Savage Race Spring 2016: Georgia

Savage Race has a tradition of bringing the rain when it comes to Georgia (not a military metaphor. Literally, it’s always raining) which adds an extra layer of difficulty to grip based obstacles such as the Sawtooth monkey bars and makes Colossus become quite the slippery slope (again, not a metaphor, but it works either way).

This year Savage come out with several new obstacles and apparently also wanted to try out a new weather system as well. Normally a 45 degree clear and sunny day with a cool breeze would be a great day for a trail run, but Savage has a lot of water on the course including the dreaded “Shriveled Richard”; a waist high ice bath that requires you to completely submerge yourself at the halfway point ensuring your whole body experiences an evenly distributed miserable temperature. As the day carried on, the wind picked up and every degree the temperature went up, the wind seemed to bring it back down 2 more degrees.

This was my first race since an injury last June and I decided to run in the “Pro-Wave” which required Mandatory Obstacle Completion (MOC): You have unlimited attempts, but you must complete the obstacle or give up your fancy wristband and cross the finish line in shame admitting you weren’t Savage enough to complete everything even with multiple chances.

Lets talk terrain. The Georgia Savage Race is always held at Moonlight Stables Equestrian Center. At first glance you’d assume it’s mostly flat with a couple small inclines, but for those of us who have been here before we knew exactly what to expect. As soon as you disappear behind the trees there’s a ton of hidden rolling hills and false horizons, with parts of the trails turning you completely sideways, others straight down forcing you to fly down kamikaze style hoping you don’t trip on a rock or root as you make your way down to the bottom. With the traditional rain these trails become so slick and muddy that people are falling down, getting stuck or grabbing every branch and blade of grass the stabilize themselves. At first, I was like “heck yeah! This is great! I have traction and speed!” but I sorta missed having the option to slide down the hills on my butt.

The first half mile I was feeling good. I had done a pre-race warm up jog, was wearing a long sleeve cold gear compression shirt and had a good pace going. First up, was a series of over-under walls that I blasted right through and also served as a nice way to get the blood flowing. Next, we had a new obstacle called “Squeeze Play” which was a low crawl beneath several empty swiveling barrels. Piece of advice: be careful that you don’t get whacked in the face as the person in front of you aggressively crawls under causing the barrel to swing up and around and swivel square into your face.

Savage-Race-Spring-2016-Squeeze-Play-2

After a barbed wire crawl and quick dip in “Thor’s Grundle” (a water based obstacle where you submerge yourself in muddy water beneath 2 separate walls) we came to another new addition: “On the Fence” which consisted of dangling chain link fences hanging above water in which you traverse across  sideways. This wasn’t particularly hard, but was much more taxing on my grip than I had expected and seeing how everyone else was shaking off their hands as they jolted away I don’t think I was alone in that sentiment. My strategy on this was to stay high, reach hand over hand and move fast. Immediately after On the Fence we reached another new obstacle: “Big Cheese”, a half dome shaped shaped structure full of giant holes to grab and step into and climb a ladder down the backside.

Savage-Race-Spring-2016-On-the-Fence

So far, so good. I was keeping quite warm and all the cold mud and water actually felt like a nice cool down. When we hit “Lumberjack Lane” (carry a chunk of lumber up and around a hill) at mile 2 I started to feel the wind pick up a bit and got a slight chill, but knew the sooner I could finish marching with this wood the sooner I could pick back up the pace and warm right back up.

Savage-Race-Spring-2016-Lumberjack-Lane

Pole Cat” was the next new challenge which took the place of the long standing balance beam (Nutt Smasher). I welcomed the change since I feared shivering on a balance beam might not have produced the best results. Pole Cat: 2 uneven poles parallel to each other secured on balance beams above water. The rule is that you must have your feet on one pole and hands on the other as you shimmy sideways over the water. It wasn’t really hard, but it was fun and it had a slight twist: halfway through, the pole in front of you for your hands got lower and the pole for your feet got higher. The transition was easy, but it was a bit of a mental challenge as it caught me by surprise.

Savage-Race-Spring-2016-Pole-Cat

After that, more hills, more of the classic obstacles you find at any race with Savage’s special twist on them such as inverted walls, an 8ft wall, more barbed wire crawls, variations of over-unders, an outward leaning traverse wall with rock climbing grips and oddly enough, a reverse slip wall; you climbed up a ladder and then descended down an angled wall using a rope. Most races have this obstacle, but in the opposite direction: use a rope to climb up a slanted wall and climb a ladder down the other side. There was discussion among some participants whether this was actually done in error or maybe Savage was just trying to put a new spin on it. Either way, it was much easier this way.

Somewhere around the 4th mile the wind was picking up and I was feeling it. I could see some runners starting to slow down and goose bumps building up on their arms: Run Dammit, RUN! Even if you are running at a turtles pace you’re going to freeze if you just start walking! I was mostly dry, but still a little chilled when I hit Davy Jones Locker: a 15 ft. drop off a plank into deep waters. I had just passed up 2 guys at a barbed wire crawl who I couldn’t seem to catch while running and then at the top of Davy Jones I passed up 2 more guys who were just standing frozen afraid to jump. I didn’t want to jump either because I wasn’t looking forward to getting wet again after desperately fighting against the wind chill. But screw it, just do it. Surprisingly the water on this one was warm (I thought I was going delirious until several other runners had said the same thing).

I was entering the last mile of the race and was actually feeling pretty confident. I was passing people, I hadn’t struggled with any obstacles yet, my pace was slow but consistent, but those Savage bastards saved the worst for last.

The dreaded ice bath (Shriveled Richard) was up just ahead. Not so bad usually, because even with cold wind I could recover pretty well if I could just keep running afterwards. But the sadistic demoniac who designed the course thought it’d be pretty funny to put the Sawtooth monkey bars 200 feet from the Shriveled Richard.

Savage-Race-Spring-2016-Shriveled-Richard

Sawtooth is 35 feet of ascending and descending monkey bars. The rungs in the middle are further apart as you have to pull yourself back up and once again, descend. So yeah, let’s conquer this grip based obstacle immediately after being submerged in ice with zero feeling in your hands.

As I approached Sawtooth it looked like a bomb had just exploded; there were bodies everywhere lying on the ground shielding themselves from the wind on the side of a small hill while trying to soak in a bit of warmth from the sun determined to get the feeling back in their hands and not lose their bands.

Screw it, I don’t want to lose my momentum, I’m going for it.

About 75% of the way through Sawtooth I just couldn’t reach high enough and I failed my first obstacle. I was actually surprised I’d made it that far, my hands were so numb I couldn’t feel how tight they were squeezing the rungs, or if they were grasping at all. I felt like I was throwing raw chicken breasts at each rung and just hoping they’d stick. I emerged from the water and joined the piles of sunbathing Savages.

Hey, you think your boyfriend would mind if we snuggled?”

Hell no, get over here, gimme your body heat!” (or something to that effect).

20-30 seconds later I stood up and the wind hit me and I could really feel it now. I dropped back to the ground and laid there like a sniper keeping an eye on his target trying to figure which lane of bars looked the most ‘grippy’ and waiting for it to clear.

Finally, an opening. I’m going in.

I hit the lane and tried to move as fast as I could but it was a slow labored pace and each rung was a workout. Even coming down to the end I was still questioning my grip, I finally made the jump to the platform on the other side skipping the last couple rungs and dropped to my knees laughing. The worst was over. My time wouldn’t be what I’d wanted, but I was keeping that coveted band and now I could pick myself up and run and warm up and shake off my arms.

Next up was “Wheel World”: a series of 4 giant hexagon shaped ‘wheels’ hanging above a 6-7ft pool of water. Just rotate yourself around from one wheel to the next.

Savage-Race-Spring-2016-Wheel-World

Okay, let’s do this. Got turned around on the 2nd wheel and just dangled there with my arms still too tired from Sawtooth to grab the 3rd wheel. Drop. Splash. Try again 2 more times. Drop. Splash. The 3rd drop had a special surprise as the guy swimming out in front kicked me in the head with his feet and caused me to swallow a bit of the murky piss water down my wind pipe. Choke, cough. No worries. Not his fault. Plus he helped me out of the water. No worries bro.

Eventually I made quick friends with 2 more pro-wavers determined to keep the band. We huddled together for warmth and studied which people were making it through. Finally figuring out the technique of hooking over and through the wheel with your arm I went for it and made it to the third wheel and I just couldn’t get it to spin. Drop. Splash. Huddle.

The girl with us was turning blue around her mouth and we were seeing more and more open waves come through. She finally got up ran and attacked it and made it through. Next, my other partner in misery (ironically also named Jeff) made it through too. I tried two more times with the hook technique but between the shivering and the 4 previous attempts my arms just weren’t cooperating. When you have someone suffering along side you and you’re encouraging one another it’s a lot easier to endure. But now I was shivering alone.

I gave up my band.

At that point for me my race was over. My heart just wasn’t in it. I was nearing 3 hours and nothing to show for it. I was tempted to just walk off the course and just be done. But I just decided to go ahead and finish and at least get my shirt.

I hit “Colossus”, a mammoth 20 foot quarter pipe with ropes hanging halfway down. I’ve made it up this one before.  I hit it with everything I had left, but it just wasn’t enough. I had wasted too much energy.

Next was a small fire jump (“Blazed”), then “Teeter Tuber”, a giant tube that you had to crawl upwards into and use your body weight to shift the tube downward like a teeter totter to come out the other side.  Teeter Tuber was on the side of a hill this year causing you to rocket launch out the other side, which if I wasn’t freezing I probably would’ve enjoyed a lot more.

Finally the last obstacle before the finish line was the infamous Platinum Rig, or, “SavageRig”. Swing, climb and traverse your way through a combination of hoops, ropes, grips and poles and ring the bell.

Savage-Race-Spring-2016-Rig

I hung from the hoops for a second before dropping off…Nope, still just as beat down as I was 90 seconds ago at Colossus. And so my first post-injury race ended with a whimper and not a victory screech. Luckily I had kept an eye on the weather and had massive layers of clothes to change into and warm up.

“Jeff, you look like you’re about to climb mount Everest with all of those clothes on”

“I think he looks warm and comfy..” says the chattering/shivering girl beside him in a sad envious voice.

Savage has always been and still is my favorite race. I don’t whether I want to slap the course designer for putting together such a demonic course by saving almost all of the arm-strength obstacles for the last mile back to back immediately following an ice tank or to shake his hand and calling him an evil genius for the same reason. This was certainly the best Savage course yet and just maybe if the weather was a bit different the race would’ve had a different ending, but without the possibility of failure there’s no sense of accomplishment.

Other Stuff…Savage race always puts on a Spring and Fall race on the east coast, both the Spring and Fall events boast different shirts and medals and they’re always top-notch. Their stickers are always good too, they actually stick well to your car window and don’t fade and peel after a couple months in the sun. There’s always a nice variety of food trucks as well—both the Steak Nachos and gourmet grilled cheese with bacon were superb.

The only complaints I could possibly have is that it seems they re-routed the course a bit after the map was printed, so the course map was wrong, which of course is irritating to spectators following the people they’re supporting. Also, I wish they’d repainted the rungs on Sawtooth. Most of the grippy paint had come off making them extra slick…but then again, maybe that’s the direction they’re going. Finally whoever at Savage was responsible for the weather should be fired.

Savage-Race-Spring-2016-Shirt-and-Medal

Jeff Marier

Starting out as a video professional in the corporate world, Jeff, filmed his first obstacle race in 2011 – the Tough Mudder in Georgia. After the experience of watching his buddies kick, slide, crawl, pull, and fight their way to the finish, he became intrigued, and set out to train his body for his own OCR experience. Jeff is the video geek for ORM.