Monday, September 20, 2010

Are You Savage Enough?

 So we already know I spent the weekend in western Maryland, in and around Deep Creek Lake State Park (DCL).  What drew The Support Staff and I - along with 1,000 other athletes - to DCL is the SavageMan Triathlon (SM), the hardest triathlon on Earth.

[I should clarify that I did not race, other crazy people did that.  The Support Staff was the run course director and I volunteered my two arms and two legs to carry empty water jugs, bags of trash, and course-marking signs between bouts of training and general flogging of my legs.] 

You know when someone says "the swim is the flattest part of the race"?  About SM, it is absolutely true.

 One half-mile out of transition the bike course goes up a quarter-mile long hill that averages 9 percent grade, with a max of 16 percent grade.  Just so everyone at home knows: that's steep.  And it only gets better?  worse?  steeper!  from there.

"It's not how fast you want to go.  It's how fast you can go."

The course then descends to the Savage River, paralleling the river on Savage River Road, before starting the attack on Big Savage Mountain and then later climbs through Savage River State Forest...I hope everyone is noticing a theme here...

The attack on the 6-mile Big Savage Mountain climb starts in Westernport, at the Westernport Wall:

The Wall

I know it doesn't look like much, but it comes after a pretty unpleasant intro (you can see The Wall in the distance):
These are the people flocking to tiny rural town to spectate people climbing a hill...
The total Westernpost climb is 1.2 miles long, averages 12 percent grade, and tops out at...[drum roll please]...31 percent grade.  Let me repeat again for those following along at home: that's steep. 

Allow me to try and create a scene here: friends, family, town residents, and race organizers flock to the side of a section of road in a rural town (with a paper mill) a 3-hour drive outside DC.  The Rocky theme song plays on repeat for 90 minutes as race participants approach and attempt to ascend a section of road that is closed to car traffic and not paved using modern technology.  Spectators dress as devils and taunt/encourage/scream/cheer/chide riders in graceful - yet stricken - upward flight.  This is one case in which there may not in fact be any need for more cowbell.  Some truly enlightened (?) individual added vuvuzuelas this year.  Participants who successfully scale The Wall without touching the ground except with their two wheels are rewarded with a brick, engaged with their name, placed in among the slowly eroding bricks that make up the road's surface. 

And after that little bump in the road, the climb continues - for almost five more miles.  But don't worry, it only averages 6 percent and tops out at 21 percent. 

There are mountains out in them thar hills!?!

The hilliness continues, combining to create the toughest 30 miles in all of triathlon.  Eventually the course reaches Killer Miller, another climb complete with devils, vuvuzuelas, and a significant change in altitude caused by 1.3 miles at 8 percent (and a max of 22 percent).  I once rode up Killer Miller on a flat rear tire because I knew if I stopped to change it, there would be no starting again and walking up that grade can hurt more than biking up that grade.

There is actually one last steep hill after that, but really by that point you are kind of bored with climbing and the percentages stop meaning anything.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the descents.  I love to descend, but these...are terrifying.  You know when you approach a descent and there is a lip where it begins and you can't see anything after the lip.  Kind of like an inner-tube ride at a water park?  Yeah, those.  So personally I spend 56 miles oscillating between cramping legs and cramping hands (from squeezing my brakes for so hard for so long).   

The run course does not disappoint after that excitement.  It's crowning jewel is a climb up a fire road that the leader escort bikes sometimes don't climb because it is not a given that someone can bike up it faster than they can run/power hike up it. 

SM is a great race with a local feel that has developed a cult following in a few short years.  I just prefer to observe it from a bike with a camera or the front seat of an SUV-load of trash bags.

Are you Savage enough?

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