Short on time?…here is all you need to know:
We started…we finished….we’re savages! Woo ha!!
But, if you want to “re-live the moment”, then keep reading!
With the Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon over in August, we craved some athletic challenge for September. It’s not enough to simply exercise. We needed something new to conquer. Like never before. Something unique…and challenging.
Meet the Savage Man Triathlon. The name alone is intriguing. Then, there is the fine print. A description of the “Savage Man 30” course (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run), with bike routes touting 22% grade climbs and uber steep descents, running routes touting rocky off road terrain, and the nearly 1 mile swim in brisk freshwater lake waters. All of this at 2500-3000 feet elevation just west of the Eastern Continental Divide in the belly of the Appalachian Mountains. The TriSistas had to do this. Someway, somehow….we had to be Savage Bitches.
We regularly train at sea level to 300 feet. Yup, right at the water line. We call the little bumps in terrain – hills, and feel pretty mighty mighty biking up and down these road bumps. I don’t even know what a 22% climb looks like.
Jill and Jane signed up to be Savages – as a relay team – Team Jan. Team Jan is in honor of Jill’s step-mom Jan, who recently passed away from a struggle with cancer. We couldn’t decide who would do which leg of the relay – but there was time for those details. One thing for certain, we would arrive at the race site in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland early – to view the swim course, drive the bike and the run course – and then decide who would do which leg. Or maybe we just each do multiple (or all?) legs of the event? We never really know until the last second.
On Friday, September 14, Jane drove the TriSista relay team from sea level Maryland (Silver Spring) to high elevation Maryland (Deep Creek Lake) in a Honda Fit – named Betsy-Sue. Betsy is equipped with a miniature engine – i.e. 4 little horses to power us to our destination. Along I-70 and I-68, as we near Cumberland Maryland, the highways advertise 6% grades, the use of runoffs for trucks, and add an extra slow lanes for vehicles who can’t get all of their horses to run at top speed. Betsy-Sue is in desperate need of a Hemi, and can barely make it to the top of the highway mountain climbs without encouragement. I was trying to imaging biking up a 6% grade. Anxiety is creeping in.
We reached Deep Creek Lake in plenty of time Friday afternoon to take in the beauty of early fall in western Maryland. With sprawling farmlands, log cabin homes, leaves just beginning to turn crimson red – it was easy to become mesmerized by the surroundings. After we picked up our Savage race packet, we returned to Betsy-Sue for a country drive along the designated bike route. Jill and Jane have opposite biking strengths. Downhill Jill loves the fast paced descents, and Uphill Jane seeks out a climb. As you can imagine, Jill’s eyes bugged out seeing the steep climbs, and Jane stared in disbelief at the rapid descents. During the first 8 miles, there is a steady climb to near 3000′ elevation. This is followed by the next 8 miles – where the terrain resembles a roller coaster mix of steep climbs and rapid descents. I was so awestruck with the first 16 miles, that I have no memory of the remaining miles of the bike route. Surely this could not be the bike route, and let’s just say I wasn’t comfortable driving the car on these roads.
So, like any gracious TriSista – I offered up the bike leg to Jill. “Jill, really, you can do the bike leg…” But no. Jill was having the same thoughts – and kept repeating “Sissy, seriously, why don’t you be our biker tomorrow…”. Obviously riding the bike route from the car was not getting us closer to putting the “who” on each leg of the Savage relay.
It’s time to drive the run course. At this point, I’m beginning to understand the reality of “savage”. The person who designed the bike and run routes is evil. Plain and simple. As if you won’t be in enough pain from the torture on the bike route, the run was filled with what appeared to be all uphills, and included off road terrain that was not even passable for Betsy-Sue.
“Listen, Jill – I really don’t mind if you want to do all 3 legs of this triathlon….” and Jill would respond with “Sissy, I’ll just get a coffee and watch you do the event”. There you have it. The day before our Savage relay — panic has set in and we were no closer to deciding anything about anything.
A good night sleep in our cool digs at the Inn at Deep Creek, with views over Deep Creek Lake and the swim course – should solve everything. That would have been nice. To have a good night sleep. Neither of us slept a wink…a tad concerned about the craziness that we had signed up for — the Savage Man.
Waking to 40 degree temperatures, we made progress on the relay leg decision. From making decisions on what to eat, what clothing to wear, what food to bring….how many trips will be needed to the porta-potties….to the call for the first wave of swimmers…these scary details go on for hours. At this point, I will say for the record, what goes before and during the TRI start…stays in the SistaHood. Let’s move this blog along.
With the swim leg behind us (no – there is no discussion about the swim), we hopped on our bikes and took off at a comfortable pace, hoping to pace ourselves for the “unknown”. Notice the use of “we”. It’s a new form of relay. Pronounced “we-lay”. Yes, Jill and I are both doing the Savage Man we-lay. Team Jan. #1564. Rock on.
That comfortable bike pace lasted about 30 seconds. Jill takes off at a blistering cadence during the early rolling downhills, and I had all I could do to keep pace. The course wrapped around Deep Creek Lake, and then headed out to the countryside. From there, we were climbing. During the first 8 miles we found ourselves warming up, as we inched closer to the sun. La la la…the climbs are not steep grades at this point, so we soaked up the rays, took in the scenery, and watched many many many uber fit athletes fly past us on $20,000 bikes. “Nice pace Fluffy” I would yell to Jill. And she would respond “You rock Sissy”….and life is good in the hood.
Then, we passed mile 8. The road dropped out of nowhere. Imagine a road that really should have been designed with switchbacks, but apparently the transportation folks ran out of money for pavement. So instead of gradually working your way down a cliff….you just bike straight over it. This marked the first….of one too many cliff descents.
Within seconds, Downhill Jill was gone. Low over the handlebars, she takes the descents like a pro and easily hits 40mph speeds. Not me. 30mph is my max bike speed, and I had all I could do to keep the speed down to 30mph. Oh please please please please please brakes do NOT fail me now! There was no more soaking in the scenery at this point. The base of the cliff was still not in sight….and I think this is the longest high speed bike descent east of the Mississippi. Maybe not, but that’s my story.
At last…we reached the bottom. I use the term “we” liberally. Jill reached the bottom of the cliff long before I, and allowed me to catch up on the next climb. The roller coaster continued like this for the next 8 miles. We would gradually climb back up to the sun…then free-fall back down to planet earth. Over and over. And somewhere along Accident Road (appropriately named) I caught a glimpse of a large black animal racing up the farmland. We were on a collision course….and the conversation went something like “What the ___?????” A huge steer is sprinting up the pasture toward the road. There were no fences – so farm animals run freely in western Maryland. Based on the “Cattle Crossing” signs, it seems these beasts are encouraged to roam willy nilly. With unbelievable good fortune, it was “lunch time” at the OK Corral, and this monster black animal turned just before the road, and made a beeline for the food troth. I spent the next mile shaking off visions of being trampled by cattle.
By now, we thought we had seen the worst of the bike course. But wait. We are staring at climb so steep, I could not see the top, from the base. You know you are in trouble, when you reach your granny gear at the base of the climb. I don’t know the grade of this climb, but uber fit athletes were humbled. Some walked. Some grumbled. And the rest of us simply burned up our quads and forced our lungs into overdrive. By the time we reached the top of the hill – we were back to riding high, having one more mountain notched into our belt.
But, this is no time to bask in glory. After a few more miles…and limited juice left in the quads, we are greeted with one final grinding climb. Foy Hill. Marked at a 22% grade. Spectators line the steepest part of the hill clanging their cowbells, and wearing “devil” costumes. As you reach the most difficult grade of the climb, the spectators run out and surround your bike…cheering you on and daring you to stay clipped in. There is no way we could let these folks down. With speeds dropping to 4mph….and every last bit of grit and oxygen we could muster…we made it to the summit on Foy Hill, and pedaled the final 1/3 of the bike journey back to the transition area.
We racked our bikes in the transition area, and quickly changed into running shoes. Let me clarify. I quickly changed into running shoes. Jill has some issue with the insole of her sneaker, and fiddles with it for 5 minutes trying to fit the insole (which has popped out) back into her sneaker. I’m taking mental notes. Fluffy had the same shoe issue in the last triathlon. Get the girl some glue.
We depart the transition area along a rocky pathway that keeps your footing from feeling too secure. Then, we take to a shaded mulch covered path, and gingerly land trying to avoid stepping on tree roots and spraining an ankle. If you are still upright, your next test is to see if you can descend down a wet grass covered terrain, make 180 degree turn while you have gained speed, and then climb up a muddy hill. All of this occurs in the first mile.
Back on paved roads, we make our way through a hilly campground. The vibe is terrific! Campers are out cheering us on – and it seems as if everyone owns a cowbell in western Maryland. In addition to amazing spectator support, the athlete vibe is first rate. With the elite athletes having finished long ago, we are with those athletes who are simply in it to finish. There is a unique camaraderie among the finisher crowd, as we share in the moment – both the pain and glory.
Somewhere into mile 4, it was time to leave the paved roads and lakeside views behind, and climb a rocky off road trail to the fire tower at the top of the hill. Oh my. This is the kind of trail you would encounter HIKING…not RUNNING. It humbled us to a crawl, and we tried our best to speed walk on a trail laced with rocks and crevices. After a long grueling climb….we finally reached the fire tower…and turned back around for the descent. Downhill Jill led the way on the descent, and I focused on fast light footwork to avoid falling into the crevices. We reached pavement again at the base, with 1 more mile to go.
You could sense we were closing in on the finish line. Our running pace picked up. More spectators lined the roadways. These are people we had never met before, but somehow couldn’t let our cheering fans down. We had to keep going, despite more uphills and the little voices in our heads that wanted to be done…now. As we crossed the finish line – there were high fives and body slams all around. We were Team Jan, and had done Jan proud. We had accomplished something harder than we imagined we could do – on a course that can only be defined as savage. All told, we burned nearly 5000 calories, and earned the right to be called Savage Bitches.