Race Day-Savage Race Day! The day I get to eat donuts without any guilt (truth be told, I eat them all the time, but today, they are officially guilt-free.) Back to Hopkins Game Farm for another challenging day of mud, walls, and of course, the infamous “Colossus”. Being my fourth trip to this specific event (fifth Savage Race overall), I thought I knew just what to expect. I was wrong. This was a completely different race. Yes, we had the usual barbwire crawls, fire and ice, mixed in with a healthy dose of upper body-taxing obstacles, but the race layout was completely different than any previous event. Located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, this is truly a runner’s course. Relatively flat, (185′ of elevation gain over 6.35 miles) the obstacles were strategically placed with long stretches of running in between. Grass, wooded trails and corn fields make up most of the terrain, with a healthy sprinkling of ankle-deep and sometimes knee-deep mud. Picking the right shoe to tackle the course was a challenge in itself.
Savage Pro. This is their version of “Elite”. Cash prizes are awarded to the top 3 male and female finishers. Medals are given to the top three finishers in each age group, provided each complete the race and keep his/her band. Different rules apply to this first heat of the day. Race Director Garfield Griffiths, a crazy Brit in a funny hat, stands up to greet us and explains the rules. This is his baby. With a background including BattleFrog and current Race Director with OCRWC, this man brings the “Band” to Savage. His voice bellows over the mic, “Mandatory obstacle completion with no physical alternative. No burpees, No push ups. No high fives. If you fail an obstacle, you do it over and over again until you complete it. If you decide you CANNOT complete the obstacle, simply give up your band to the volunteer and continue with your race.” Even as he lowers the mic, I can still hear an evil laugh emitting from the front. Clearly, this man enjoys his job. After a full explanation of the Savage Pro rules, he gives the mic back to regular emcee, Matt, for our countdown.
“3…2…1… LETS GET SAVAGE!!!!!!” And, we are off.
After running on wet grass for the first 1/4 mile, we hit the “Swamp Donkey”: a small, 3-foot pond crossing. One whiff of the pungent pond and you instantly understand the origin of its name. After a short jaunt through the woods, we hit the cornfield. The next mile and a half is composed of ordinary crawls, walls, and log carries tucked in between stretches of flat running, cornstalks taller than your head on either side. I run back and forth through the cornfields, along the well-marked path. Then, I hit the first of the “signature” obstacles: “Davey Jones’ Locker”; a 15-foot jump into the water. I jump – in and out- then back into the cornfield, followed by a few more basic obstacles down into the woods and across a stream, then up one of two hills on the course. A steep grade made climbing difficult for those with less aggressive shoes.
Another crawl, and we come to “Maized.” If I had to say one bad thing about this race, it would be here. “Maized” is a simple concept: two different paths leading to the same destination. However, the path to the right was shorter. Luck of the draw is fine among friends, but when there is money on the line, I believe all athletes should be forced to tackle the same race, with identical parameters.
The next mile or so was the most peaceful of the course. Beautiful trails buried deep in the woods. Not real technical, just a slow jot to get the heart rate back in the zone. More mud, then an assortment of walls mixed with a balance beam: the “NuttSmasher”, another signature obstacle. Across the beam, I come to “Shriveled Richard”. For unfortunate Savage virgins, the name choice soon becomes crystal clear. A 20-foot roll off dumpster filled with “Richard”-shriveling ice water. Thanks to a board strategically placed halfway across, runners find themselves completely submerged under the icy cold water. I was at this race last fall on a cold, rainy, dreary day. That day, race time temps were in the mid-40’s with rain and “Shriveled Richard” was the first obstacle. THAT was a brutal dip, but today, four miles into the race, it was actually quite refreshing. At least I thought so. Apparently, the guy next to me had a different opinion.
With two miles to go, the race really gets good. This stretch of the course is less ordinary with more challenging obstacles. Here, you are out of the corn and on trails and paths. Refreshed from my ice bath, with flat, even ground under my feet, I turned up the heat. After a slippery go at “Mud Walls”, I was happy to see “Teeter Tuber”: a two-foot pipe which you must climb until you can transfer enough of your weight to the other side, which results in slamming you down to the ground again. “Teeter Tuber” made its Savage debut here last spring. For some reason, many people find this obstacle to be difficult. I guess enough people complained, because this year, race officials fished a rope inside for people to help pull themselves up. Less challenging in my opinion, but still a fun obstacle.
Up over an eight-foot wall and onto the next obstacle, “Sawtooth”: a true signature obstacle. This is big boy stuff! When it comes to monkey bars, there is “Sawtooth” and then, there is everything else. This obstacle is angled up to the apex where it drops down, back up, then down again, similar to the teeth of a saw blade. THIS obstacle is a band-cutter for many. After a final barbwire crawl through some rocky mud, I face “Wheel World”. This is the brainchild of Garfield himself. Making its Mid-Atlantic debut this year, it is cruelly designed to separate athletes from their bands. Seventy-five percent of all participants fail this obstacle. I was fortunate enough to see this at the Pocono event and knew what to expect. The trick is to hold on tight and make sure you catch the next wheel with your first swing. If you swing past it, it’s difficult to get your momentum going again. Six miles into the race, I watched many people just swinging in circles until they eventually dropped into the water. Few gave it a second attempt. I looked down and noticed a pile of blue bands laying on the ground by the volunteer and thought, Garfield will be proud.
Two short jogs separated by a cinder block pull, and there she is: looming in the distance lies the infamous Colossus! The tallest 1/4 pipe in the business. Only the tiptop tier athletes can climb this without the assistace of the ropes that hang down. After seven visits to this beast, I have only seen it happen twice. Even with the ropes, most still require help. Encouraged during open heats yet prohibited for Savage Pro, disembodied hands reach down over the top to help pull those who actually get close enough to grab. Finally over the top of the wall, a ladder takes you up yet another 10 feet to the waterslide platform. For many, this is more of a mental obstacle than a physical one. Standing almost 30 feet in the air facing down the HUGE water slide, it takes some a long time and a lot of positive self-talk to work up the nerve to give it a go. Knowing the cameramen always hang out here, I usually give a big muscle flex and, if the volunteers aren’t watching, dive down headfirst into the water.
And with that, the race is basically over. We still have the obligatory fire jump, medals and T-shirts. 6.35 miles. Mud, blood, sweat and bruises prove I was here. I make my way to the leaderboard and check my time. Satisfied with my results, I head over to celebrate the fruits of my labor with a “free” beer and search for Garfield to ask a few questions. Where did I find him? Standing in front of a large group of kids explaining the rules of Savage Junior, a one-half mile course created for the little tikes. Garfield counts them down and scurries over to the bubble machine at the Finish Line. We chatted for a few minutes and I thanked him for putting together an incredible race yet again. He modestly lets me in on his little secret, “Thank you,” he says. “But that’s not why I’m here. I work with a great staff that help make it all possible. The only reason I come is they let me play with the bubble machine.”