On June 27th 2015, obstacle racers descended on the Skirmish USA Paintball Fields of Albrightsville for the 2015 Pennsylvania Savage Race. The driving wind and rain would add to the 25+ obstacles including the new Wheel World obstacle and the diabolical Sawtooth monkey bars. As the temperatures dipped into the low 60’s and high 50’s, racers streamed into the soaked and muddy venue undeterred by the nasty weather. Race favorites Ryan Atkins and Lindsay Webster arrived only minutes before the starting gun due to a car accident that cut off access to local roads. Another power couple racing that Saturday were Corinna Coffin and Kevin Righi who sought refuge from the rain under the OCR World Championships tent. Groups of racers huddled under the swag tent, grabbing that extra Savage hoodie to keep warm, while everyone’s favorite race photographer Bob Mulholland readied his gear under a large picnic pavilion with the rest of the Gameface photography crew. When the announcer called everyone to the starting line, there was no more hiding under the shelters, it was go time.
Garfield Griffiths explained the rules of the SavagePro heat and athletes jostled through their final stretches, warm-ups, and jump-knee tucks. Leaving all the nervous butterflies to the side with the last trip to the porta potty, athletes put on their serious faces with shouts from the MC “SAVAGE!”, and they responded “RACE!” “SAVAGE!” “RACE!” “SAVAGE!” “RACE!” “GOOOOOOO!!!”
A complete unknown racer rocketed to the front, but soon burned out. Race favorites Ryan Atkins and Jordan McDougal knew their bodies and paced themselves with scientific precision. The lead wave soon disappeared into the woods of the first massive paintball arena. The technical trails challenged even the best racers and Corinna quickly fell victim to the rocks and roots, but managed to continue despite an ankle injury.
Winding among the tall timbers, racers caught glimpses of the monstrous paintball battle zones before emerging on a full-size castle complete with battlements, catwalks, and turrets. The venue sports even more of these themed areas which treated racers to a truly unique experience. Though Skirmish sits in the heart of the Pocono Mountains, the venue is surprisingly flat, so Savage made up for a lack of hills with barrage after barrage of challenging obstacles. As the first racers arrived at the castle and challenged the rock-wall traverse, Ryan was nowhere to be seen. He and a handful of racers went off course when they mistakenly followed some paintball field markers instead of the bright blue tape set up by Savage race designers. The mistake cost them all about half a mile, but as Ryan exited the wall in the middle of a pack (he should have left them behind long ago), the acceleration in his pace was blistering.
With Corinna injured, Lindsay controlled the women’s race from start to finish. The most exciting part about the Savage setup at this venue was the hub-and-spoke course that sent racers out into the trails, only to return a few minutes later where spectators could witness the biggest, toughest obstacles, in one central location. After two miles into the race with Ryan still pushing hard to come back, Lindsay crushed the “Block Party” cinder-block pull and delved back into the forest trails.
A shadow of movement played along the trees as the spectators held their breath. Who would exit the woods in first place this time? Like a phoenix, Ryan emerged from the ashes of his mistake to reclaim the race lead at mile 4 and only one mile remained. With Wheel World weighing on his mind and Colossus still looming in the distance, Ryan cleared the “Nut Smasher” balance beam followed by Andrew Machalick. They dove down into a muddy trench with some over-under logs, and then the forest swallowed the athletes once again.
Ryan exited the forest for the final time with a commanding lead. The rotating steel bars of the “Wheel World” obstacle proved to be only a matter of grip strength and timing, as Ryan swung through with considerable speed. He made quick work of the “Lumberjack Lane” log carry, the “Teeter Tuber” drainage pipe/see-saw, and the fire jump. Up the massive Colossus quarter pipe, and down the slide on the other side, Ryan finally broke the tape in 38:36. Soon afterward, Andrew Machalick crossed in 39:11, and Jordan McDougal salvaged a third place finish in 40:24 after running of course with Ryan earlier in the race.
On the women’s side, Lindsay Webster dominated the race with a finish of 43:01, besting the next woman by over 3 minutes and all but 6 of the men. Jackie Landmark came in 2nd with a time of 46:46 and Corinna Coffin gritted it out on a bad ankle to take 3rd in 51:20. Overall, 7 out of 14 women managed to keep their SavagePro wristbands in this Mandatory Obstacle Completion format, proving that Savage Race provides a good challenge without alienating the regular Janes and Joes coming out for fun. About 75% of the men’s field of 102 finished with their SavagePro wristbands.
Thus concludes the SavagePro report of the 2015 Pennsylvania Savage Race, read on for my personal experience.
Since I only live about an hour and forty-five minutes from Skirmish USA Paintball in Albrightsville, PA, I decided to wake up early and head to the Savage Race the morning of. I’ve lost some weight recently and so I really wanted to test myself, but more importantly, this was my first Savage Race and I couldn’t wait to experience their course. When I finally pulled off I-80, the flat terrain surprised me, since I expected the Pocono Mountains. Pulling into the venue, I smiled. All the major obstacles were visible from the spectator area, so I knew I would get some good footage for my show. I parked, set up my, tent, chatted with Adrian of OCRWC, and prepared my camera gear. Garfield hooked Adrian and I up with a ride on one of the staff gators, and we followed the race from the front, then on foot afterward. I relished getting shots of the racers coming through the castle and it gave me a little taste of what I’d be facing later. I followed the race around as much as possible, and got some great footage that I hope you will all enjoy. My friends grabbed first place, and then I set up for some post-race interviews with them, and Savage CEO Sam Abbitt.
After the interviews, I got pictures of the awards, then put all my gear away, and pulled out my racing gear. Only the Sawtooth and Wheel World obstacles gave me some concern with the rain and cold possibly sapping my grip strength and making the bars really slippery. I headed to the startline to jump into the 12:40 wave, but missed it because I forgot to wear my bib and timing chip! Ugh! Missing the early start gave me a little more time to warm up, but I just wanted to get going. Finally, at 1:00pm I toed the line with the final wave and got ready to run.
The MC got us all pumped up. I got tons of funny looks, snickers and stares on account of my usual blue tiger-stripe speedo, but it doesn’t bother me. I like the speedo for the functionality, as well as the flair. It dries quickly and provides zero drag against mud and water obstacles. Plus, it’s the only time I get to show off my awesome buffalo tattoo. I edged my way to the front, so I wouldn’t have to pass people constantly, and took off on an easy pace as the race began. Almost immediately people passed me right and left. I checked my GPS. At about a 9 minute mile, I knew I could keep this pace forever and have some reserve for the when the obstacles spiked my heart-rate. Though it’s a little demoralizing to be passed so often, by so many, so early in the race, I knew my strategy would pay. Within the first mile even though I cramped slightly in my calves, I caught and passed almost all those people as my strength comes in moving over obstacles fluidly and efficiently.
Running through the castle proved as exciting as I thought it would be, and I ran up to the rock-wall traverse with confidence. That confidence shattered when I realized the wall actually inverted at a 10% angle and the rock climbing grips were just big enough for my finger tips. About half-way, I fell off. Now comes the moral dilemma. If this were a Spartan Race, I would have immediately done my burpees. If this were the SavagePro competitive heat, I would be required to start over and finish, or give up my wristband. This was neither, and I wasn’t required by the rules to finish the wall. I could have run on (there are no completion rules for the open heats), but I decided to get back on the wall, and finish. I fell one more time, then finally rang the bell. I did not go back to start over nor did I do burpees, but instead of just running away, I decided to at least finish the wall, and I’m okay with that.
Why does it matter? Because deep down, I wanted to qualify for the OCRWC, and I knew that 15 non-competitive age-groupers could qualify in the open heats without Mandatory Obstacle Completion. I wanted to capture footage of the competitive wave, so I knew I couldn’t run in that heat. Also, I knew that if the rules don’t require completion in open heats, there could be guys out there simply skipping the obstacles, and I didn’t want to lose a spot to them because of an over-inflated sense of duty. Follow the rules, nothing more, nothing less.
Back out on the course, I made quick work of a sloped wall with a rope, and entered the woods. These trails were rough. I could see now why Corinna sprained her ankle. Rocks and roots littered the ground. Every step required precision and the 9 minute pace I had been keeping deteriorated into a constant determination to not trip or turn my own ankles. The rain also turned the regular trails in a mud slog, but at least the forest canopy gave some protection from the chilling wind and driving rain. Here, it was reduced to a sprinkle. The sections of trail running seemed long, but each time I arrived back in the festival area, a new cluster of obstacles awaited.
This time, “Shriveled Richard” goaded the other participants, and small groups of people stared sheepishly, daring each other to be the first into the icy cold water. With a quick “On Your Left!” I passed them all, turned off all emotion, and without hesitation plunged into the numbing deep. A robotic mask spread across my face, the stinging ice rocking me to my core, but I resolved to not let on. Under the barrier and out the other side, my grit won out, and I pressed on. Taking cold showers for the last 2 months prepared me well. I think the chilly dunk jump-started my metabolic defense mechanisms, because I remember feeling even warmer afterward.
Next up, “Davy Jones’ Locker”. I’ve been cliff jumping all my life, and I dove competitively in college, so the 15 ft platform jump into water wasn’t as much of a challenge as a quick dip for me, but I don’t want to downplay that heights and deep, murky water are massive fears for many. I applaud those that can conquer their fears and jump anyway. I also applaud those who know their limits, and skip obstacles like this, especially those who can’t swim and have no business jumping in the first place. To you I say, “Thank you for not dying and please go learn to swim!” It’s a major life skill. Anyway, nothing fancy like a reverse 2 and a half with a twist: I jumped out as far as possible and swam quickly to the other side, looking to waste no time.
Back into the woods, I raced on with a determination to finish strong. The rocks and roots never relented and luckily, after years of playing soccer on a crappy practice field, my ankles withstood the test of several sideways rolls without spraining. My three-year old Inov-8 Trailroc 245’s are still holding up and providing fantastic traction. For next pair of shoes I’d like a little more drop and a rockplate, but otherwise, I’m pleased.
From a racer and spectator perspective, I definitely enjoyed the Hub-and-Spoke layout of the course, but the next time I came running back into the festival area, I faced the dreaded “Sawtooth” monkey bars. Now, in the past, I’ve conquered the Tough Mudder “Funky Monkey” bars and only failed the Spartan monkey bars twice, on account of slippage, so to face the up-hill Sawtooth gave me a lot of apprehension. The big difference now was that I had recently lost 15 lbs and focused more on my grip strength. I decided to attack Sawtooth with a sideways two-handed grip on the uphills, which worked perfectly. I climbed. Up to the tooth, down it, and back up, then facing forward with a two-handed stutter grab down the back-side. Though the rain-soaked bars were impossibly slick, my new improved grip held fast, and my second most dreaded obstacle lay behind me. Fist pump.
Another round in the forest, running through giant mock towns and paintball barricades, then back out into the fields, this time I encountered “The Nut Smasher” balance beam. The “NS” obstacle is a 3 inch wide balance beam that spans 40 feet across a dunk tank. Unfortunately, people moved really slow on this one and so I had to wait a few minutes before I could get my own beam. My excellent balance comes from my childhood gymnastic days and so there were no nuts smashed for me that day. On the other side, I vaulted past some guys who were taking their time settling into the muddy trench and quickly traversed the over-under logs to crawl out the other side. One more time into the woods and I grabbed some Kiwi-Strawberry NUAQUOS at the aid station on my way by: Not bad.
As soon as I entered the last trail section, both calves started cramping. Unfortunately, my sample of NUAQUOS was very small and not adequate to replace electrolytes or re-hydrate me, and I had no mustard packets or gels. So I just plodded along, trying to image that the cramps were actually a nice massage to my tire and achy muscles. Exiting the woods for the last time, I came face to face with “Wheel World.” Watching Ryan Atkins blast through this a few hours earlier was nice, but didn’t inspire tons of confidence when I grabbed the first basket/bar only to realize it was very large and very slick. Before heading out, I noticed Bob Mulholland photographing participants and called out to him while I struck a pose and gave a big thumbs up. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to hang on, but I gripped the bar as strongly as possible, reached across to grip with my other hand, and started swinging. Not falling off immediately, I realized I might be able to make it. The upside-down basket rotated 180 degrees and I grabbed the next, and the next. I was making it! Whomp, whomp! Not so fast! On the second-to-last wheel, my momentum gave out and I spun the wrong way. No matter which way I squirmed I could not shift within reach of the last wheel. Just as my grip began to give out, the guy next to me flailed in just the right way to kick me and I spun into the final position. Thanks guy, whoever you are! One last rung and I landed safely on the other side.
I could see Colossus towering in the distance now as I made my way around the Lumberjack Lane, albeit without any lumber. Zigzagging back and forth through the massive shipping containers, I kept expecting to find a pile of logs around the next corner. None ever came. Some wayward participants, or uninformed volunteers had let all the logs pile up at the end of the lane, and there were no logs to pick up. Though I thought about going back, I had no idea where the logs were supposed to be or where to drop them off, so I just continued on to the next obstacle: Teeter Tuber. This drain pipe was so inclined and tiny, that I barely got halfway up, but then a friendly participant behind me tipped it the rest of the way and I slid out the bottom. Squirming out the other side, I headed for the fire-jump, caught some serious air, and performed a Back-scratcher Foot-grab Revert with lower lip raspberry.
Finally, only Colossus stood ominously between me, and the finish line. This monster quarter pipe is slick, tall, and the rope to grab the top is muddy and awkward at the lip. I charged ahead, up the curve, and grabbed for the rope. My first hand slipped! Nearly falling backward, I reached with my other hand and clutched the rope with all my might narrowly escaping the slide of shame back down the face of the giant. One last muscle-up over the lip, even without help from the multiple friendly hands awaiting the need for assistance, and I made it. Now at the very top of Colossus, 43 feet in the air, I could feel the rush of the crowd and stare down the dizzying slide. The finish line music was blasting and I couldn’t wait to finish. I lined up, sat down on the edge, and with a blast of wind, plummeted down the other side, crashing into the water below. A quick swim to the shore, I climbed out over the last muddy feet of ground and crossed the finish with a huge smile on my face.
Savage Race is awesome.