Monday, July 17, 2017

Savage Race 2017

July 15, 2017
There was a lot of anticipation for this race. Word of its good reputation had spread from other parts of the country and so many people were looking forward to it coming to New England.

From looking into it ahead of time, it looked much like a Spartan Race, but without the Spartan elitism. Similar obstacles, but with some fun ones thrown in. Spartan Race seems to be all about brute strength, whereas Tough Mudder's shtick is more about teamwork and mental obstacles, and the vibe I got from Savage Race was somewhere in between.

There were over two hundred New England Spahtens registered for the race, so the team was going to make a big showing. The event was to take place at Carter and Stevens Farm in Barre, Massachusetts, a venue I am familiar with, having raced there three times before (2015 Spartan Sprint, 2015 Spartan Super, and 2015 Battle Frog).
New England Spahtens Team Photo
Like the other races, parking was offsite in a large field, with shuttle buses to the venue. Once at the venue, check-in was quick and painless, and I realized I had nearly an hour to kill before my starting wave. I was debating whether or not to bring my hydration pack because while it was humid, it was also overcast and in the 70s. But ran into several friends I had met from previous races, and several of them were wearing theirs, so in the end I decided to bring it. I went to the bag check and was disconcerted as the line was extremely long, but fortunately it moved fast. The girl who took my bag kept repeating my bib number back to me wrong, but she wrote down the number correctly on the tag, so in the end all was well.
Course Map
Soon it was off to the starting line, where the commentator turned out to be Dustin, a guy who also has also done the introduction for Spartan Races, who spoke in his characteristic speed-talking fashion, "pumping us up." In my opinion the intro was entirely too long, as I am always eager to get past the pep talk and get going.  Finally we were off, and quickly any hopes I had that I would be running with the same group I did for Tough Mudder were dashed. The crowd quickly spread out, and while I was still in the middle (well, towards the back) of the pack, I wasn't running "with" anyone. This would be another race in which I raced essentially alone. I suppose I could have asked someone sheepishly "Can I run with you?" but that requires social behavior at which I am a disaster, so I didn't try. In any event, throughout the course there were usually Spahtens around, if not actually with me, so I suppose being alone is just my perception of it rather than the reality.

It was a half mile at least to the first obstacle, which was a simple Low Crawl underneath barbed wire. The wires weren't too low, so I was able to high crawl under it without any problems. Next was Barn Door, which was a simple climb over a wall with plenty of handholds.

We had already slogged through plenty of mud pits that qualified as obstacles themselves, up to knee deep. This would become common throughout the course, and all of them had a very characteristic "farm" smell to them.

This first loop brought us back towards the festival area, where we hit the first water station. I had my hydration pack so I skipped the water. Most stations at OCRs consist of large water bottles/kegs where the volunteers give you small cups of water, but these were all bottled water. As such it seemed very wasteful to me, as most people took a swig or two from their bottle, dumped out the rest, tossed the bottle in the recycle bin and moved on.

Soon after that was Shriveled Richard, a simple jump into a cold water tank followed by a duck under a small wall to dunk you, and then out of the tank. The water was cold, but did not have visible ice in it, and so wasn't too bad.

After that was Blazed, which was a simple fire jump, which felt odd being so near the beginning of the race rather than the last obstacle before the finish.  Then was Squeeze Play, a low crawl underneath barrels that you had to push out of the way while crawling under them.

We left the festival area and it was off to into the woods and then fields, where we hit Backscratcher, which was a series of low walls to climb over with sections of barbed wire to crawl under in between them. Next was Slippery Incline, which is a simple inclined wall (but not very slippery) with a rope assist. Then was Lumberjack Lane, where you had to carry a large piece of wood (maybe 6" x 4" x 4') around a small loop.

Soon after that was Tree Hugger, the first obstacle I failed that day. It consisted of multiple vertical logs interspersed with metal posts that you had to maneuver across, with sparse hand and foot holds. I did not get very far before I gave up. Savage Race does not penalize you for failing obstacles, which I am appreciating more the more races I do. There's nothing that kills the fun of obstacle course races than overzealous volunteers screaming at you like drill sergeants while you struggle through obstacles, only to yell at you louder to do your burpees if you slip and fall (I'm looking at you, Spartan Race).

Next was Me So Thorny, which is just another barbed wire crawl, this one supported by a wooden frame. Following this was a long hike through the woods and mud and more woods and mud, until Wheel World. Wheel World is a monkey bar-like obstacle consisting of five pentagonal steering wheel-like contraptions hanging from a frame. You have to hang from each freely-spinning wheel in turn, spinning each one to be able to reach the next one. I didn't think I'd get very far on this, but seeing how far I got on the monkey bars at Tough Mudder, I thought I might have a small chance of completing it. Well, it didn't turn out that way. Despite the wheels being dry, my hands slipped right off of them as if they were greased, and into the water I went.

Then was Big Cheese, a wooden obstacle that looks vaguely like a cheese grater that you have to climb up and over that was relatively easy, followed by Mud N Guts, yet another muddy barbed wire crawl. This got us nice and dirty for Davy Jones' Locker, which was a jump from a 15 foot platform into a pool. Fifteen feet, but it always looks higher from the top. Like most obstacles of this type, I don't hesitate but just go for it.

Next was Mad Ladders, which consisted of a traverse across several rope ladders and cargo nets. I made it about 2/3 of the way through it before I couldn't go any farther simply because I couldn't reach the next ladder.

More hiking, and then to the Great Wall, which was an 8' wall. Tough Mudder had a similar wall with a small foothold near the bottom that you could use to help boost yourself up. I ran up to this one, jumped, grabbed the top, and tried to haul myself up and get my leg over the top...and my left shoulder gave way with a sharp stab of pain, and down I went. I've mentioned in previous posts that my shoulders have inferior instability and therefore are prone to subluxation (aka partial dislocation). I can pop them both in and out at will, generally painlessly. However, if they pop out involuntarily, usually caused by some kind of hanging or full extension reaching, depending on how much weight is on them, it can hurt really bad. This one did, and so after some swearing I gave up on the obstacle and went on to the next.

This was Block Party, which was dragging a cinder block at the end of a long rope across the grass maybe 15 yards, and then carrying it back to full extension. More hiking through mud and woods until Hangarang, which consisted of a pair of logs hanging from a rig that you had to traverse as they swung freely. This one looks difficult, but most people managed so long as they went slowly and carefully.  The most difficult part is the transition from one log to another, and as I reached for the chain holding the second log, my shoulder popped out again, which hurt, but I was able to complete the obstacle successfully. After this was Thor's Grundle, which was another water/mud obstacle where you had to negotiate a muddy water pit and under a cargo net stretched across it.

Following that was more trails and it was somewhere along this point that I rolled my ankle, giving me a long jolt of pins and needles in my foot for a while. But I could still put weight on it, so I kept going until Pole Cat, which was a traverse over water where you had to brace your arms on one pole and your feet on another, halfway with hands higher than feet and halfway with feet higher than hands. This wasn't too bad, and then it was on to Sawtooth.  This is a set of inclined monkey bars with a complication in the middle that makes it far more challenging. I had no illusions that could complete it, but I figured I could get to the halfway point. Unfortunately by this point my palms felt like large blisters, so my grip wasn't that great, and I only made it perhaps 1/3 of the way up the incline before I fell into the water.
Just before my grip failed...
Another hike across open fields to a water station, followed by Big Cargo, a tall A-frame cargo net.

Beyond that was Colussus, which I had been looking forward to. At first I thought it was just a big water slide that you climbed up to, but when I got to it I realized that it is more than that. The first part is a quarter-pipe with rope-assist climb that is similar to Everest 2.0 from Tough Mudder. You run up the increasing slope, grab the rope, and pull yourself up until you get a hold of the lip, and pull yourself (most of the time with help from those already on top) onto the platform above. The second part is a ladder up to the the third part: a very fun looking waterslide into a pool below.

But I had to complete the first part to get to the fun part. Several people were making the attempt, getting pulled up and over the lip as they got to the top. I wasn't with any friends at this point, so I suppose I couldn't count on any help, but I hoped that if I was making the effort, someone would step up to help.

My first attempt up the slip wall was a disaster: the ground leading up to it was uneven, so in my run up to the wall I became unbalanced and crashed into the wall rather than going up it. After brushing myself off I tried again, and this time I grabbed the rope and hauled myself up, and got both hands on the lip...and there I stopped. I had enough strength to hold myself there, but not enough to to get over the top. I could see people standing at the top not four feet away from me, straining and paralyzed, and no one moved an inch to help. It felt like longer, but I hung there for at least ten seconds, going nowhere. And then I distinctly both heard and felt a crunch in my right shoulder as it gave way, and I fell down the wall.

This was the low point of the race for me, and it soured me on the entire experience. This incident made the event stand out in sharp relief to Tough Mudder. On Everest, people are eager to work as a team and get everyone over the top. Every success earns a cheer, and every failure earns a sympathetic groan. Complete strangers are pulling for each other, and this spirit is one of the things I like best about Tough Mudder. At this obstacle, however, I hung there on the lip waiting in vain for a hand, and no one said a word when I tumbled down to the bottom. I suppose I shouldn't have expected anyone to help, and I always could have asked...but I didn't, so in the end it's my own fault. As I walked away disgusted (half with the experience, half with myself for failing), I passed a friend who said "No waterslide?"  "I couldn't get to the top," I whined. "No one helped." Angrily I stalked past the spectators watching people have fun going down the slide. Looking at post-event pictures, I saw that there was a ladder that provided access to the top so I could have bypassed the climb and just gone down the slide. Had I done so, it probably would have improved my mood considerably. But at the time I didn't see it and I just kept going.

The next two obstacles--the final two obstacles--naturally, were both rigs: Savage Rig and Twirly Bird, which are pure upper-body strength obstacles. With my grip failing and my shoulders hurting, I skipped both, feeling like a failure. Into the woods again on several muddy trails to the Finish.

In 2015 I complained that the finish of the Spartan Super at Barre was a letdown--at the end you went through some wooded trails, only to break out of the woods 20 yards from the fire jump and the finish line. This time it was much the same, but no fire jump. You just exited the woods...and there was the Finish. With such a short run up to the finish and no obstacle prior to it, it felt like a let down.
You can see what a good mood I was in.
By all accounts I was the only one who didn't have a fantastic time, as everyone else raved about how Savage Race put on an awesome event, so my being disappointed is more a reflection on me than it is on the race or other participants.

Trying to look at it objectively, the race was pretty good. The tagline of Savage Race is The Best Obstacles, The Perfect Distance.  I have no complaints about the distance. The obstacles were OK. I thought there were too many wire crawls, and most of the other obstacles, although many were fun, were just variations of obstacles I have seen at other races. Shriveled Richard is just a version of Tough Mudder's Arctic Enema. Davy Jones' Locker is just like Tough Mudder's Walk the Plank. And so on. Walls, cargo nets, rigs, monkey bars: they're all standard fixtures in races. The lack of penalties for failing obstacles is a plus however: I'm usually hard enough on myself for failing that the last thing I need is for someone to penalize me for it.

Despite my sour grapes, it was good to see the familiar faces I have come to expect at these races, and I'm glad that they enjoyed themselves, even if in the end I didn't. On the ride home I was in such a bad mood I was debating whether or not to go to the Tough Mudder I am signed up for next month, but hopefully my mood will improve enough to look forward to it.

Will I do Savage Race next year? (The race was such a hit they've already signed a contract with the venue, and Spahtens are excitedly signing up a year in advance).  Probably. If I am still racing next year, I'll do it sooner than I will do another Spartan Race.

Other races in this series

No comments: