My first Triathlon
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SavageMan Triathlon 70.0 - Triathlon1/2 Ironman
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65F / 18C
= 6h 04m 56s
Age Group Rank
I have never smiled so much in a triathlon as I did at Savageman today. Heck, since I've never done a race that lasts so damn long, I'm pretty confident I've never smiled so much in any kind of race. What a great time. And to think that I very nearly chose to DNS. What a fantastic event. I have a bucket list of races that I'd like to do just once in my life. And another list of races that I like to do every year. Savageman is in danger of moving from List A to List B.
Another thing that was a bit odd about the race was how comfortable it felt for almost all the way. I know that it's supposed to be the toughest HIM out there, and I can quite see that it earns that position, but the suffering that I was bracing myself and pacing myself for never really came, and so I spent much of the race feeling unexpectedly fresh. Which probably helped the enjoyment.
At the end of my first tri season last year I decided that 2012 would be the year to pit myself against Kyle Yost's twisted sense of humor, and made two of my main events for the year the Diabolical Double at the Garrett County Gran Fondo and Savageman 70.0. Both events are held in the beautiful mountain country of the far western tip of Maryland, and both involve a whole lot of steep climbing. In June the Diabolical Double's 125 miles and 16,500' of climbing had me practically crying for my mommy. So I approached Savageman with no small amount of respect. And since my preparation was not really as thorough as I had wanted, I was sorely tempted to skip the race. Due to work hectic and 6 weeks on the road, my summer swim and bike preparation left something to be desired. In the past 8 weeks I've ridden only 9 times
), and been to the pool just a half dozen times. I managed some key workouts, but this really wasn't enough. Meanwhile, Marine Corps Marathon had taken over as my 'A' race for the fall, so I had done a whole lot of running, and felt a lot more prepared for that part. In the end, what convinced me to do the race was the fact that I had already ordered a Savageman bike jersey when I signed up for the race in January, and it had been sitting un-worn in my drawer for months. I couldn't bear to have it stare mockingly at me for another year or more before I earned the right to wear it.
I drove up to Deep Creek Lake on Saturday afternoon. The original plan was to make it a family trip, so we had booked a campsite at the park where the race starts and ends. But schedule conflicts meant that I ended up going alone. Inspired by BTer Asalzwed's tried-and-tested pre-race diet, I went out and ate more spicy pizza than I should
(... had to skip the beer, though; couldn't have slept well after that
). I couldn't be bothered to set up the tent and then take it down in the dark before the race, so instead I just slept on the floor of our minivan, which turned out to be a more cosy camp than I had expected, and I got my best night's sleep in a while. Up at 5:30am for snacks and a feeble approximation to a pre-race coffee. Since breaking down my 'camp' took all of 2 minutes, I was able to snag a good parking spot close to transition and get set up. The atmosphere was somewhat different before this race than other tris that I've done. Nobody expects to PR in Savageman, and most are happy to just make it around, so folks were more relaxed and chatty than normal. Other differences were that most people looked fairly experienced and skinny, and there was a distinct paucity of women - too bad, as the event has much to suit/please both genders.
My own goals for the race were, in order:
#1 Make it around in one piece, preferably without my soul being crushed
#2 Earn a brick for a straight up ascent of Westernport Wall
#3 Put in a respectable run split, as a gauge of my marathon training
01m 46s / 100 yards
I expected to write in this spot that I got the swim time that I deserved, given my poor technique and lack of training. But I think I did better than I deserved to, setting a HIM swim PR by about a minute. And the course didn't seem short, based on overall times. The lake was beautiful before the start - the sun was up, but there was a layer of mist rising from the warm water. It was 20 degrees warmer in the water than on the shore, so it felt good to get in the water. The visibility in the water was better than any other race I've done, so that made navigation easier. My mantra for the swim was borrowed from Fred D's IMMT race report - try to make it "effortless". Well, I tried, but with my level of swim fitness that was more of an aspirational goal, rather than a reality. But it did help me to avoid fighting the water, and may have helped me to get more speed from less effort. The Savageman swim course is a simple out-and-back not too far from the lakeshore, very well marked, and with a huge inflatable turtle as the first turnaround marker, and a big swan boat as the second. I stopped at the swan to tell the volunteer in the boat how happy I was to finally reach him, before setting off for the final stretch. It all went by faster than I expected, and I was surprised to see 37:xx on my watch as I exited the water, and I wasn't too gassed. Good start to the race! My time put me towards the back of the AG, but I was neither surprised nor bothered.
What would you do differently?:
Nothing, I was happy.
Like many others, I was in no great hurry in T1. I wanted to make sure that I got everything just right for what was likely to be a long time on the bike, including a rather chilly first hour. I was happy to see that there were still a number of bikes in the transition area for my AG, and there was an unusual amount of banter as guys were getting ready to head out. As usual, my T1 split vies with my swim for my lowest leg placing in the race.
What would you do differently?:
Could have saved a minute or two here, but I didn't really care.
3h 43m 22s
This is what gets all the attention in Savageman, and justifiably so. The bike course is not only beautiful, it's also brutal, with around 6,000 feet of climbing, most of it in the middle 30 miles, and much of it rather steep. In the Diabolical Double in June, which covered many similar roads, I had fared well early on, but had really suffered later, so I figured that it would be important to pace myself cautiously on the bike leg. In retrospect, the Double turned out to be ideal preparation, as the Savageman course seemed relatively benign by comparison. Since my main goal was to earn a brick for the ascent of 31% Westernport Wall rather than get a strong overall time, my bike plan was all built around that. I left all of my aero doodads at home, including the TT bike. I was going to be more comfortable riding my roadie, which has a 'relaxed' geometry and so is not very aero at all. No aero helmet, no race wheels. But I did have a 34x27 lowest gear, and I figured that would come in handy. I saw lots of guys in full aero regalia looking a little funny out there as they climbed up hills at 5mph
(of course, they smoked me on the descents
I took the first hour quite easy. Apart from a cheeky climb in the first mile that reaches 16% the first 18 miles to Westernport were mostly downhill. I was unhurried, and lost a few places on the descents, as would continue to be the case all day.
(Nobody ever passed me going uphill.
) It was chilly on the descents, so I was glad of the additional baselayer that I brought along, which I'd be able to drop off once the climbing started
(another nice touch by the race organizers
). As we approached Westernport I paid attention to keeping myself away from other riders, slowing down deliberately to create a big gap in front. One of the leading causes of failure to make it up the Wall is collisions with other riders.
Entering Westernport, my fear and apprehension were gone. I felt ready. Perhaps the semi-taper that I had done this week was starting to have an effect. I felt confident of my climbing, and yelled "party time!" as I crossed the timing mats at the bottom of the climb. But when I rounded the corner to start the ascent, I was dismayed. Instead of clear road ahead there were lots of riders on the few steep blocks leading up to the Wall itself. Many of them were zig-zagging up the earlier blocks, presumably in an effort to save their legs for the final push. Perhaps my careful course positioning was going to come to nothing. I felt good as I headed straight up the 'warm-up' blocks, and managed to avoid hitting one of the zig-zaggers just before the Wall. The Wall itself is all over rather quickly, and so my memory of it is murky. I simply attacked at full throttle from the start, and quickly made it up much of the way. I followed a line that I had studied in YouTube videos, but one of the many 'spotters' was yelling at me to go further right. I was a little worried when I hit a gash in the road that made me wobble a little, but I never really felt in danger of not making it. And the combined adrenalin and screaming crowds meant that it didn't really feel like hard work. I think I shouted "yeah!" when I was only halfway up, and I was high-fiving spectators at the top. Goal #2: check.
Everybody says, and with good reason, that it's the climbing that comes after Westernport that's the real challenge at Savageman. The Wall is at the start of a ~2000' climb over the course of 7 miles, and then the following 20 miles are all up and down. But I have to admit that it never got as hard as I feared. Perhaps because my light-ish runner's body climbs well enough to get up most of the hills without redlining, the course was less demoralizing than it was for folks who spent more of the ride at their limit. Killer Miller at around mile 40 is the most feared climb of all, again with good reason. it peaks at 22%, and the steep climbing is more sustained than at Westernport. That was hard work, for sure, but I felt confident about surviving it, as I had survived it ok in the Diabolical Double. Oh, and in the descent towards that climb I even passed somebody on a downhill, a very rare occurrence indeed. There's a sign on one of the climbs that says "They didn't call it WussyMan", but on the downhills that describes me rather well.
Most of the last 15 miles are relatively tame. This made it easier, though it also meant that I wasn't going to make up many more places, as I'm not so great on flats or downhills, especially on my roadie. And a sore back, due to lack of outdoor riding lately, made it harder to push. I finished with a 3:43 split, ave 15.0 mph. A paltry pace for a regular tri ride, but fairly close to what I was hoping for this one. The legs felt ready to run, though I was nervous about how my stomach would fare, as it was starting to complain a little.
What would you do differently?:
Nothing. I rode within myself and earned a brick. That was the plan. I had a good time on the bike, more than I expected. I enjoyed the beauty of the setting, talked to riders along the way, thanked all the volunteers, and laughed at the countless taunting signs that had been placed around the course. I'm sure I could have gone faster by taking some sections more seriously, or by descending more boldly, or by paying attention to my equipment or position ... but that was not what I was there for.
No hurry again. And I even made it into the upper half in T2 times. I was pleasantly surprised to see that most bike racks in my AG were still empty. So I guess I had made up a few places on the bike.
1h 35m 37s
07m 18s min/mile
This was the part where I wanted to do better. While I've been slacking on the swim and bike, I've been running as much as I've ever done in my life, recently getting up to 70-mile weeks with 20-mile long runs. As long as I wasn't too worn down from the bike and swim, 13 miles shouldn't be too much of a struggle. I felt good as i started the run, but I was also apprehensive, as in my only previous HIM I had also felt good at the start of the run, but had crumbled in the second half. Also, I had taken a run around most of the course the previous night, and that had given me heightened respect for the route. The bike route gets all the attention, but the run also has its fair share of climbing. Each of the 2 laps has 3 significant climbs, which make it impossible to get into a rhythm for any length of time. The worst climb, Fire Tower Rd, scales a steep and rocky path for about a third of a mile. Hard to run up it, and also not so easy to run down it. I decided to run controlled for the first lap, and then to pick it up on the second lap if I was feeling ok. The route was almost entirely shaded, and the temperature ideal, so that helped.
The run went really well. The climbs wore me down, but I was able to recover quickly each time. I was picking people off all the way, and decided to count them as I went. About a mile from the end I stopped counting when I reached 120, about a third of the field. Having people to chase down all the time was very useful.
(I guess many of those were on different laps, as my overall place climbed from 152nd at the end of the bike to 81st after the run.
) I felt great at the start of the second lap, and the feared meltdown never came. I was suffering on the Fire Tower Rd on the second lap, but by the last 2k into the finish I was feeling full of running, and my final mile was easily my fastest, at around 6:40. Running down the final chute by the lake shore was great -- I felt happy to be there, rather than desperate to be done.
Quite satisfied with my time. 1:35:37 was 8th overall, bested only by pros and elites, so it was fastest among all age-groupers. Goal #3: check. I thought I might be able to use the run as a gauge of how marathon training is going, but on a tough course like that it's hard to compare times. Still, no worries - that was better than I expected, and because I spent the whole race expecting a collapse that never came, I felt oddly fresh at the end. Not at all what I had been fearing.
What would you do differently?:
Nothing. I had a good time.
Jogged around a bit
(... to reduce risk of cramping in the car on the drive home
). Gathered up stuff -- had a nice chat in transition with some guys who I had seen earlier in the day. Enjoyed the free pulled pork sandwich and ice cream at the finish festival, and headed out. Still smiling far more than I'm used to, and thanking all the volunteers who I saw. I passed various cars with tri bikes on the back on the drive back to DC, and waved to every one of them. Goal #1: check.
What limited your ability to perform faster:
Swim: some training might help.
Bike: flats and downhills. And my back muscles. Trainer riding serves me quite well in most respects, but a hilly ride like this requires more outdoor practice, particularly for core strength.
Run: Not much. Stopping to pee on the first lap cost a bit of time. And still not being good at taking drinks on the run. I must practice that more. I tried to take some water while running on lap 1, but got as much up my nose as I did in my mouth, so for the rest of the run I just stopped to take a couple of quick gulps of water at each aid station.
Savageman is famous for the Westernport Wall and the bricks, and that really is a memorable part of the event, but I'm not alone in saying that it's a pity that this overshadows the rest of what is a fabulous event. The setting is beautiful -- Deep Creek Lake in early fall is just stunning -- and the race organization is incredible. There are races that are well organized and efficient, put on by well-oiled companies. But Savageman shows at every turn the care and creativity of Kyle Yost and his team. This helps to create an amazing vibe, which only adds to the enjoyment. I don't expect this to ever become a big event
(the course couldn't handle it; and it's not a route for everybody
), but it richly deserves its iconic status. I don't know whether I will be back next year, as it comes at a tricky time of year for me, but I will definitely be back some time.
Last updated: 2012-01-22 12:00 AM
00:37:25 | 2112 yards | 01m 46s / 100yards
Out and back along lake shore. Well marked, with clear water.
72F / 22C
Run with bike:
Jump on bike:
Getting up to speed:
03:43:22 | 55.7 miles | 14.96 mile/hr
Around 6000' of climbing, mostly in the middle 30 miles. It's an intense bike course. Westernport Wall at mile 18 is the most famous climb, but Killer Miller, at mile 40, is the toughest.
Riding w/ feet on shoes
Jumping off bike
Running with bike
Shoe and helmet removal
01:35:37 | 13.1 miles | 07m 18s min/mile
Hilly. 3 significant climbs on each of the 2 laps, one on a steep and rocky trail.
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]
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