ARE YOU SAVAGE ENOUGH? – SAVAGEMAN COURSE REVIEW

Are you savage enough to race the toughest triathlon in the world?  According to Triathlete magazine, Savageman 70.0 is the toughest course out there.  With a 56 mile bike ride that climbs over 7,000 feet and a maximum grade of 31%, this course is not for the feint of heart.  This past weekend, Harford Multisports Ricky Brown and myself ventured out to Garret County in western Maryland to tackle this beast of a course and to find out how truly savage we are.

You know it’s going to be a rough course when you’re intimidated just driving to the course.  Mountain peaks left and right, “Trucks Use Low Gear” signs and run away truck ramps line Route 70 and 68 leading into town.  Before you even sign up for the race you hear the stories and watch the footage of the Westernport Wall (video is embedded at the bottom).  My legs were burning before I even mounted my bike.

The Bike

elevation

The bike course is 55.7 miles that takes you through the mountains of western Maryland.  According to Garmin, the course climbs over 7,000 feet and consists of two Cat4 climbs, one Cat3 climb, two Cat2 climbs, at Cat1 climb, and two HC climbs (which essentially translates to, “well shit, this hill is so steep we can’t even categorize it).  After a rough 1.2 mile swim in Deep Creek lake, you are immediately introduced to your first of many climbs throughout the day at the half mile mark – Toothpick.  Not too intimidating and “only” and Cat 4 climb, this hill (0.25 miles, 16% max grade, 9% average grade) will instantly spike your heart rate and use all your gears.  You can definitely muscle up this incline, but don’t.  You’ll ruin your race before the first mile of the bike.

After Toothpick, the next 18 miles are anything but savage.  I picture the race director creating this part of the course with a sinister expression on his face, as if to say, “I’ll lure them in with a beautiful 18 mile downhill descent.”  Enjoy the scenery and most importantly, take this time to get hydrated and get some nutrition in.  The last 40 miles of this course will be brutal.  Note that there are points of this descent that can be a bit technical.  There are a few switchbacks and sharp turns.  I would stay out of the aerobars if you’re on a TT bike, but I was able to stay in my drops and get some speed using a road bike.  Also, with the race being in September, it may get a bit chilly.  We were lucky with 75 degree and sunny weather.

whitewater kayak

Our bikes got lonely when we went for a run.

Our bikes got lonely when we went for a run.

After this long descent, you’ll eventually hit Maryland Highway/135.  You’ll notice the scenery gets a bit glum and the road begins to flatten.  Prepare yourself.  This is the point where heroes are made and you find out if you truly are savage.  This is the point you see on video.  This is the point…where you enter Westernport.

The Westernport Wall is the name of a road that is so steep and so cracked it is closed to traffic.  At just mile 18 into the bike ride, you face your first HC Climb (1.2 miles, 31% max grade, 12% average grade).  The bottom of the climb starts off pretty mellow, but quickly the hill gets steeper and steeper.  As you push further up the wall, you’ll notice an unpaved, cracked, root-infested portion of concrete.  This is the steepest point of the hill (and the entire course).  Grit your teeth and man up.  Tell your legs to shut up as your quads begin to burn and your lungs begin to collapse.  If you’re savage enough and make it up the hill without touching your foot down, you’ve conquered the Westernport Wall and to recognize your savagery, you will receive an engraved brick in the wall.  (Note: try staying to the right of the course where the road is in a bit “better” condition.  I was closer to the center and caught my wheel in a crack and busted my ass).  On race day, the wall will be lined with spectators, music, and it will definitely help you push to get up that wall.

Wah!  I didn't make it up the wall :(  No brick of me.

Wah! I didn’t make it up the wall :( No brick of me.

Congratulations!  You made it (or at least walked) up the wall.  For all your hard work, you are rewarded with more climbing.  At the top of the Westernport Wall, there is no downhill.  There is not flat.  It’s another hill called “Big Savage Mountain” (2.4 miles long, 21% max grade, 6% average grade).  Big Savage Mountain, in my opinion, is going to be much more difficult than the Wall.  Yes, the Wall is steeper, but Big Savage Mountain is more than a mile longer.  Also, your legs and lungs are still beat from the climb up the wall.  At this point in the ride, I got into my smallest gear (Yes, I had a triple crank for this ride – 30/25 gearing) and just rode back and forth across the road.  While it does take longer, it allowed my HR to settle down and gave my legs a chance to rest.  I still felt like shit.  Be sure to enjoy the scenery.  As you look out over Big Savage Mountain, you will see farms, windmills, rivers, and lakes.  It’s absolutely beautiful.  As beautiful as it was, I’m pretty sure I wanted to quite at this point during the ride.  A plethora of expletives, enough F-bombs to fill a swear jar, and a “Ricky, I swear I’m going to die out here” preceded my mental breakdown.  After several minutes, a handful of Endurolytes, and the realization that I’m 22 miles away from my car anyways, I clipped back in and pushed on to finish Big Savage Mountain.

Beautiful backdrop at the top of Big Savage Mountain.

Beautiful backdrop at the top of Big Savage Mountain.

This beast right here made it up the Wall and Savage Mountain without stopping.

This beast right here made it up the Wall and Savage Mountain without stopping.

As you crest Big Savage Mountain, you will begin a well deserved 5-mile descent.  Like the previous descent, this downhill portion is technical with lots of switch-backs, quick turns, and blind areas.  If you have good bike handling skills, though, it can be a lot of fun.  It’ll also give your legs and lungs a chance to recover.  Enjoy this downhill, as it’s the last major downhill portion of the course.  At the bottom of the hill, you immediately begin your next big climb.  On the course map, they are two separate climbs, but I consider them together as one.  Elk Lick (2.8 miles, 7% max grade, 4% average grade) and McAndrews Hill (0.6 miles, 19% max grade, 9% average grade).  Elk lick is nothing more than just a standard climb.  What makes it difficult is it’s pretty long and you never see the top until you’re there.  After you finish this “warm up”, you make a left onto McAndrews road where you face a series of switch back climbs.  You know it’s steep when they use switchbacks.  Muscle up this 3 mile portion of road and you get a short descent.  If you haven’t been staying hydrated, take this time to rehydrate and eat. Two of the toughest climbs (at least for me) are ahead: Otto and Killer Miller.

After a quick descent, you make a right onto Otto Road.  This climb was a killer for me.  A Cat2 climb that’s only 0.6 miles long and a 17% max grade, my legs were beat.  Just pushing through in my lowest gear was rough.  If you pushed too hard at any previous climbs, it’s going to start showing.  After Otto, you have a short descent that makes a very quick hairpin turn.  Be sure to watch for signs.  I missed this turn during the ride.  Also, if you miss the turn and go straight, you’ll have to climb back up a hill to get back on course.

Gotta stay hydrated!  I brought 1 bottle of water.  Whoops.

Gotta stay hydrated! I brought 1 bottle of water. Whoops.

Killer Miller.  The name says it all.  After 38 miles of climbing, you’re face with your second CatHC climb.  1.3 miles long with a max grade of 22%.  I personally thought this climb was WORSE than the Westernport Wall.  The road starts off as a switchback and then climbs and climbs and climbs.  There’s good scenery around, but you most likely won’t notice it since you’ll either be gasping for breath, looking down at the road to avoid looking at the never ending hill, or you could be taking it all in as you walk your bike up the hill.  As I did with Big Savage Mountain, I pushed up the hill, expelled several more F-bombs, and laid in the middle of the road until my legs got back to me.  (Ricky seriously killed all these climbs like a true savage champ.  In fact, he was so good he was able to get a picture of me climbing Killer Miller.  The little dot on the far left is me.)

"Try to smile and look happy".  The exact OPPOSITE feelings I had at the top of Killer Miller.

“Try to smile and look happy”. The exact OPPOSITE feelings I had at the top of Killer Miller.

The little dot on the left is me.  RIcky was so far ahead he could get a picture of this.  Pretty damn savage.

The little dot on the left is me. RIcky was so far ahead he could get a picture of this. Pretty damn savage.

After Killer Miller, the course becomes a little less relentless.  There are a few rollers that take you back towards Deep Creek before you hit Maynardier Ridge (0.25 miles, 23% max grade, 12% average grade).  As with all the other hills, I got in my small gear and zigzagged my way up the hill.  Unfortunately, at the top of the hill there is no downhill.  The rest of the course consists of false flats and short, gradual climbs.  The good news?  All the hard climbing is done.  The bad news?  You now have a half marathon that climbs 1700 feet.  This race truly is savage.

To get back to transition, you make a right on Rock Lodge Road and then bare left to take State Park Road to T2.

Literally dead after that bike ride.

Literally dead after that bike ride.

The Run

run elevation

If your legs aren’t trashed and you have it in you to keep on with the run, brace yourself.  This run is no joke and just as savage as the bike course.  The course starts on a gravel road that takes your towards the Discovery Center (this is parallel to State Park Road and goes towards Toothpick).  After you the trail runs out, you will make a left onto Brant Road.  (If you go straight over the bridge, you’ll be at Toothpick).  Brant Road has a couple rollers on it, and eventually you’ll hit a turn-around.  On your way back, you’ll make a right into the campgrounds.  This campground is brutal.  With a max 15% grade and about a half mile to the top of the hill, your legs will be hurting.  At the top of campgrounds you run downhill, where your quads will be burning from the downhill running.  Make it out of the campgrounds and make a right onto State Park Road.  This road, again, is rolling and eventually turns right onto Fire Tower Road.  This road, which is a gravel incline, is half-mile steep climb.  You’re lungs and legs will be burnt out, but keep pushing.  At the top, you get to run back down and it’s all rolling and flat until the end of the loop.  Oh yeah, you do this loop twice.  Enjoy!

I had an absolute blast pre-riding and running this course with Ricky.  The bike course, while extremely brutal, is absolutely beautiful.  You really learn to push through mentally, emotionally, and physically.  It’s hard.  The hardest out there.  But no matter how long it takes you (it took me a good 4-4.25 hours to ride) you will feel amazing.  The entire bike route (and run route) is very well shaded.  The roads are in perfect condition (minus Westernport, of course) and the roads aren’t heavily travelled.  I think we may have passed a total of 10 cars on the course (run and bike combined).  After the bike ride, we made our way to a nice little bar/restraint called Will O’ Wisp.  With a 2500 calorie burner in the books, we got in a nice 3,000+ calorie dinner, consisting of Maryland Crab Soup, a beer, Seafood Lasagna Rolls, a Chicken BBQ sandwich, crab fitters, and parsnips/potatoes (I think?).  It was all delicious and the bar tender was the nicest guy.  Actually, everyone out there was extremely friendly.  We ended up running into him the next day on our run.  We didn’t recognize him, but he recognized us.  (I would probably recognize people who tipped as well as we did as well).

Crushing mad food (and spending mad dollars)

Crushing mad food (and spending mad dollars)

So, if you’re savage enough, brave the course and attack the hardest, most savage triathlon out there, Savageman 70.0.  For 2013, there are still race entries available and is the USAT Mid Atlantic Long Course Regional Championships for 2013 and 2014.  Not ready for the full 70 mile course?  They also have the Savageman 30.0.  The course, while less savage, is still challenging with several Cat3 and Cat4 climbs and the same run course (just one loop).  This is a course that will push you in every way possible.  And when you finish, you’ll be happy just to finish.  Who cares what time you finished in or what place you got?  You’re a Savage Beast.

We stayed in a nice motel in Friendsville, about 20 minutes outside of Deep Creek.  Awesome place to stay.

We stayed in a nice motel in Friendsville, about 20 minutes outside of Deep Creek. Awesome place to stay.

Recommendations

Nutrition/Hydration – I made fun of Ricky all day for his excessive intake of water (which led us to stop about 3 times on the 3 hour drive).  In the end, I was dehydrated and sucking ass while he was hydrated, well nourished, and kicking ass.  I would be comfortable with 3 waterbottles, a sufficient supply of salt sticks (especially if you’re a salty sweater), and 6+ gels.

Gearing – Definitely a compact (or a triple if you’re not a strong climber).  I was in my smallest gears for a lot of hills and still really had to muscle up them.  I had an 11-25 cassette, but I would’ve enjoyed a 12-27 to get an extra gear in there.

Road vs. Tri – I took my road bike and was very happy.  I felt a lot more comfortable on the descents and felt more stable.

The Westernport Wall

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