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Race Result

Racer: Reid Kiser
Race: Savageman
Date: Sunday, September 16, 2007
Location: Deep Creek, MD
Race Type: Triathlon - Half Ironman
Age Group: Male 35 - 39
Time: 3:16:17
Overall Place: 5 / 35
Age Group Place: 3 / 14
Comment: RATS Go Team Relay - Bike Leg

Race Report:

Up The Wall Place: 25/160

Someone please remind me, why did I sign up for this? It didn’t really matter because it was a great way to end the season, an opportunity to support the RATS, a great cause for a disease in which us outdoor folks must be concerned about, and to hang out with great people I have come to know over the last year and meet new comrades for the future.

On paper the course looks pretty challenging and there was lots of hype on how Savage it is (including the Blair Witchesque video footage of the climbs on the race Web site and youtube – including a lot of deep and heavy breathing), so I figured why not jump in on a relay and seek the truth.

I really didn’t have any expectations for this race except to find two other people to do the other two sports, survive and really just test my cycling progress of the past two years. Upon actually riding the course with Shawn Clark and Eric Mackem on that hot day in August with a 12/23 cogset it lived up to the hype and secured me not having any expectations, except to get back alive and let Kevin Shaw enjoy the Savage run. On the preview ride, I didn’t have any issues getting up and down the hills, but it was brutal, mind altering and rewarding. I am sure my lactate threshold moved up a few heart beats after that ride. Anyone who completes this ride will learn a lot about themselves, their mental toughness and perseverance to survive.

What I learned from the preview ride: wicked fast descents with switchbacks and road hazards; unrelenting and never ending climbs; it will put hair on your chest (and back on your legs); consider riding a road bike with 12/27 cogset, triple ring, compact cranks or all of the above; don’t bother with the Wall if you are time trialing (save your breath and energy); there are very small windows of opportunity to get in your nutrition between the climbs and descents; and never give up no matter how much it hurts (the end is always near or getting closer).

First of all thanks to the Shaws for housing me and my friends (Ross and Elizabeth Downey), Shawn Clark for making this a must do RATS event each year, and all the other RATS who volunteered and came to support us through it all!

Race Report:
One of my best friends Ross (we met in grad school at Dartmouth) was recruited as our swimmer. Ross is really good swimmer and is one of the people who inspired me to give triathlon a shot. We were looking for a race somewhere between DC and Cleveland, OH and Deep Creek MD was a good meeting point. We originally considered racing as individuals, but thought it would be fun to do our strengths as a team. Kevin Shaw was looking for a team as a runner and this was a perfect fit for us all. The goal was for us each to go out do our best have a great time.

This was going to be exciting because I knew Ross would be in the front pack of swimmers meaning I could go out on the bike ahead of the crowds. Plus I would be able to ride with Kevin Kunkel. Randy Howard of the other RATS team came in as the first relay swimmer. Ross came in right behind Randy by a little over a minute. I’ll save the swim details to the swimmers, but it was a savage swim given the bad fog coming of the water, sighting was impossible. I am sure we’ll hear some good stories including head on collisions.

Mile 0 - I wasn’t clear on the how the transition worked for relays, so I stood at the rack holding the bike while Ross switched the timing chip to my ankle. Kona Kevin was on the bike a little under a minute ahead of me. I was pretty jazzed and wanted to try to catch Kevin, but knew he was a fast descender and the first third of the course is mainly down steep hills. I went flying out of transition freezing cold (wore bib bike shorts, wool socks, Under Armor cold gear shirt, bike jersey, arm warmers, wind stopper gloves over bike gloves, wind stopper vest and most importantly yellow lenses – tough visibility riding in shaded areas on fast descents). I almost overshot the first big turn coming out of the parking area by the ranger station. I realized I needed to settle down or I would end up in a ditch. I was shivering cold and had some steering and death wobble issues in the first 6 miles. Not to mention the bike inspector got in my head by saying my stem was loose. I couldn’t believe how much he was torquing my forks and handle bars, but I understand the liability issues of the course. He tightened it up and loosened my bento box in the process. I would battle my bento box alignment until the Wall. So on my first easy descent at only 30 mph I thought my handlebars were coming loose the bike was shaking so bad. Then I remembered how cold I was and tried to relax. There really isn’t any chance to warm up in the first 17 miles of this course, so it was numb fingers and toes until the wall.

Mile 5 - I was able to find Kevin around mile 5 and we leap-frogged for most of the initial descents occasionally with one of us taking off ahead for a little while. Mostly we stayed in view for the first half of the race, I’ll defer to Kona Kevin on the second half. Kevin’s a good descender with no fear. I was shocked when a guy from a another relay team whizzed by me and especially Kevin. The roads are curvy, narrow, slick from tire rubber and the occasional road hazard. Unfortunately, on the big descent down Savage Mtn, this guy went into the ditch (more details later). My nutrition plan was 5 Hammer Gel (Espresso) in a gel flask, 6 servings of concentrated, Gatorade Endurance, a Clif Bar and emergency supply of Endurolytes and diffizzed cola. Breakfast was two big slices of Brenda's peperoni pizza (glad I ate this, because that was about all the nutrition I would get). I cut my Clif Bar into quarters and ate one quarter on the beginning of the descent but it was so cold it was hard to chew. I used my bento box to hold my food which was a mistake in the end. With my vest, my jersey pockets were out of service to warm things up because you really can’t leave your handlebars on the first 40 miles of this course for very long. My gel was almost a solid and all I could get out was a drop at a time. I considered dropping the flask into my shirt or into a bike short leg, but couldn’t find a breaking time to fiddle with it. Other than fast descending, not being able to fuel up and staying upright, this is all there is to miles 1-17 and entering Westernport. Oh, did I mention I was cold? That quickly changes once I get in town.

Westernport Wall (Avg Speed: 9.61 mph) - It feels like you are towing a car behind your bike for an hour:

I first came up off the main street and got to the first aid station and quickly grabbed some water and topped off my Aero bottle. Only problem is there’s about 3 seconds to do this before the climbing begins and I wanted to minimize any extra weight before climbing. Going into the race, I decided not to do the wall. One cannot appreciate this mile unless you stand at the bottom of it and look up. It will psyche you out regardless of if you know what comes for 6 miles after it or not. The crowds were great and the cowbells almost convinced me to do it. My heart was pumping so hard from climbing this far, I quickly sobered up and said “take the turn”. I took the turn and the crowd gasped in disappointment, it wasn’t negative as much as it was that they were sad to not see the struggle. With Kevin behind me by ten meters, he took it. I’ll let him tell his story, but by the time I did the bypass he was still coming up the hill. One of the route directors said to me as I passed, “you made the right decision.” It really sucked to know that the worst was yet to come a couple more times in the next few minutes and remaining two hours. I climbed and climbed out of town just wanting to get off the bike and either walk or just quit. These thoughts always come and go when you are at threshold and you just have to let them go. I like to look straight down and just pedal stroke by stroke with the occasional glance to get a mental picture of what is left to get up it. I have been suffering from bronchitis all summer and went back on antibiotics and decongestants on Thursday. I don’t think this limited me, but I can only imagine how horrible my breathing must have sounded to the people I would pass. I was waiting to fall over and pass out, but pushed on knowing there was more coming up ahead.

Mile 23-28 - I knew Kevin must being going through his own mental gymnastics to get through this and it must have been hard not knowing that what you think is the end of a climb is really not the end, just a slight decrease in grade. The best torture was the signs on each mile stating 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 miles to the top and average grade of next mile is 5, 8, 12 %. The best part is when you came off a double digit grade to a single digit, i.e., I was happy to see a 9% grade at one point. At the final quarter mile of the first big climb, I blew by the guy I mentioned earlier at 3 mph. For some reason, I kicked it up a gear and started grinding it out to make sure I would not be accused of drafting or blocking. Not sure if drafting is possible on the course. I never saw a marshall the entire race and hardly ever saw anyone besides Kevin and a couple of others up to this point. By the top of the climb, I was sweating profusely. By the bottom, it was back to being frozen.

Mile 28 - On the next major descent, the guy I passed at the top descended past me and I took a more aggressive approach to descending with him. I knew the curves, but wasn’t sure if he did or was just that aggressive and good at riding a technical course. He slid a little on one hairpin where car tire rubber had accumulated on the curve. I thought he would let up a little after this but he kept flying. Two turns later, I hear something and as I make the turn, he is climbing out of the ditch with his bike 30 feet down curve from where he was. I couldn’t figure out the physics of how he could have been separated from his bike like this. I asked if he was okay and descended on. At the bottom of the hill there were volunteers, I notified them to check the rider behind and that he went down hard. I am not sure how banged up he was, but he was walking back to his bike and I hope he is okay.

Mile 33 - At this point the ride becomes very isolated and I don’t see anyone for a long time. It wasn't until the end of the last of the big long climbs that I would have two guys pass me and they looked very fresh. At mile 35 coming out of New Germany State Park, Tara Norton (1st female pro), passes me and says “you’re looking good” and try to say something supportive, but the words don’t come out. I would hang with her (within 50-100 meters) and almost close in on her riding up Otto Lane. She occasionally looked back to see where I was and then finally dropped the hammer on me on the next few descents. This was also where the RATS were manning aid station #3 and directing the turns. It was a great lift when I needed it coming from all the RAT volunteers as I was gasping for more water and still riding with a solidified gel flask.

I was so out of it mentally that I passed up gels at aid stations even when they were offered. I finally chewed on another quarter of my Clif Bar as I need my nutrition and energy was in a bad place. There are very few opportunities on the first 30 miles of this course to really eat. You have to be disciplined and really organized (something Shawn, Eric and I had discussed after our August preview ride). I was waiting to bonk. Julie Clark was the traffic cop at the T at the bottom of the beginning of the next big climb and we exchanged pleasantries. I gained some more energy from the interaction. After this I knew or thought the worst was over.

Mile 40 or so, some climbs pop back up. I haven’t looked back for a long time for Kevin, so I have no idea where he is. I keep anticipating the moment he comes by full of energy and excitement to get me going. A couple of guys pass me as I get up a few short climbs. I start to get the early warning signs of cramping. I go for 4-5 Endurolytes, but before they can work there magic my right leg completely seizes in a massive leg cramp. I quickly clip out before falling. I get off my bike and decide to just walk on up to the top try to get some more gel out and work the cramp out. At this point Kyle Yost is coming down the hill and says “just get over this hill and you’ll be okay”. I keep walking and look back but no one is really gaining on me and I don’t see anyone including Kevin (but Kevin sees me).

I quickly go from being in the pits to thinking, you can pull this off. Now get GOING!!! I get back on the bike and leg starts to feel better. I finally reach for the bottle of Coke and I really start to grind things out on the big ring even on climbs (not intentionally, just didn’t think to downshift). I finally get through the back sections and once again, like an idiot, I pass on gels and pass on fluids at the last aid station. At this point I am running on straight Coke and Gatorade for the last 10 miles. I take 4 more Endurolytes. I am also starting to get cold again, so I pull up the arm warmers.

I get to mile 50 and Foy Rd, which is the last of the short climbs. I would say it’s similar to Hunter Station, steep and short but on a curve. I get half way up the hill to the blind curve where you realize that you still have more to go and I really try to keep pushing. All of the sudden, both legs cramp and I get off the bike before they seize up. I start walking with no loss of pride knowing that I am almost there and there is nobody passing me while I walk. Finally, an age grouper passes me as I walk and I cheer him on and tell him to keep grinding. I grab the rest of my Endurolyte canister and just down whatever is in there (10-12 caps) and chase it with Coke. I don’t recommend trying this at home. I hop back on the bike with him in sight and wait for the salt, caffeine and sugar to kick in. I am now restarted and realize I won’t see Kevin or anyone else behind me from here. The last section is rollers and I love to get in the big ring and just power through them.

I finally catch the age grouper at mile 54 and he asks in a semi-frustrated voice as I pass “are you in a relay?” I reply “yes” and try to say something encouraging but it may have come out as sarcastic. I say “enjoy your run.” I can’t believe I am a mile away from the end of this misery and knowing that I have raced very well on the toughest bike course of my life. There are no excuses, no “I could of’s” or anything else I could have done to race better. All the obstacles that I faced were part of the race and why we have to learn to improvise along the way and get through it. Everyone has their errors, mistakes, pain, physical and mental barriers they have to deal with. There’s no need to dissect this and that and how that would have meant a sub 3:10 ride for me. Just go out and enjoy the day and learn from the experiences and challenges.

Ok, let me get off my soap box. So in the spirit of leaving T1, I come flying into T2 with a “Flying Dutchman” dismount making sure I don’t scratch like a long jumper on the dismount line. I think the volunteers thought I was going to ride through T2, but I was off right before the line and running into to T2 with Ross wanted to grab my bike while Kevin Shaw gets the chip. I don’t know the rules, but they had checked that it was okay to take the chip anywhere in transition. No one radioed ahead to me, so I insist on racking the bike so as not to get a penalty. I apologize if I barked at my team mates to meet me at the rack, just didn’t want any penalty. Now I know.

Off Kevin goes and I can see the excitement in his eyes as he goes off on the run. My lungs were fully cooked and I felt that I left everything out on that course. There was no holding back. I don’t remember if Randy asked or if I just said “I’ll never do this again!” In retrospect, that was just pain talking. I walk around for a bit waiting for Kona Kevin to come in and he was a couple of minutes behind me. Randy, Ross, Kevin and I talk at the rack for a few minutes as I try to grasp where I am and what I am doing. Out of nowhere, Kevin says lets go for a run. I think, “WHAT?!!!” Then I remember from epic training with Kevin how well this worked to loosen up the legs for stretching after long hard rides. We go for maybe a half mile jog and start stretching, my day is done.

I’ll let Kevin Shaw tell the rest of the story for remainder of the relay.

We all gather at the finish line to hang out, hand off Hammer Gels to the runners, and cheer them on. It was a great day and weekend. I look forward doing this again next year and tripling the number of RATS participants.

By the way, I still will not do the entire race. I much rather go out and cook myself on the bike and watch the finish as I enjoy a pulled pork sandwich, fries and ice cream (where did Chris McDonald get that beer?). Next year, I’ll still pass on the wall but shoot for sub 3:00 ride.

(1/3 of a Savageman)

Other useless facts:
Avg HR: 159
Max HR: 181
Zn 4: 90 minutes
Zn 5: 30 minutes
Avg Speed: 17 and change
Time riding in solitude: 2 hours 8 minutes
Bike: Lightspeed Saber
Helmet: Giro Advantage2
Wheels: Mavic Ksyrium Elite