RR: Savageman 2010

This is the race report from my Savagemen Half Iron-distance triathlon 2010 event. It’s a great, but humbling, experience.


Race: Savageman Half Ironman


I had started serious biking again about six weeks ago after an eight week layoff from my bike crash at the Air Force Classic. On top of that my shoulder was still stiff so I haven’t been swimming much. I had been running a good bit so I felt my cardio was okay, I just hadn’t been motivated to do any runs over 60 minutes.

On top of that I had put on about five pounds from my training weight which means a lot when I’m going hard for longer than three hours.

Thus my overall condition was very suspect. Jay kept saying You’ll do fine, and normally I would agree. But this event looked unusually, well, Savage.

So, I had two clear goals: make it up the Westernport Wall and finish the race. The Wall is a very steep unmaintained side road in the town of Westernport. Part of the town is in Maryland and part is in West Virginia so I’m not sure what state it is official part of. Anyways the Westernport Wall is 31% grade, narrow and, riddled with broken concrete and exposed cobble stones.

After those two goals I guess I would rank not suffer up there pretty highly as an objective. I looked at Jay’s times from last year, ~6:45, and thought I could do it in ~7:15. But time was not an objective. If I finished in 9:00, well, I had the car keys. I decided not to wear a watch.

I planned to take in a more than usual amount of carbs via shot blocks and supplemental gels I picked up at the aid stations.


I’ve come to learn on the distance tri’s that the Swim is inevitably my favorite part. Why? I don’t know, it just seems to work out that way. With that knowledge, I entered the water confidently and moved just behind Jay.

The horn goes off and I start off cleanly. I get bumped a couple times but nothing big and settle into a smooth glide. Kathleen, Jay’s friend who gave us swim lessons, told me You swim like you’re fighting the water, slow down your stroke cadence and glide more. Gliding is even more important in a wetsuit, so I just stroke and glide, stroke and glide. The course is an out-and-back with the in-water start near the far-end. The turn-arounds are anchored with a Turtle turn-bouy at one end and a Swan/large inner-tube at the other. It seems like a long time until the first turn-around at the Turtle but I get there pretty fast. I feel good and get into a pleasant groove. The water is a perfect temperature, the sun is just coming up and all systems are a go-go. I hit the final turn and head to the Swim exit, swim until my hand hits the sand, stand-up and run out. Damn, now onto the freakin’ bike was all I thought.


T1 always sucks for me. I can never seem to get out of my wetsuit quickly and then I futzy around with getting all my biking stuff together.

This event was no exception; as I try to strip out of my wetsuit my wrists get bunched up in the sleeves and then my ankles. I don’t think I sprayed enough Pam on me to get out of the suit cleanly. Evenutally I get out, get my bike stuff on and start waddling to the bike start.


I get to the Bike start line, hop on and start pedalling. Dave P. sent an email about some bike gotcha’s and one was to start in a low gear because a couple hills out of the park. That I did and made it out of the park, warming up on Toothpick Rd., a short steep climb to the park exit.

Beautiful day and I settle into an easy pace. A lot of people pass me but I don’t care. I want to be as fresh as possible for the Wall. The ride to it is mostly downhill and, in places, very steeply downhill. I see a wreck as someone took a corner too fast. Ron passes me quickly and we exchange Hi, how are ya’s.

I eat four shot blocks by the time I enter Westernport and drink about 3/4 of my water. I will save the rest of the water for post-Wall until the aid station in about five miles.

Pretty soon I turn on to the road that leads to the Wall. I feel good as I come across the timing mat that indicates the start of the timed climb up Big Savage Mt., the first part of it staring right in front of me: three small rises, sectioned laterally by roads and then the Westernport Wall. Surrounding the Wall is a large number of people shouting and ringing cowbells, along with three or four people dressed like red devils jumping up and down in the middle of the Wall giving (I guess) inspiration.

I paper-boy up the rises to the Wall trying to distance myself from the riders in front of me. All say it is not the Wall that is the big danger to falling over; it’s the people in front of you that are.

I get up the final rise with two people in front of me. One guy turns left, which is a drop-out if you don’t want to do the Wall; one guy shoots up it with strength. And then I go up it. The cowbells and yelling are really loud but fade as the adreline hits me. One of the devils runs up to me and starts screaming You can make it. People are leaning out screaming encouragement. Before I realize it I’m about thirty feet from the top and know I’m going to make it. Then, somehow, I realize I have drifted left on to a bare cobblestone part of the climb and have an Oh, f*ck moment as I try to scramble back to better pavement. My rear wheel spins on a cobble stone; someone comes up on the left; I keep pedalling and look up and see black pavement in front, which is where someone took the following picture.

And then I pass through the barrier that marks the Wall exit and hear the bells and yelling start to fade.

On the post-Wall rise, several riders are just standing around trying to recover. I pass them and just keep going. It is very quiet.

The rest of the ride is not severe, just grinding out the hills and trying to maximize my downhill speed without crashing.

On the descent from Big Savage Mt., I am about 100meters behind a guy following his line when he takes a corner too fast and crashes into the hill side. There’s a photographer at the turn who comes running over to him so I slow down and just keep going.

We had driven the bike course the day before but I had forgotten how many short, steep climbs there are. Somehow I had total forgotten about Otto Rd. and Maynard something-or-other which are both substantially difficult climbs.

The most severe climb after Westernport is Killer Miller but I’m mentally prepared for it so I just gear down and go up it. After that come a bunch of rollers that, unexpectedly, are difficult for me to get up and down.

And then there is an open flat for a couple miles followed by a descent back into the park and the ride is blessedly done.

T2 and Run

I come into T2, strip my biking stuff off, put on shoes and go. I hear the announcer say someone is finishing but I don’t know what place. I have a solid 2 hours, probably closer to 2.5 hours left to do.

I feel good starting out, legs are not too weary from the Bike stage. But then I start to cramp in my torso. I know that is a result of my core body not being conditioned for such a hilly ride and think I get what I pay for or I pay for what I trained for or something like that.

I run/walk almost the whole stage doing what I feel like at the moment. There are two big climbs at each end of the Run and I walk those. I pass Jay going in the opposite direction a couple times, he’s way in front of me and we exchange greetings. I wonder where the other guys are?

For run nutrition, I decided to convert from shot blocks to just coke and this seems to work for me. According to a local trainer, coke has everything he needs: water, sugar, salt and caffiene. I feel pretty good on it.

Eventually, I walk up the fireroad for the last time, grab a coke at the top, and head back down. At the end of the fireroad I start running. I see the 12 mile sign and think 1.1 miles to go. A woman passes me and I pick up my pace to match hers. We start to talk a little and realized with both had done IM Saint George in May. She pulls me into the end chute and…. I’m done!

Savageman 2010 finish

Post Race

The first one to see me is Dave Phillips, who must have been waiting around for quite a while. He comes over and congratulates me. I asked how he did and where the others are. He said he did well and everyone is sitting up by the ice cream area. I get some ice cream and sit with them. Ron and Erik had been going back-and-forth on the bike and run for quite a while. Jay was worried about his feet, which were pretty torn up from running barefoot on the fire road.

After a while, Erik and I went for a quick dunk in the lake. That felt really good. The cold water soothed my aches.

Overall I was very happy with my race. It went better than I expected. Primarily, I think, because I had a nutrition plan that took in a lot of carbs and stuck to it. I’ll do that more in the future.

I doubt I’ll do this race again. Knowing what I know now, it was just too grueling. But I’ve said that before and memory fades…

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