, socks, and gloves, but decided to do without the arm warmers as I tend to heat up quickly when working out. Pretty soon they were calling the first wave of all women, all pros, and all relay teams into the water… and we were off!
The fog hovering over the lake and the direction of the sun made it nearly impossible to see where we were going for the first 400m or so. I tried to stay on feet as best I could, but about 2/3 of the way through the swim was swimming mostly by myself. However, I was feeling really pretty good in the water (didn’t hurt that this was a wetsuit swim) and focused on trying to catch and pass people ahead of me. I exited the water in 28:30 and was excited to hear that I was 5th female out of the water (3rd female, excluding relay teams). AND, as it turns out I also managed to have the FASTEST female T1 time, which is pretty amazing because (1) transitions are not my strong point and (2) I managed to run into transition, take off my wetsuit, put on socks, bike shoes, gloves, my Garmin, and a helmet and exit transition in a little over a minute (still not sure how).
The first 18 miles of the bike are rolling with a long 4 mile + descent that I definitely lost some time on as I still don’t feel comfortable descending fast on my tri bike. Thankfully the course was not crowded at all yet so at least I didn’t have to contend with other riders at that point. Pretty soon it was time to attempt to climb the wall! Again, this is a fairly short (1/4 mile or so) steep climb that culminates in a 31% grade with terrible pavement. The grade is challenging by itself, but the cracked pavement makes it that much harder to keep your stability on this hill. Most people either fall off their bikes because it’s so steep that it’s hard to unclip, or are caught by one of the volunteers stationed on the hill. If you make it up without unclipping or falling, you get a brick with your name and year on it paved into the road. Thankfully Chris was there to cheer me on (along with hundreds of other spectators that line this part of the course) and catch my wall attempt on video! Unfortunately, I made it most of the way up but when I stood to finish the final part, I started wobbling on the uneven pavement and gravel and had to unclip. However, since my main goal was to win the race, I wasn’t overly disappointed.
The next 25 miles featured a ton of climbing, of all sorts- there was a long relatively tough 7 mile climb, a very steep 1-mile climb, and everything in between. I actually purchased a compact crank for this race and let me say, I wouldn’t have been unhappy with a triple. You are literally never bored on this course between the climbs, descents, and amazing views and scenery and all the signs out on the course with such encouraging messages as “triple cranks for sale” and “how’s that aero gear working out for you?” and “Course Architect- Kyle Yost” (with phone number).
As I completed the bike, I got word that I was around 5 minutes up on the next female. This was great, since I knew I’d lost a lot of time on the descents as one of my goals for this race was to keep my bike upright (but guess the climbing made up for it, as I ended up with the fastest bike split anyway). I don’t remember much about the run, other than 1) it was painful- all up and down, little to no flats, and 2) For the first time ever in a race, I had to stop at a porto-potty (though I didn’t waste much time- as my lead biker said to me as I came out “wow, you’re even fast at that!)
It was a great feeling to cross the finish line in first and get the win – even though only two pros raced and I was the only one to finish, a win is always kind of fun.
Post-race we all had a great time truly enjoying the house (hot tub and the home’s 18-seat theatre room were used) and even got out for a group open water swim on Monday morning which was AMAZING! All in all, such a fun weekend and I couldn’t have been more blessed.