This year’s race was my fourth time completing the Savageman 70.0 and second time completing the Savageman 100.0. In complete honesty, this race report is something that’s two years in the making—since the emotional (and physical) pain of not getting my brick last year made it too hard for me to document last year’s race. This year was much more successful and I’m happy to share my experience with the triathlon community.
The swim course at Savageman is a beautiful course and one of the only flat parts of the entire day. Deep Creek Lake is gorgeous at this time of year and there’s good visibility in the water to go along with water temperatures in the 70s—consistently higher than the air temperature, which makes going in the water feel GREAT!
The swim course is incredibly well marked, utilizing a combination of triangular triathlon buoys and small white buoys that are used for boat traffic. Swimmers begin the swim heading due east (directly into the sun) towards an enormous floating turtle turn buoy. After turning at the turtle, swimmers turn 180 degrees and head west past the swim start and towards the famous Savageman swan boat. After turning by the swan boat, swimmers head towards the finishing chute and up and out of the water.
For those of you who read my Savageman 30.0 race report, you know that I suffered food poisoning on Friday night before that race. While the effects of the food poisoning were no longer affecting me on this swim the same way that they affected me Saturday, I did not have much of an appetite on Saturday night and only ate soup in preparation for this race. While my swim at the 70.0 was not the best swim in the world, I was happy enough with my time—and more happy that I didn’t feel my body shutting down on me. Savageman’s not about the swim anyways, so I was content to easily glide through the swim course and begin preparing for the bike.
The Savageman 70.0 is such a unique race because of the Westernport Wall. The truth is, how you feel about yourself after the race will be 90% determined by such a tiny (yet steep) section of the bike course. So this looms over your head until you get to Westernport (mile 19.5). One fun thing that happened to me during the race was that my bike computer stopped working. Luckily, I am very familiar with the course and this did not prove to be too much of an impediment. Just another race day adjustment.
After a short, yet steep climb up Toothpick out of the park, the first 19 miles of the Savageman bike course are generally flat or downhill. Enjoy it because there’s a lot of climbing ahead. I’m generally a grandma on descents, riding the brakes and ensuring that I leave the race on my own two feet and not in an ambulance. Each of my previous three years, I’ve seen an ambulance on the course for a cyclist who tried to take one of these windy descents too fast. All this is to say, be aware of your skills and if you’re not great at descending—take it easy on the descents and turns.
During this pre-Westernport section of the ride, I noticed that it sounded like my wheel was rubbing on my brakes. This was a little concerning for me because last year, I did the race with a bad wheel that was rubbing my brake when I would pedal hard. This is not super ideal because it has the effect of making you brake slightly, when you’re trying to pedal your hardest. I pulled over, checked it out and couldn’t figure out the problem. Onward!
The Westernport Wall
This year’s race would be my fourth attempt at going up the wall and trying for my brick. The first year, I just wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be and was not strong enough. I was not prepared for the way that my front wheel would come off the ground from the steepness of the hill and quickly unclipped when that happened early on in my ascent. The second year, I came back stronger. I shifted my weight to the front of my bike to keep my wheel down and went up the left side of the wall (which I later learned is the more cracked side). I made it past the steepest section before my tire got caught in a crack and I crashed into the curb and off my bike. Last year, I thought I had learned my lesson. I was to go up the right side of the wall and push like crazy. I was determined not to unclip under any circumstance. The wall would have to knock me down itself. Well, that’s exactly what it did—knocked me over and took a nice chunk of flesh out of my knee.
My previous failure to get up the wall is something that’s eaten at me since my first failed attempt. For the past three years, it’s something that I’ve thought about at some point nearly every day—whenever I do a hill workout in training, whenever I bike up the 15th St. hill on my way home from work, heck, whenever I see a brick lying on the ground, my mind is transported back to Westernport. When I’d talk about Savageman to fellow triathletes, they’d inevitably ask about the wall, and I’d have to sheepishly admit that I didn’t have my brick yet. So I took all this with me in this year’s attempt.
As I approached Westernport, I could feel the anticipation build inside of me. It’s a little bit of a weird section of the course, as you leave the beautiful tree lined roads and go past a huge odiferous factory and through a more industrialized section. Riders quickly get through this section, make a left turn and begin the climb towards the wall.
This is one of the most dramatic parts of the entire course. Riders are biking up a little hill, come around a bend by a church, and then the Westernport Wall is revealed in all its steep glory. Each of the previous three years, when I’ve made this turn, I let out an expletive as I viewed this steep ascent. This year, something different happened. I looked at the hill—looking all the way to the top then back down and up again—and said to myself, “You
know, it doesn’t really look that bad, certainly not as bad as I remember.” I don’t know what was different about this year that led me to feel that way, but I was glad that I did.
The climb is steep and continues to get steeper, but the support is incredible. Westernport is a barrage of sound from spectators on both sides of you—mixed with Gonna Fly Now, the theme song from Rocky, blasting from the speakers. There are three cross streets that give you a slight flat section and a reprieve from the hill, so I like to break the climb into quarters. I was steadily moving up the hill. As I was about ¾ of the way up the hill, I noticed that there was only one rider in front of me on the wall and after that it was completely clear. This was the time to make my push.
My ascent of the wall—the section of the climb that is too steep for cars—happened in slow motion. As I began this push, I could feel myself begin to smile/laugh. This was my opportunity to end YEARS of frustration and get my brick. I passed that one rider at the beginning of the wall, looked up, and had a completely clear shot. I was transported back to Brandywine St. (where I do my hill repeats) where I would hammer as hard and as fast as I could in preparation for conquering Westernport.
The plan was going perfectly, I felt strong and fast—stronger and faster than I’ve ever felt on the Wall. And then it happened—I felt my front wheel begin to pop off the ground. In an instant of slight panic, I used my arms to push the wheel down while continuing to pedal hard with my legs. The wheel landed back on the ground perpendicular to where I wanted to go. In another adrenaline filled instant, I quickly straightened the wheels with my arm while giving a great big push with my legs. My bike stabilized, I got over the steepest part and was in the homestretch—I knew I was going to do it.
Four years of frustration was being lifted off my shoulders, while my body pumped with the adrenaline necessary to make the climb. Without thinking, I began screaming (shrieking?), “YES! YES! YES!” in a moment of sheer joy that was a combination of LeBron jumping on the sidelines after Game 5 of the NBA Finals and Kevin Garnett’s famous post-game interview after winning his first NBA title—only if it all happened on a bike. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.
In all my training for this race, I had envisioned what it would look like going up the wall and what it would look like to finish the race after finally getting my brick, but I hadn’t prepared for the emotion I would feel. In the previous years, I was so upset about not getting up the wall. In some ways, this was easier because there’s a clothing drop after the wall—an opportunity to compose yourself and use that anger as fuel for the rest of the climb, since the Westernport Wall is just the beginning of the 7.2 mile climb up Big Savage Mountain. This year however, I was so filled with joy, I felt like I was about to break down. At the clothing drop, I composed myself and began to use those endorphins—rather than rage—to power my way through the rest of the course. Now, it would be even MORE critical to finish the bike course unscathed—since you don’t earn your brick unless you complete the race. Looks like I’ll be going even a little bit slower on some of these steep descents.
The course continues with a nice steady climb up Big Savage Mountain, before descending into New Germany State Park. New Germany State Park is a pretty, steadily uphill section of the course (what else is new?). Once you’re out of the park, there’s a nice climb up and over the Eastern Continental Divide before you descend again before summiting Killer Miller.
Killer Miller is exactly what it sounds like, a killer. It’s 1.3 miles with an average grade of 8% and a max grade of 22%, right around mile 40. My first year going up Miller, some damn cow outwalked me up the hill (while mooing at me!) as I pedaled alongside her. Since then, my goal has always been to never let some bovine beat me on this climb. Killer Miller is a steep, steady climb with great support from fans (like a Westernport 2, if you will). The top of the hill reveals stunning views of the whole region and is worth the suffering to get up it.
Once you’re over Miller, most of the savagery of the bike course is over—with just one more climb left. At this point, I tried to fuel the best I could and began transitioning my mind to the run.
The run course for the 70.0 is very similar to the 30.0 run course, except there’s an added extension through the campground and you do the whole loop twice. Unlike in previous years, I got off the bike with some strength in my legs this year and felt like I would be able to put up a pretty good run time. It looks like I had underestimated the lingering effects of my food poisoning. While I began out strong, the effects of the plethora of hills on my undernourished body began taking its toll. The first lap of the run felt steady and strong. On the second lap however, I began to get dizzy. Right around mile 10 of the run, I could feel myself swerving all over the road. In my head, I had a mini panic—what if I passed out and didn’t get my brick?! It may difficult for those of you who know me to imagine this, but I was pretty determined not to let this happen. I broke the race down into tiny sections and just focused on completing that section. At that point in the race, all that was left was a downhill, an uphill (up the fire tower trail), a downhill (down the fire tower trail), an uphill, and a downhill to the finish. With the race now broken into smaller pieces, I was able to mentally push through how terrible my body was feeling and finish on my own two feet without doing any walking.
Overall, I couldn’t have been happier with how the race went for me. I got my brick (finally!) and actually wound up winning the Clydesdale division. Every year, I’m so impressed with the organization around this race, the support of the volunteers and members of the community, and the savagery of this course. I would consider this a must-do for any area triathlete!
Interested in training to get your brick next year? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a personalized training plan.
 This was particularly important because this year, I’m getting married less than two weeks after race day. My fiancée is always pretty strong about warning me not to get hurt, but this year it was at a new level.
 I’m not sure what they make, but the factory REEKED of sulfur—not exactly what you want to smell when you’re still feeling a little nauseous from food poisoning…
 There’s so much luck involved in getting up the wall. This year, I was lucky because I was able to keep my balance and had a clean shot at summiting the wall without any riders around me. But it’s also luck in the Thomas Jefferson sense, who famously once said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” I was lucky, but I had also put my work in with a year’s worth of hill repeats.
 There’s nothing wrong with walking per se (I had to use walking in my first Ironman and the first time I did Savageman). It’s just that after getting a brick, I felt like it would completely dilute the accomplishment if I had to walk on the run at all.
 I actually didn’t even think that this was even a consideration until I went to check out the results before collecting my bike and saw I was in 1st place. Ironically, the guy in 2nd place was also from DC and named Mike as well.