Savageman Half-Ironman, Deep Creek State Park, MD September 20, 2009
1.2mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1mile run
When I first started doing triathlons, I NEVER thought I’d be interested in doing any long races. The flatness of Eagleman held absolutely no appeal for me – I could think of nothing more painful than 56 miles of flat riding with no hills in which to stretch my back out, no mountaintop scenic vistas, and the distance!!! 30 miles was my longest ride, and I had no desire / reason to go farther. But along comes Savageman, and after reading Dave Wheeler’s “Ride Report” from before the inaugural race in 2007, I started thinking that if I were ever to do a half-ironman, this would be it. Going long, slow distance doesn’t really interest me, but add in the challenge of ridiculous hills, gorgeous scenery, and a thrilling, climb up Westernport, and suddenly, I’m feeling a slight amount of interest – note the word slight. Kristina Adams and I decided in 2008 that we would enter the raffle for a free entry into the race, and if we won, then we would do it; otherwise, forget about it. We laughed about being happy not to win. I’m not sure why this year, I suddenly wanted to do the race for sure. Maybe it was seeing Michele, Marcos, Adam, Geoff and others sign up for Ironman, FL. Perhaps it was wanting a new physical challenge since last year my fitness was somewhat lacking due to chemotherapy. In any case, I decided to bite the bullet and sign up!!! This was the best decision ever! Suddenly I had more focus to my training, and more reason to push! I slowly worked my way up to doing 50 mile rides. I engaged my entire family in helping me out. On one particularly memorable ride, my brother-in-law Ed rode with me on a rainy, very hilly 30mile loop from my parents’ house in Pittsburgh – we even encountered a washed out road where we had to walk our bikes. After calling my mom to say I didn’t want to do that same loop again, she got on the computer to figure out a new 25 mile loop. My sister joined me on the new loop, which was awesome – my mom picked out excellent riding roads for us! These hills were much better training even than the ones around Columbia, MD, so I was pretty tired by the time I finished the 50miles. Nevertheless, I needed to push through a 5 mile transition run. So my mom and dad got on their bikes to ride along with me in support while I ran. What an amazing family I have!!!
I really focused on biking this summer, and it really paid off. Because I was already in training for Savageman, I was in shape enough to do my first century and then 80 miles the next day as part of Pelotonia, a ride to raise money for cancer research. I’m so happy that I got to do a century this summer – that was another of my goals. I really slacked on both swimming and running. I only swam once in the 2 months prior to the race, but I knew from experience that I would only lose a minute or two. My swimming is fairly static even when I train a lot more (yeah, I know that means I need to improve my form). Running was something I just didn’t enjoy this summer. I’ve had a lot more pain from my chronic plantar fascitis, and frankly, I just get bored running more than an hour. So there were many times when I skipped runs that I had planned to do. Going into the race, I knew I was prepared on the bike, but I was really nervous about the run. I thought it had the potential to be a disaster.
The night before the race, I couldn’t sleep. It had been almost 2 years since I had raced competitively where I was trying to meet some major goals, and not “just finish”. I really enjoyed the races I did while underoing chemo, but I did them for fun and to relish the fact that I could do them! I didn’t care about my results. It took me almost a full year to completely recover athletically from chemo. I was really frustrated last winter when I was working out hard, but couldn’t seem to make any progress in my fitness. Columbia was disappointing, but shortly after that, I finally felt like I “broke through” my barrier and started improving. So Savageman was the first time I would truly put my hard work to the test. I slept for 3 hours, but woke up at 1am and could not stop my mind from racing. Every time that I would get a little drowsy, I would imagine some horrible scenario in which I got lost going to the race, forgot my shoes, or some other disaster would shoot a jolt of adrenalin through my body, and I would be wide awake again. I left no possibility unturned. I even imagined that the faces broke on both of the 2 watches I wear (1 reg, 1 heart rate monitor), and so I had no way to see how fast (or slow) I was going. Aaaarrrggghh!! I never did really fall back asleep, but I figured all that adrenalin would be good for something during the race!
I was very excited to get to the race site with my sister, who was doing the international distance. It was so awesome to hang out with the other MMTC folks – I miss you all so much!!! As always, thank you to the wonderful MMTC volunteers who helped out with the race and brought that great tent support! My parents and nieces got there in plenty of time to see me get zipped up in my wetsuit! I was also super excited to be part of the first wave. I loved not having to wait to start! It was also cool to know that I would be swimming with the pros – well, not with as I’m much slower than them, but at least in the vicinity!
Swim 1.2mile 37:34
I was pretty happy with this time considering my lack of swim training this summer. I was also super happy to emerge without any chafing. I had horrible neck chafing at Columbia this year – it was the WORST pain! I thought about trimming my wetsuit at the neck but decided instead to forgo a singlet top (which I thought might have caused the problem) and use extra body glide. This worked perfectly, and I was thrilled to exit the swim and see my family including my sister cheering me on! (Aubrie didn’t start until 9:37 so she had time to watch me). My toes got slightly numb a few times during the swim, but overall, I felt great. I loved the creativeness of having a big floating turtle and a swan-shaped boat as the turn-around points.
T1 6:47 ???????
I put bike shorts over my tri shorts. I had practiced this and thought it the best compromise between wanting padding, but not wanting soggy wet bike shorts. I had planned to put on arm warmers after the swim, but also set out leg warmers just in case I was cold. Although I didn’t feel cold after the swim, I freaked out when I saw so many women around me putting on long pants, so I put my leg warmers on, too. As I struggled to get them on, I thought to myself, if I miss out on my time goal by 2minutes or less, it’s going to be because of these damn leg warmers. This thought would unfortunately turn out to be prophetic. I also took time to go high-five my niece because it was just so awesome to have my family there cheering me on!!!
Bike 55.6 miles 4:01:39 13.8mph
I wasn’t 5 minutes into the bike when I was regretting putting on the leg warmers. I was already a little warm. There were more uphills in the first 5 miles than I remembered from my practice ride back in July. I only remembered straight downhills at the beginning, so I thought I would be freezing. I think I would have been fine even without the arm warmers, but I definitely didn’t need the leg warmers. I had trouble relaxing my heart rate over the first 10 miles – I just couldn’t get my breathing slowed down, and this was very concerning to me because I wanted to hit Westernport Wall feeling completely rested. Not to mention there is a heck of a lot more race even after the wall!!! So I was particularly grateful to hit the swoopy 4mile downhill of Spring Like Road. This was extremely pleasurable, and I passed a fair number of people here. I also got passed a lot by men who were probably in later waves than me, but I didn’t mind because I was intent on riding my own pace. It was really funny that at about 16.5 miles suddenly everyone seemed to slow down a little – everyone seemed to be conserving energy for the WALL!!! My adrenalin started pumping and my heart started racing – I was SO EXCITED to be challenging the wall. I wanted nothing more than to get that brick!!! I had tried to prepare myself for possible disappointment because I knew that there were things that I couldn’t control that might prevent me from making it up (like someone falling right in front of me). But I desperately wanted to make it up! I was totally focused on conserving energy up the first 2 blocks and trying to pace myself far enough away from the people in front of me. As I reached the bottom of the toughest section I was thrilled to hear the MMTC crowd as I pedaled as slowly as I could across the 15 feet of flat before the big climb. Maura was absolutely amazing – she was screaming at the top of her lungs running up the hill beside me with her camera as I worked my way up. I had a bad scare when a girl fell in front of me. My front wheel was pointed directly towards her, and I didn’t want to risk jolting the other way. I thought for sure my back wheel was going over hers, but I must have missed it by inches. Thank you Jesus!!! The excitement of the crowd was indescribable. I loved seeing all of the people dressed like devils darting out at each rider and shouting encouragement and shaking their pitchforks! My grin was a mile-wide when I made it to the top – I even risked high-fiving Maura! What an incredible feeling of accomplishment! I have to admit, though, that the wall was much easier than I expected. They had gotten rid of every speck of vegetation. During my practice ride, I spun out on a tuft of dead grass, and thought it would be really challenging to pick the right line to ride up the wall. I almost felt “gypped” that they made it so clean and, well, definitely not easy, but seemed a little fake almost. At the clothing drop a few hundred feet up, I pulled of the side and had to sit down to get my leg warmers off. Another frustrating waste of time. I also took the time to send the pre-programmed text I had in my phone to my family to let them know that I made it up the wall!!! (Yeah Jelly, you weren’t the only one!) I was thrilled to delete the txt saying “didn’t make it up the wall”!!!
I was mentally prepared for the next 6 miles to be an incredibly challenging uphill with no breaks. I guess I was struggling so much on my practice ride that I completely forgot that there actually were a few short flat or even downhill sections during this 6 miles. I got to the 25mile water stop much faster than I expected to. I had planned to stop and rest here and switch my water bottles, but I wasn’t as exhausted as I thought I would be. So, despite having never done a moving water bottle exchange, I just decided to do it, and it was EZ!!! I was in my aero bars going up a slight grade, and realized that I could send my 25mile pre-programmed txt really easily. I did this without thinking as I was riding (completely straight, I promise!) but when someone passed me and asked incredulously if I was txting, I realized how stupid that was even though I felt completely safe at the time. I think I even made a comment on facebook recently about how stupid people are who txt while they ride, and here I was doing it! Granted it was only 4 buttons since it was already preprogrammed, but still….I’ll blame it on the lack of oxygen from the previous 6 miles!!!! I’m sure I would have gotten a penalty had an official ridden by.
The hard climbs were really hard – Killer Miller in particular is just brutal!!! I definitely thought about how good it would feel to get off and walk, although I knew that wasn’t an option. However, throughout the ride I found myself thinking it was much easier than I had remembered! I loved that they had signs at the bottom of each big climb telling you how long it was and how steep – that was really, really helpful for me to know how long it was gonna hurt!!! As other MMTC members have mentioned, I loved the humerous signs… “They didn’t name it Wussyman!”, “How’re those aerobars treating ya?” (as I was going 4mph up the steep hill after Westernport Wall), “Warning minimum speed 15mph”, (again as I was going 4mph up Killer Miller.)
After making it up Killer Miller, I was really pleased have quite a bit left in my legs. I remember that the last 10 miles of mostly flat or rolling roads felt awful on my practice ride in July, and I was drafting at the time! I guess living in Columbus has taught me something about riding on flats when you have to pedal nonstop. I felt great the last 10 miles and managed to pass several people.
I was thrilled to see my whole family as I entered the park on my bike. My sister had rocked the entire international course despite starting well after I started the bike! I was absolutely thrilled with my bike time. I had thought that the absolute fastest I could go would be 4hrs, but more realistic would be 4:30. So, to come in at 4:05, was AWESOME!!!
I know this transition should have been faster, again, but I decided to change socks to make sure I didn’t get blisters on the run. I remember reading people IM reports saying they were glad they had changed socks. In my case, I probably wasted time because my bike socks weren’t even very damp. I shouldn’t have been so relaxed in T2, but I was so thrilled with my bike, I just took the time.
Run 2:12:37 (10:07min/mile)
As I started the run, I was doing calculations to see whether it was possible for me to break 7 hours. I don’t know why I hit upon this time – before the race I thought it completely unrealistic based on my fitness level, but maybe I had a shot! As I mentioned in the training section, I was not prepared for the run. I had done a 14 mile run 2 weeks before the race, and it was absolutely miserable. I could barely hold a 10min/mile pace, and I hadn’t even biked before it. Most of that run was flat, too. Before cancer, I could run 7:30-8 min/mile for long periods of time, so I was pretty frustrated to be so slow. I figured out that I needed to run just under 10min/mile to break 7 hrs. Well, I wasn’t sure that was possible, but I decided to go for it. I pushed the first mile – not all out by any stretch, but just to see how my legs felt. I was heartbroken to see a 9:45. I thought there was no way I could keep that pace up. But the only thing I could do was try. I had also decided that I needed regular walking breaks if I wanted any chance of making it, so I tried to walk 1min for every 9 or so, but I timed it so that all of my walks were on uphills. I didn’t want to waste any energy trying to run hills at this point. My whole goal was to try to bank a couple minutes during the first loop so that as my legs tired I could go a little slower. I loved the nice mile of downgrade around mile 3 – I banked 1:15 on just that mile! Unfortunately, I lost it going up the fire road. In retrospect I wonder if I should have tried to run part of the fire road. I remember Dave Wheeler and I running it during our practice, and it didn’t take that long. But walking took several minutes, so I was stressed at mile 5 to know I didn’t have much in the bank. Every time I passed my family, my cheery face was gone. I was NOT enjoying this run! Thank God they ran around the course so much – I think I saw them 4-5 times each loop!!! Also, there were several MMTC folks to look out for since the course had out and back and loop sections to it. But it was hard to keep my mind off being miserable. At the end of the first loop, I only had 2 extra minutes in the bank, and I was really disappointed since I felt like I had worked fairly hard. I immediately lost 1 of those minutes on mile 7 and it wasn’t even a hilly mile! Very depressing. Lost the second minute and more on mile 8. I didn’t think there was any chance of making 7 hours at this point. I tried to keep my pace up, but I was just shot. I tried to keep pushing, thinking “what if I miscalculated, maybe I’ll get a spurt of energy and make this time up.” I had lost track of my gel count so decided to just keep taking them every 2 miles – I wanted all the caffeine I could get. I had been hoping to catch up another minute on the downhill stretch again, but I just couldn’t get my legs to go – only caught 15seconds. At mile 11 I looked hopefully at my watch, but no, not enough time – I would need two 8min miles to make it in. I did try to pick up the pace and was a little successful – partly because the gels were finally helping and partly because the end was near! As I was pushing through the trail near the end and passed the 6 mile sign for the international, I realized that I had 2 minutes in which to run .2 miles – I could do this!!! I took off really hard, but 3 minutes later I came upon another 6 mile sign and realized that the one I had seen before was actually the full and this new one was the international and I still had 0.2miles to go. Oh well, that’s what oxygen deprivation will do to you!! I was very, very happy to cross the finish line! My legs were so tired and sore! I just didn’t want to move!!! In retrospect there are several places where I could have made those 2 minutes up, but that’s okay. Since the bike felt so good, I probably didn’t push hard enough, my transitions were horrible, and I probably could have been a little more mentally tough in the run, but I made it up the wall, which was my number one goal!!! And I loved the course! I did get 2nd in my AG, but there were only 4 of us! And I wouldn’t have placed if I had been in another age group within 10 years. Sometimes, you just get lucky…
I highly, highly recommend this race to everyone. But it’s definitely not a race you can do without training for it. As much as I absolutely loved this race, I don’t know if I will do it again. Training for a half-ironman just takes up so much time. So many weekends where I spent an entire day training (driving to the start of the ride, riding, taking breaks, etc). It’s a huge commitment. And given that where I live now is quite flat (Columbus, OH), it would really take a lot of extra effort to do the hill training required for this race. I’m really glad I did it once, but since I got my brick, I’ll leave it to other MMTC members (Michele, Kristina, Maura) and family members (Aubrie?, Ed?) to tackle it next year!!!