||Sunday, September 21, 2008
||Deep Creek, MD
||Triathlon - Half Ironman
||Female 30 - 34
||Swim, Bike, Walk up insanely steep hills wearing carbon soled shoes and dragging bike, Ride in truck!
You know how I love a challenge, so when the inaugural Savageman half was unveiled in 2007, my very first triathlon season, I was kicking myself for already having registered for Patriot's. Savageman was billed as the hardest half iron distance tri in the world, and I wanted to do it! I vowed to get it done in 2008.
Two months and one day after crossing the line of my first Ironman in Lake Placid, I was to race Savageman. I had been spending a lot of time recovering from the Ironman, by order of the coach!
On Saturday morning, Joe and I left for his brother's place in Keyser, WV, just a few miles from the infamous Weternport Wall in Westernport, MD. The wall is a block of roadway that is part of the bike course. It is f'ing steep! 31% grade. If you make it up the wall without putting a foot down, and complete the race, you get the "True Savage Award," which is a brick engraved with your name that becomes a permanent part of the road.
Joe and I passed through Keyser late in the morning and decided to go on up to Deep Creek Lake, MD to check in. I had to get my packet, have my bike and helmet inspected, and attend a mandatory athlete meeting.
I wasn't feeling great about the race. I was still feeling a little sluggish after the IM. I hadn't been training much, because I was still recovering. I was feeling kinda burned out.
We arrived at Deep Creek, and I got checked in while Joe read about the fishing in the area. We then went to stand in line at the bike inspection. It was pretty short when we arrived. The Conte's mechanic rode my tiny Contessa around the parking lot fine tuning the limiter screws on the front derailleur until it shifted perfectly! This is something that hasn't been right with the bike since I got it! I was thrilled!
I racked my bike and Joe and I left to head back to Keyser. I was starving, but we decided to wait till we got back to Keyser to eat in case Tim wanted to join us. I know, Ryan... EAT!
Back in Keyser, we stopped at a Martin's grocery store, so I could get some vegan breakfast food! See, Ryan, planning ahead for race morning!! I grabbed stuff to make PB&J and a box of Organic instant oatmeal.
On the way back to the house, I felt a sudden panic! I had totally forgotten about the mandatory athlete meeting! Joe said it probably wouldn't matter, and I knew he was right. Usually the meetings are just mass of triathletes listening to race staff tell them the usual stuff. I could run an athlete meeting right now.... "So glad you all are here supporting ...fill in the blank. the swim course is... insert distance/shape here. The buoys are...insert color here. The bike course features very steep descents and long climbs. There are warning signs out there. We are NOT kidding. Slow down and get out of your aerobars on the descents! This is a USAT sanctioned race, so draft marshals will be on the course. Please discard all trash within...insert distance...from the aid stations. There are...insert number... aid stations and they are at...insert locations. We want to be invited back next year, so don't litter on the course and please don't urinate in public. The run is...." You get the picture.
Back at the house, I was going to make a PB&J sandwich, but all of the dishes were dirty. Tim apologized and said he'd wash them, but I LOVE to clean, especially when I am nervous, so I said I'd take care of it. Dishes turned into me cleaning the entire kitchen in great detail. I never did make the sandwich, because I was drawn out of my meditative cleaning by Joe asking if I was ready to go get dinner.
We went to a place that used to be a gas station. They had a good selection of veggie options, and I was impressed, this being a little coal town in WV! It was nice to relax and hang out and laugh with Joe and Tim.
Since we were so close to Westernport, I asked Tim if he'd mind taking a trip to the wall so I could see what I was in for! He drove us into Westernport and I stared up the hill. The wall is preceded by two blocks that appear to be nearly as steep. I realized with great dismay that they were also part of the course! I had never seen hills quite like this, and seeing it in person made me realize that YouTube just doesn't do it justice!
I stood at the top of the hill looking down. It was almost like looking over the edge of a cliff! I admired the bricks from last year. I wanted one, but I wasn't sure I could earn it the next day or if it would have to wait until next year.
The light faded from the sky, we returned to Keyser. Tim laughing at my shocked expression and woeful comments. He wished me luck. I was gonna need it!
Arriving home, the boys set to playing video games, and I got my race stuff prepared. Leaving them playing some SWAT type game, I went to bed.
If there were any nightmares featuring the wall, I did not remember them in the morning. I rose well before dawn and dressed in my race clothes. Louis Garneau tri shorts and my IMUSA Jersey, because if I didn't become a Savageman, I at least wanted the world to know that I was an Ironman!
Joe drove the Jeep while I ate three packets of oatmeal from a bowl that I had washed the day prior. We navigated fine until we got into fog so thick that you could barely see the next part of the road until you were on it. We missed a turn and drove out of the way, but not by too much. We corrected the mistake and found the park with plenty of time to spare.
It was a chilly morning, and I was still tired. I wished I was a spectator instead of an athlete. I took my things down to transition to set up. I got into my wetsuit and had Joe adjust it. I found a few people I know and asked about the meeting. They said I didn't miss anything. I asked if it was mostly about the steep hills and not littering. They confirmed that it was.
It was time to head to the water for the start. Joe walked with me partway down to the water, then wished me luck and kissed me goodbye so that he could get on the bus to the wall. I told him I'd see him there!
I found my way to the water and stood looking out at the fog that covered the lake. I had heard that the swim was difficult to navigate for just this reason. The whole course was pretty close to shore, so I figured if I couldn't see the buoys, at least I could see the shore.
I found Dave Casio and Mike and Karen Tine. I talked to them while we waited for the swim start. They announced that they were going to delay the start of the race to see if the fog might clear some. Ugh! I just wanted to get the race done!
I was in the second wave, and I was longing for a mass start like at Ironman so that I could swim in the mass draft. The first wave went off and I waded into the water. We swam out the the start buoy and waited for the horn. Off it went and off we went.
I settled into my pace easily, and I used the shoreline to site. It was nice to be swimming. The water was comfortable, and there is just something soothing about swimming. It's like a long meditation or a massage before the rest of the race.
I went down to the turn buoys and started the trip back to shore, and transition, and that brutal bike course! It was more difficult to site this time because I was further from shore. I got a little off course, but at least the fog was really starting to lift, so I could catch the buoys. I finally felt my fingertips scrape the concrete boat ramp! I stood and jogged out of the water unzipping my wetsuit as I ran. The fog was gone now, and I was happy not to have to ride in it.
I got to transition and took my time getting out of the wetsuit and into my bike gear. I was nice and warm so I opted to just take my knee and arm warmers with me. I did put socks on though. I grabbed my bike and headed out on the course.
Not a half mile into it, I realized just how chilly the air still was! I thought of the steep descents featured in the first part of the bike course. I pulled off to the side and put on the arm and knee warmers! Prepared to descend, I pedaled out of the park. I reached the first of what would be many significantly steep climbs just outside the park. It caught me a bit by surprise, so I quickly dropped in to the granny gear and hammered up it. The race officials seemed to think it cool to mark these climbs with informational signs detailing the elevation, grade and length of the climb. I guess it was a good diversion for a second since we were going slow enough to read it all.
The course took a gently rolling trip through some fields that had been veiled in fog when we had driven in in the morning. It was pretty and the sun felt good on my damp body. Soon, the roadway wound back into the cover of the forest. The chill morning air bit at my face, as the road tilted downward at an alarming angle. I got in my drops and held on for the ride.
The course wasn't very crowded. I was getting passed by a lot of people though. I did find myself gaining on one guy though. He was wearing green and insisted on sitting up on the hoods as we flew down the hills. He was riding in the middle of the road, so I couldn't pass him. I was on my brakes and trying not to stay on them so that the heat from the rims didn't melt them. He finally moved over to the right on a straight steep section. I let off the brakes, called out, "on your left" and sped past. I few minutes later he passed me, still in a counterproductive riding position, and I never saw him again.
The final stretch of descent leveled off along train tracks. Buildings started to appear on the roadside. I was pretty sure that I was nearing the wall. I made it to an intersection where an officer was directing traffic so that we had the right of way and confirmed that I was, in fact, entering the town of Westernport.
I could hear the music and cow bells and cheers of the crowd up at the wall as I made the turn into the neighborhood. The road was pitted and cracked and I bumped along, water splashing up onto my face from my aerodrink. I turned left and was met by the previous night's view, only in reverse. The road appeared to go straight up for three blocks! Stopping would only make things harder, so I grannied out and kept my legs turning. To say spinning would be a gross misrepresentation of the motion that was actually taking place.
Locals lined the streets and stared in amazement at the crazy spandex clad people on their bikes. They cheered us on, but it didn't really help. I was almost to the top of the first block, and I felt like I was going to flip over backwards. This was the hardest thing I had even done on a bike. Triple T was child's play. Give me Ironman, hills twice the distance, and the pouring rain! This was brutal! Just before the end of the first block, my front wheel actually lifted off the pavement about two inches. I pressed my body weight as far forward as I could and put the wheel down. I took a few more strokes and reached the intersection. I knew right there that I was not going up the wall.
I unclipped and stood off to the side for a moment. I had no momentum. Even if I hadn't stopped, I'd have had no momentum at the rate I was going. I Swung my leg over the bike and started walking. I considered putting the cafe covers on my shoes, but I was only walking a block, so I decided against it. I walked up the next block, the pavement so steep that I was sliding backwards on the carbon soles of my shoes. I fell, and a spectator caught my bike. I got onto the grass beside the road and walked up to the next block.
I could see Joe standing just ahead cheering people up the wall. He would search the road every few seconds looking for me. I caught his eye as I snuck up the hill in the grass. When I reached the top, I hugged him and told him that this race is insane. He asked if I was going to try the wall. I watched as rider after rider went up and fell down. Not one person I saw made it up without falling.
Another spectator told me what line to take up the wall. He and Joe said I should try it. The worst that would happen is that I'd fall. Since the race offers a detour around the wall, I decided to take it. I knew I wouldn't make it up the wall, and if I fell, I risked tearing the Ironman jersey. Had I been wearing any other jersey, I'd have tried it, but not that one.
I kissed Joe, and I took off around the wall. I thought that the worst was over, since the wall was behind me. Funny thing about that. The wall is just the very beginning of seven evil miles of grades worthy of runaway truck ramps... if you happen to be going down them, that is. I settled in for a nice long climb.
Probably only a quarter mile above the wall, and right when my legs were ready to give up, I saw an aid station, but not the normal kind. They were collecting extra clothing. I was rather warm and sweaty by now, and the sun was fully up and warm. I stopped and removed arm and knee warmers and my socks. I placed them in a bag that was then marked with my bib number.
With my break over, I remounted Contessa and off we went. I was cursing Chuck for taking his wheels back and then not even racing in Savageman. I knew I was fighting my heavy wheels and their gunked up bearings. As if that wasn't enough, every pedal stroke was accompanied by a creaking and clunking from a bottom bracket whose bearings had decided to retire mid race, after 3,000 miles.
I zigged and zagged across the road to lessen the grade a bit, but even that tactic wasn't working for me. I got off and walked for what felt like several miles. The shoes slipping, Contessa rolling along beside me. I drank water, and took in calories, and endurolytes, but I was feeling cooked. I'd ride until the hills were so steep I'd almost fall over, then I'd walk.
I considered quitting when I got to the top of Big Savage Mountain. The entire back of both legs was so cramped that I considered crawling. I walked up to the aid station manned by a bunch of Team Zers dressed as devils, who had done Placid. I yelled to them as I approached, "I knew I was in hell!" "Confirmed!" was the answer I received. They looked at my jersey and my tattoo and told me how crazy I was for being out here just 2 months after Ironman. They said they were all still laying around and recovering. I was beginning to believe that I was, in fact, crazy.
I told myself, as I left that aid station to the cheers of the devil Zers, that if the sweeper vehicle caught up to me, if I had to walk another hill or if it became clear that there was no way I was going to make the time cut off, I was going to get a ride back to transition and call it a season.
For that point on, I just kept peddling. There were some nice descents to rest the legs and some more brutal climbs, but I managed to stay on the bike. I kept my eyes on the odometer as the miles clicked their way towards 56. I was hurting pretty badly and I could not believe how slow I was going.
I hit one descent and was enjoying the shade and the break from pedaling. I wound around a curve and grabbed both brakes full force. I slowed to a crawl about 10 feet from a huge black bear. He stood on all fours in the dead center of the road and stared at me for a second before he bounded off into the woods. I was mildly shaken, as I am sure he was. That definitely goes into the book of great triathlon stories!
Riding on a blissfully flat section, a race official in a vehicle stopped next to me to ask if I needed anything. For a second I considered giving up right there, but I hadn't walked; this guy wasn't the sweeper; and I still had time. I asked him what was up around the next turn. He said it was another big hill, 10% grade. I asked if it was long. He said it was about a half mile. I told him that if I had to walk it, I was getting in his vehicle. He said he'd wait 10 minutes for me and if I needed to I could ride back down and meet him.
Of course, I willed myself up that hill. There was no way in the world that I was going to backtrack in a race! The terrain seemed to go nowhere but up! One climb led to another and another. There was nowhere to spin out the legs.
At approximately mile 33, I came up a hill to an aid station. They were on the few feet of level earth in the vicinity. They asked what I needed, as I pedaled slowly towards them. "Heed? Water? Endurolytes? Bananas?" I looked down at my watch, did a few quick calculations, and realized htat teh end had come for me. "A ride," was my reply. "I need a ride."
They confirmed that I was sure about quitting. They radioed to the sweeper and he said he wasn't far behind with the last two riders. I sat in a chair and drank water while one volunteer shaded me from the sun and another, who happened to be a massage therapist, worked on my legs.
When the last two riders rolled by, Josh, the sweeper driver, collected Contessa in the bed of his truck. I climbed into the passenger seat, and off we went. The rest of the bike course was just as sick as the first part had been. The final two riders walked and rode alternately as they soldiered on to the park.
Josh and I talked bikes, since we both work in shops, and drank iced teas. He said he does the Savageman course with a MTB rear. I agreed that would be the way to go. No need for road gears in this race... at least not where I am right now. Maybe Bjorn Andersson, the pro who won, might have been going that fast, but not me! Someone had even posted a sign in the middle of one of the late climbs advertising a big cassette! Pretty funny, at least from the truck it was funny. Had I still been on the bike, I may have knocked on the door to the nearby farmhouse to see if the offer was serious!
We finally rolled back into Deep Creek Lake Park. I found Joe, discovered that massages were no longer being given, and got my stuff from Josh's truck. We drove into town and ate... a lot. I was surprised how little this DNF bothered me. I simply said I'd need to come back next year to train on the course. Then I'll become a true Savage in 2009. I'll have more time between Ironman and Savageman to rest and recover too.
After we ate, I had Joe swing back into the park so I could get my gear from the clothing drop. I had completely forgotten it until I was recapping the race for Joe and mentioned the clothing drop. With my bag of sweaty wool, we headed to Keyser so I could shower and pass out.
So ended my first quadrathlon.
Having conquered the Ironman, I was sure I could do anything. Not finishing Savageman didn't change that belief. I can do anything. I can swim across the Chesapeake Bay, complete Savageman, and check another Ironman off my list, maybe just not all in one year. That is okay too. I have been rather gluttonous in my consumption of large races in the two short seasons I have raced. I had to prove to myself that I was well. Maybe now, I can relax a bit and learn to savor each race of a season.
So, I am off to train the winter through. Grateful for each beautiful moment of it!