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Monday, September 24, 2012

Keep TRI-ing, Savageman!

While on vacation in Myrtle Beach a few weeks ago, I received a call from my buddy Ben inviting me along for a short trip to Western Maryland on 9/15 - 9/16.  He was planning on participating in the Savageman Triathlon, which is essentially a Half Ironman distance, but not officially run by the Ironman organization.  I was free that weekend so I was totally excited to join him, and to experience a big race from a spectator's perspective.  This race has a reputation as being one of the toughest out there because of its hilly bike course, including the infamous Westernport Wall at 31% grade.

In the spirit of giving back, I got in touch with the race organizers to see if there were still volunteer opportunities for Sunday during the 70.0 race (there was a shorter 30.0 mile race on Saturday, but we weren't planning on rolling into "town" until later in the afternoon).  With just a day or two to spare, I got a call back from the race organizers informing me that I'd be doing body marking on Sunday morning.  This involves taking a thick black magic marker and writing the participants' bib numbers all over their bodies.  Sounded like a blast!  The only catch was we had to be there at 6am, in preparation for the race start at 8:30am.

So here goes my "spectator report" from the Savageman Triathlon.

I'll reiterate here that I'm no writer, so if you have difficulties stomaching my narrative, there are a bunch of photos you can scan through to get the idea....enjoy!

When we arrived on Saturday, the first order of business was Ben's packet pickup, then we went on a little excursion to drive the bike course to see what it was all about.  In short...there are no flat (or straight) sections: you're either ascending, descending, or twisting around curves for 56 miles!  Sounds nice in a sportscar, but it presented quite a challenge on a bike.

We then made it to the hotel with about an hour and a half of daylight left, so before I settled in for a relaxing evening of college football and subway subs, I decided it was in my best interest to get a few running miles in this weekend, since my lazy butt slept in earlier that day, and there was no way I'd be able to get a run in during the race the next day.

It was a nice 6ish mile run near dusk, but a little (you guessed it!) hillier than I'm used to.  Lucky for me, I had no pace in mind, just needed to get a run in before it was too dark.  Here are some shots from my outing: 

Hey Boo Boo...Mulch Rocks!!!!
A beautiful evening run through the hills of Western MD

The next morning seemed to come a little too early for both of us, but we were excited and anxious for the day upon us.  Body marking was as you would expect:  A slow trickle of participants early, then a steady flow within an hour of the start time, but no matter what time...almost no one knows what's going on (including us volunteers!).

Like many races, what I found incredibly interesting was the diversity of the participants: especially in age.  Most people I was marking were at least 35.  One thing in common though, was their nerves:  one spot we had to mark with their number was the back of their hands and as soon as I started marking I could sense and feel the pent up anticipation for the event.  I'd say about 1 in 3 had very shaky hands, and it was an interestingly intimate moment marking each participant watching them realize that you know how nervous they actually were.

On a lighter note...some of these dudes were super hairy!  It made the marking process a little interesting and time consuming, but in all, I had a great time talking to the guys and (very few) girls, something that I wouldn't anticipate enjoying.

Body Marking Crew, predawn

That's right...I got a fuzzy picture of Bigfoot.  I seriously didn't even do this on purpose.

It was nearing the start time and there was little marking to be done, so I made my way to the beach at Deep Creek Lake, to view some of the swim starts and catch a bunch of Savagemen get out of the water.  Ben was in the orange wave, so I made sure I was in place to see that start at 8:44am:

Future triathlete eyeing up the competition

"The Party Wave"

Swan turn around "buoy"

Swim's over...what's next!?!

Exiting the water, most of the athletes had a good handle on tearing off their wet suits on a nice little hill climb to get up to the transition.  Hills and climbing: a couple of things they'll be very familiar with for the next few hours on the bike course...

Good job ladies

Transitioning to the bike

Leaving the transition area...notice the young fella at the bottom right.

The first hill started right out of the transition!

After most of the bicyclists were well on their way to pain and suffering in the hills of Western MD, I decided with only 28% battery left on my phone (from taking a ton of photos) the best course of action for me was to head back to the vehicle to charge up and wait for everyone to get back.  After getting my fill of Sunday Morning Fantasy Football Talk, I made my way back to the transition and within 15 minutes the leaders were coming back, including Josh Beck from Appalachian Running Co in Carlisle, PA: where I bought my first pair of running shoes.

As I was standing in the spot where I took the next picture, a fellow volunteer approached me asking whether or not I'd be available to man the transition exit area, merely 25 feet away, which of course I was.  She gave me very loose instructions essentially requesting that I direct participants to the exit and answer any questions they had.  But because I knew less about the race than most participants, I did a pretty good job at the first instruction, and very poorly at the second request...oh well, at least I was a pretty good cheerleader.

During my time at the (lower) transition area, Ben came through at the upper transition area (it was a multi-level parking lot) at a much earlier time than I had expected so I was lucky to catch a glimpse of him and made sure I notified his wife back home in PA of his great progress.  Not long after that, another volunteer, well...volunteered to take over my post and I made my way over to get a late lunch at the food tent consisting of a pulled pork sandwich and some sides, all complimentary for participants and volunteers.  (THANKS!)

One of the elite participants with a super minimalist bib rig, which I think was just a piece of elastic, roughly the width of a shoelace
By the time I got done with my food, there was a fairly steady flow of finishers coming through so I made my way over to the finishing chute to cheer on the runners who have just been giving it all they had for 6+ hours. It was a proper finish too: with a super energetic announcer yelling over loud music.  They also had a timing mat a few hundred feet shy of the actual finish line to prompt him with the participants names and hometowns.

Finishing chute

Helping mom across the finish line!

Although he had some cramping on the run, Ben came through with a respectable time, and also earned a Brick in the Wall in Westernport for completing the climb without dismounting!  On the car ride home, even while being sore and after all the cramping, there was talk of going back next year.  That's quite a testament to the quality and caliber of this race.  I'm not sure when I'll have the opportunity to volunteer for a big event like this again, but the experience was well worth it and the participants were true inspiration to push me through my own training.  Congratulations to all finishers!

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