Savage Race PA 2017: Push it real good

I’m a competitive racer, and an unashamed elitist. I don’t care about medal shape or weight, t-shirt material or how much mud there is, and I don’t drink beer. That doesn’t, however, prevent me from understanding what the majority of recreational OCR runners are looking for. They are the bread and butter backbone (wait, that doesn’t work) of the industry and need to be taken care of.

Savage Race is one of the very few organizations that keeps challenging competitive racers by constantly but ever-so-slightly increasing the difficulty level, while also catering extremely well to the huge majority of people simply looking for a good time.

I ran a Savage in Chicago in 2016, and really liked it. Flat, fast running and fun, spectacular obstacles made for a good combination, but I found the obstacles to be on the easy side, compared to European races and that now-defunct frog-themed series. They kept showing new and more exciting ones on their very well-run social media, however, so I was eager to try another one to see how things had evolved. I wasn’t disappointed.Savage-Race-Pennsylvania-RegistrationAs always, check-in only opens at 8am, creating a queue of eager SavagePRO racers (almost none of them being actual pros, but that’s a can of worms for another time) for the 9am wave. Registration was a piece of cake (I think I may be hungry) though, so the always electric Coach Pain sent us on our way right on time, as the fog lifted on a cloudy but dry morning.

Savage-Race-Pennsylvania-FogWhen Savage described the terrain as “wooded”, they weren’t kidding! Most of the running we did was in the forest, dodging trees on soft, technical, unstable terrain with moss, rocks, branches and even the occasional plastic pallet. This slows down the track speedsters and is much more entertaining than just running on flat trails. A good thing too, since the first mile and a half was completely devoid of obstacles, with only a few thrown in until mile 3. Then things got properly relentless, packing around 20 obstacles in the last two and a half miles.

Savage-Race-Pennsylvania-Tree-HuggerI’d say about half a dozen of these were challenging for most people, many were easy on their own but took enough effort to really make a difference when running fast, and a couple were psychological trials, especially for those with a fear of heights. Around half of the 29 obstacles on course were large, impressive structures, contributing to firmly establish Savage Race as a major-league race series despite “only” holding 13 events in 2017. The accumulation of obstacles also caught out many racers lacking adequate grip strength and smooth technique.

Savage-Race-Pennsylvania-Mad-Ladders-ActionIt seems to me that Savage is using the same steady, progressive approach when developing obstacle difficulty as when expanding their event calendar. This is great because athletes don’t get discouraged, and get constantly challenged to increase their obstacle proficiency rather than giving up and going back to penalty-based races (SavagePRO uses mandatory obstacle completion). This is pushing the sport forward, making us better obstacle racers, not just better runners, and Savage should be commended for that.

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Savage added this new bonus hybrid obstacle

At the same time, the large number of easier obstacles leaves recreational participants with a sense of accomplishment as well as the desire to improve, come back, and conquer those that defeated them this time. I saw a lot of teamwork and assistance between racers, Tough Mudder-style, when observing later waves making their way through. Spectators could also enjoy lots of action as the course repeatedly looped through the festival area.

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Something for everyone, then, as the generous cash prizes, challenging obstacles, age-group awards and well-run, fair racing brought in a slew of fast racers despite a Spartan Sprint being held in Boston simultaneously. Savage seem to be establishing themselves as a no-brainer option for obstacle lovers that value technique over brute force, fun & fast courses over sufferfests, clean racing over burpee controversies, and the solid race experience that comes with a professional outfit.

Oh, and the medal looks great, there’s a cool spinny Syndicate medal for repeat Savages, the shirt feels nice, there were plenty of port-a-potties, a free beer at the end, various food vendors (so hungry), a solid kid’s race complete with foam machine and a great atmosphere, especially with Coach Pain as the start line motivator. It think it’s fair to say that the 3000 racers on site got their money’s worth.

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Kids were playing there all day!

Highly recommended.

YAY: Awesome obstacles, fun course, well run operation

NAY: They may not have a race near you (yet)

Photo credits: Sebastien David

Savage Race: I was a pussy, and I’m okay with that

It was my first Savage Race, so I decided to rest  two days before so I would be able to do my best. We got a sitter which was novel idea. I insisted on just doing the race with my husband Matt and no kids. Taking your kids to a race seems like a good idea, but so does having kids.

The last OCR I did was the Spartan about two and a half years ago. My son was 6 months old and I was still nursing. Needless to say – it was awful. I hated it. I hated it A LOT. I also don’t like to do stuff I’m not good at with lots of people watching. At Spartan, I failed almost every obstacle. I was too afraid to even jump over the fire.

For the record, I don’t like barbed wire, and I don’t like mud. I don’t think getting muddy is fun, or cool,  and I am a clean freak. I am also terrified of heights. Jesus I’m neurotic, this is supposed to be a race review. I do love running, I love challenges and I love lifting heavy things. And I love doing stuff with my husband without our kids so I was fully looking forward to Savage.

Matt is very crafty. He knows me very well, and he just kind of doesn’t “mention” certain things when we do adventures together. What can I say, opposites attract, and I do love an adventure.

So almost 3 years later, after many days of lifting and general training, I was confident I’d do better this time. The race grounds were swarming with people, loud music, bare chests and lots of round butts in black short shorts. There was a lot to look at,  lots of blue and black bling. Loud music, and yelling with glee, but more like cavemen. Is that what “Let’s get Savage ” means? I wondered.

We forged towards our wave.  There were a lot of people, I don’t really like crowds, especially because I’m never as “excited” as everyone else, and I know Matt will rip a huge fart at the worst possible moment.

Then the whole group participation thing started and I’m kind of a closed off person so I don’t like group stuff at all. It makes me feel like I’m twelve again, and I need a drink to loosen up.  The crowd was pretty hyper and most of the men were shirtless, acting like tribal animals. I’m more of a no-nonsense, boring person who just wants to start the race. I could’ve done  without  all the grunting, face paint, and chanting.

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Matt laughed and side-eyed me at the countdown, and we were off.  I loved the trail. I loved trying to run ahead of the crowd. It was a nice first mile, the weather was perfect, the trail smelled earthy, and it was green and beautiful. I was really excited. Not the kind of excited where I grunt and yell things, just in quiet, steady anticipation.

I was also scared. I had the flashing thought : 25 obstacles is a lot . I turned to Matt “25 obstacles is a lot.”  He smiled, ” Just one obstacle at a time.”  I love running races with Matt.

As we kept running and knocking our feet against the roots and rocks, I nearly stepped in a HUGE pile of horse shit. I guess the “moonlight” in Stables  made me forget about the shit that horses make. Other racers were laughing and warning the others, “watch out for horse shit!”  I thought , now this is truly an obstacle race. A place where OCR people can be half naked, race, get muddy and wet AND possibly step in horse shit.  I was tempted to create a new hashtag.

The first few obstacles were cool. There was a wall and something else, but it wasn’t too bad. Then came the fucking barbed wire crawl with mud. Did I mention I hate mud. I don’t hate mud on its own. I hate the feeling of it in my fingers and how it oozes through my index finger to my middle finger. Then my knees slide and I hook myself on the damn barbed wire. Matt was ahead. ” I don’t like this part either,” he yelled back at me. I felt a warm slosh go up my shorts as I slid through the brown, slippery slush.

Seriously, there was way more of that. The worst was the one where it was muddy water and I had to go IN IT. LIKE I HAD TO DUNK MY HEAD UNDER the water filled with silt, mud, bacteria and possible small leeches. I screamed like a 13-year-old girl.  I don’t need to toughen up, that shit is fucking uncalled for, Ok? Why was a small part of me having fun?  Really it was a mystery to me. That while I worried I may contract some disease from water that looked like diarrhea, I was still half laughing. I also wonder if anyone from the CDC has ever done a Savage Race.

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That “On the Fence” obstacle was fun and just the right amount of hard. I was able to do it; so I felt like a bad ass – especially because I had been such a pussy about the contaminated water. I was mostly crusty by then, mud crust just became part of my skin. My hands were light brown, and I had particles of sand and dirt in my mouth. My teeth felt dirty and coated with small bugs. I had to occasionally tell myself this is only temporary, because I had small panic moments of just needing to take a shower in that red hot minute.

I had pulled a muscle prior to the race, and it started to hurt. I wrestled with the decision but ended up foregoing the monkey bars. That sucked, but I didn’t want to tear my muscle more.

That ice bath was fucking insane. It felt so horribly horrible, awful and horribly freezing. It took my breath away. I too had no idea I would have to immerse my head in that fucking ice water. That was cruel.   Following the brain freeze, it felt great.  I was somewhat cleaned off, but how is that really possible when the ice bath was brown?  Just like any other thing in life, everything is relative.  I started to lose some judgements for the racers who wore no clothes, because damn that wet shirt was a pain in the ass to run in.

The great wall was not great at all.  I was scared to try it because even super fit strong men were slipping and falling. The rope was like the rope in Indiana Jones but completely saturated in mud and water. I ran with focus to try to grab it and slid immediately back. There was one guy focusing like he was in the Olympics; he just kept trying and slipping. The starting line started to crowd with people because no one could get up the  wall.  A few lucky he-men hung on the other side holding their iron hands down to help people over. At that point, Matt and Obs were yelling to me to use their bodies to get up the wall. ” Use your bodies?” I yelled in a question. Then Obs started yelling at me like I was in the army, “USE ME ! USE ME!” This made me feel very panicky and neurotic. Would I hurt them? The army commands continued as if she had a whistle. “COME ON STACIE!” “CLIMB ON HIM, JUST GO!” So I did. I climbed on Matt’s shoulders and laid on Obs and got myself up far enough to grab the iron hands. “I got ya, I got ya,” I heard the nice muddy guys say in very southern accents. Jesus christ I thought to myself, that was kinda crazy. I jumped down. The girls next to me admitted they just couldn’t do that shit. I looked them in the eyes and said, “I understand.” It was five minutes, but time stopped and I thought of nothing, I just focused on getting over that wall. That’s when I started to understand the experience I was having. I was about half-way through the race, and I was thinking of nothing. I was just doing the next thing there was to do. And because most of it involved some shit that was going to be cold or muddy as hell if I fell, I tried my best to do it without fail.

There were so many obstacles, I certainly can’t bore you with every one and what it was like, but I liked a lot of them. Carrying the wood was pretty easy, but that Tree Hugger thing kind of felt like they were calling our bluffs. Like – You all think you’re so strong and fit?  Yeah well, you’re not. And fuck that one with the barrel that you have to go under. Yet another opportunity to contract some mud infested creepy virus. Apparently, Matt said I had to use my shoulders to get under it but that showed he had practiced that shit.

I know it has a Savage Race name but that pea shooter thing was fun. Okay, it was like a black scrunchy looking tunnel. I loved sliding in that thing and it had no mud in it ! I shot pretty far out of that thing and screamed again like a 13-year-old.

I had to pee, don’t ask me why. Holy hell, I thought I was going to have an OCD attack when I pulled down my shorts and saw how much mud was everywhere. I had never seen so much mud and yuck before in my life. I mean could I justify an ER visit just to use their industrial water apparatuses? I had to literally unglue my shorts off and paste them back on my skin.

Then, I took a deep breath. We were almost there. I was almost to the dreaded height obstacle I had been fearing.

People were smiling and jumping. I was not smiling. I had lots of questions and Matt’s reply to most of them was, ” You just have to do it honey. You just have to do it.” “I don’t want to do it,” I said in a terrified murmur. I looked down, to my chagrin it was muddy son of a bitchin’ water . I thought, at least if it was clear I could’ve pretended cleanliness could be a reward at the end. Okay, we held hands. The guy on the side counted, “1…..2…..3…” I froze. “I can’t do it!” I turned and walked away and Matt stayed with me, assuring me I could do it. I had a huge lump in my throat; I wanted to cry. I was scared shitless and mad that people were seeing me this way. I mean way to blow my own cover and be an enormous pussy at my first Savage. So in that moment, Tyra said, ” I was so scared too, just don’t look down, just go.” So I did. I held Matt’s hand and on the count of 3 I went. My stomach lining fell into my legs. It was a long jump. I screamed so loud. It felt great, that I did it, I was so scared and I did it. I can’t say I’ll do that again, but it was cool.

So just to totally call myself out on what a chicken shit I am, I’ll admit the slide also made me shit my pants a little. I know, a slide with water should be fun. My 7-year-old son did it!!!! Oh and Matt reminded me of that when I began to panic and said I don’t want to do that. I know he was just trying to help, but I had already been “pussified” so many times.  It was the lip of that slide. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It seemed so high, like if I let go I would get swallowed by something. Swallowed by something? Seriously this is getting embarrassing.  I did the same thing. I just held Matt’s hand and that guy counted, and we went. WOW, that was a fast slide, and I was alive by the end. It was maybe 3 minutes we were there, but time stopped. I only thought about that slide and getting down it. I didn’t think about anything else.

I realized I hadn’t thought about anything during the race but the race. The trail engulfed us while we ran or walked or climbed up hills. We made jokes and just went on to the next thing. We just kept going; even when things sucked, we knew we’d be onto the next thing. No one had a phone, no one had anything with them, just us. Whether I hated the mud or not, it was an unforgettable experience. I think you live a little more when you do an obstacle course race. The extreme conditions force you to be human with other humans. There is nothing to hide behind, and I liked that part. I guess I’m okay with looking like a pussy, and there were some pretty cool people watching.

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