……Introducing celebrity guest blogger, Ryan Albrecht, who discusses his 2011 racing season.
Allow me to preface this with, I am not the strongest or fastest, cyclist, runner, swimmer, or Triathlete that I know. There are plenty of people, many are good friends in this area, that can blow me away at any distance.
Let’s go back to the early season, in the Albrecht household that was sometime in late December / early January when we planned out what races we wanted to do. The only staples in this were peaking for Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) in June, and doing the Reston Triathlon aka Reston World Championships in September. Then all the other races just fell into place. Throw all the races we want to do in a pile and see if they fit. It got up to 14 races for the year. That’s a big year. We planned on it. TTT Ohio (that’s a big one and great training for Ironman we heard), various VA Triathlon Series Races, National Marathon, and SavageMan. I’m going to be training for hills anyway for Ironman, so what the hell. I’ve heard this is a hilly and tough race, I might as well blow out whatever I have left and cap off the season with Savageman. Then came the conversation at the Wedemeyer’s house after a Saturday morning trainer session with Ken Delraso. “I’m gonna do the Diabolical Double” he says. “What’s that?” I asked. He pretty much told us that he was training for Ironman Lake Placid so that he could do the Diabolical Double. End of June, perfect timing for IMLP training, hard riding, So, of course, we signed up.
I had 2 specific goals for the year with all of this:
1. To go sub 11 hours at IMLP
2. Get a Brick in the Wall (the Westernport Wall, that is. More to come later.)
Went over it all with Coach Baldwin. Took some advice from him regarding which races to peak for and which were purely “training” races.
The big ones – TTT, Diabolical Double, IMLP, and SavageMan
TTT – we (Lisa, Coach Baldwin, and I) were having coffee a few days before TTT discussing the course and race plans. I was feeling confident, trained, and ready. “You have climbing gears, right?” he asked. “Uh no”. So I immediately got on the phone calling bike shops. I didn’t know exactly what to get. So, I bought 4 cassettes that day. Oh, how $ flies out the window in this sport. In the Albrecht household, it is everything times 2. I had 2 different sets of gears for both Lisa and I. TTT turned out to be bittersweet. I was proud of how well I did there and felt ready for Ironman. TTT, if you don’t know is a brutal, tough weekend of racing. Lisa had a foot injury and had to pull out of the races. So, I was happy for me, but I didn’t want to go and do IMLP without her. My thoughts on the whole ride home were to get her healed up in time, and didn’t really care anymore about how I felt.
Diabolical Double – remember those climbing gears? Yeah well they don’t come with a motor. This is directly from the website – The Diabolical Double is an extreme epic ride that highlights the incredible beauty and severe terrain of the Allegheny Mountains of western Maryland and West Virginia…this ride is an extreme challenge on par with any single day ride in the world. Yup! That about sums it up. This ride has me convinced that every single professional cyclist is on drugs. There just aint no other way. I almost felt like this ride was too hard for IMLP training. But it was perfect timing for an epic ride. It also shares a lot of the course and hills with the SavageMan course. Which I wanted to get a taste of.
Ironman Lake Placid – Sub 11 hours – check. I was chasing that clock during the marathon. And once I saw the official race clock in the Oval, I lost it. It all came together for me that day. And as you all know, Lisa’s foot held together, and I get to go to Hawaii. After this race, I was on such a high, and said “I don’t give a shit about SavageMan, but I’ll do Reston”.
Fast forward to a team Happy Hour, and in walks Amy Krupka with a set of compact cranks that she said she would let me borrow. I was almost hoping she would forget about these and I would have my out. I would need all the help I can get to get up that Wall. Well now I have the tools, but my brain still needed to be turned on to it. Part of how my brain works is this, I sit at the Thanksgiving table every year and reflect. I knew if I didn’t try SavageMan, I would never forgive myself. So, then it was on. Hunter Station repeats, zone 5 intervals on the trainer, hammer up some hills in Loudon County, I need to be ready for this.
Savageman week is here, I had just done the Reston Tri the Sunday before SavageMan and did pretty well. I raced as fast as I could, so my legs were pretty beat up from this. So, I changed my cranks, put on all the climbing gears I had, and went out for a ride to loosen up my legs and test the equipment. Chain snaps, destroyed the rear derailleur, walked a few miles, things are not going so great. With some help from Andy, everything got fixed, and I was good to go. Then it got cold, 30 something degrees on Friday morning before the race up in Deep Creek. Better pack some sweatshirts, and yes, this race will be wetsuit legal.
Saturday morning, I rode over to the SavageMan 30 race start, it was 43 degrees and windy. I met Lisa there, who was already out for an early ride. It was too cold to stand there and watch. But, tomorrow is supposed to be a little warmer. That afternoon was a mandatory pre race meeting, and bike check in. Now usually at these you hear racers talking strategy, time goals, hoping to place, etc. Not here. “I want a brick” is all you hear about. A mandatory brake check and the descents is all the race organizers want to talk about.
Race day – 50 degrees on the drive over to the race start. That’s not too bad. The problem is this. You get out of the lake, and the first 19 miles is downhill for the most part, so being wet and jumping on a bike in the cold is a recipe for freezing. But I just smiled and thought that’s all part of SavageMan. Man Up, toughen up, HTFU, all those thoughts came to mind. Lake temp was about 64. That’s warmer than the air, and with a full wetsuit on, the water felt pretty good. Actually great during the swim. The lake is clean, the 2 turns are at Thomas the Turtle and the Swan Boat. How cute.
I also knew that during T1, I would actually towel off, put on a cycling jacket, put on socks and gloves. All in the name of keeping warm.
Let’s talk SavageMan course for moment. When is the last time you have done a race with a money back guarantee? Never, me either. Well here it is directly from the SavageMan website –
The SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon bike course is the most beautiful and most savage triathlon bike course in the world, guaranteed. If, after finishing the SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon, you feel you have previously completed a similar distance race that is more scenic and more savage, race management will refund your entry fee complete with a profound apology.
Oh, and during this race, the odds are that you will fall. Now for mountain biking, Xterra, Cyclocross, BMX, and all of that, falling is just part of it. Road racing, not so much. With SavageMan, you get the Westernport Wall. I’ve heard of it, I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen pictures, and I’ve read about it. But nothing can compare to staring at it from the bottom. It is steep, it is cracked, it has holes, it is old, and it is closed to traffic for good reason. During the Diabolical Double you ride past it, and down the bottom of it. When I finally saw it during the Diabolical Double, I had thoughts of riding up it, but when I got there, I have to admit, it scared the hell out of me. I thought, I’m gonna need another crank.
So I am finally on my bike, racing the SavageMan bike course. You start immediately with a Cat 4 climb, one of the easy ones. I will equate this to Hunter Station. Yes, the famous Hunter Station is an easy climb at SavageMan. Feeling good, but my legs are cold and still wet. In my mind all I can think about is the Wall. And my legs are going to need to fire when I finally pull the trigger. So the next few miles is a bunch of rolling hills and some flats. At this point I wasn’t really racing, I started doing drills, high cadence, low cadence, standing, seated, anything I could think of to get a warm feeling in my legs. The whole time singing to myself the chorus of “another brick in the wall”. I’m at mile 10, OMG, this thing is approaching. Mile 15 I started jockeying for position. I didn’t want anyone to be directly in front of me. So I passed a few packs of riders. I also got passed by a few other riders who looked strong, so I didn’t worry so much about them. I started getting a little nervous. Then I saw the chimney at the charcoal factory and I knew I was there. I’m at mile 18, only a mile or so left. A few other riders let me pass. No one was racing at this point, just casually riding. I made a left turn and a volunteer yelled “4 more”, I could hear the crowd, oh god, here it is, I turned, but it wasn’t it. One more little straightaway, my heart rate spiked, I could hear the crowd, the music, the cowbells, the horns, but I couldn’t see it yet. One more left turn, and there it is. The Westernport Wall. Four blocks to immortality.
The bottom 3 blocks are paved and fairly steep, then it goes from bad to worse. I had a good position, with only 1 strong looking rider in front of me, there was chalk and tons of inspirational messages on the road, I couldn’t read any of it, I saw the Devil, I saw the crowd, I saw the wall. I have never been in the middle of a bike ride / race and got nervous. Usually that happens at the start and goes away once the race starts. At this point, I was a nervous mess. I took the bottom part really easy, then comes the wall. Here I was thinking BMX start, all out, everything you got. FIRE!!!!! I had a good line, flew over the cracks, the crowd is screaming, I’m focused on the road, the cracks, the holes. I’m half way there, I got this thing, holy shit, I got this thing. I’m at the top, I let out the loudest scream I could. “Immortality, you are mine!” I did it, I got my brick in the wall. But now I have to finish this thing.
From the website – While the Westernport Wall may have claimed many victims in the SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon, many Savages have attempted and conquered the Wall as well. And those solo participants who clear the Wall without unclipping and walking and go on to complete the SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon are rewarded with triathlon immortality: personally engraved bricks laid in the Wall for future Savage triathletes to ride over and perhaps fall onto.
This is how ugly the wall got seconds after I passed through
Now it get’s hard. At the bottom of this Wall is a timing mat, the beginning of a 7 mile climb. And yes, there are awards for this, just like a King of the Mountain award for who makes it to the summit the fastest. That wasn’t me. This is a Cat 1 climb that will break you. My heart rate at this point is through the roof, I am dripping with sweat, and I have to continue on a Cat 1 climb up Big Savage Mtn. But, I got my brick. So, just sit back and enjoy the ride, well try to enjoy it. At least take in some scenery, and some calories. Here is where I found myself trying to find even more gears. They weren’t there. After 41:27, I finally got a break. Gravity took over, and downhill for a few miles I went. Then you get some good ol’ Cat 2 and 4 climbs along the way, pretty much equivalent to doing the Taylorstown and Stumptown hills over and over. I find myself on a nice long downhill with legs feeling like jelly, and I see signs, “Don’t look left”. Don’t look left, why not? There’s a pretty pasture with cows and stunning scenery. Oh shit!!!, I’m at Killer Miller. That would be Miller road with a Killer hill. Killer is an understatement. Westernport wall is very short and I can think of equating it to standing in a ring with Tyson trying to take 1 punch. Now I couldn’t do that, but you get the point. Killer Miller is like having Ali come in at the end of a fight to finish you off. This is 1.3 miles of a non categorized climb. It is too hard for normal categories. It is rated Hors Savage. This killed me. I had ridden it before in the Diabolical Double, but not during a race. There was a huge crowd, which helped. Because for the first time in my life, I actually thought of getting off and walking. My legs were on fire, I was already beaten up from this ride, and this is only mile 40 of 56. This burned, it hurt, it sucked. My legs had no fire left in them like they did at the Wall. That was all used up by this point. But I made it. And this is the last big climb, until the next one. There’s a few smaller ones, then comes Maynardier Ridge, a nice little Cat 3 climb. Oh god, I’m done. But the rest of the ride is mainly downhill back to the lake. 10 miles to go. There was no more bike racing for me now, it’s all about being able to run 13.1 miles. My goals on the bike were done, get a brick and complete all the climbs, all without stopping once. Done and Done. So, no more hard efforts on this ride and coast as much as possible.
I got back to T2, and heard Lisa screaming for me. I was smiling from ear to ear. It’s still cold. My hands are frozen. Getting a helmet, jacket, gloves and bike shoes off quickly with cold hands offers another challenge. All part of the Savagery of it. A little more cheering from Lisa and I’m off. Okay legs let’s do this. Oh you want to start off slow do you. That’s fine we’ll pick it up in a mile or 2. Well mile 2 is a King of the Mountain climb on the run. Yeah, we had to walk part of that one. We’re at the top, let’s fly down this thing. That hurts, there’s no flying down anything. Back to the rolling long stretch, I tried to speed up, and there just wasn’t much there. Onto the 2nd King of the Mountain climb on the run. Quarter mile straight up a gravel road. Turn around and back down it. We’re walking part of that one too. Now for the rollers back to the start for lap 2. At this point I looked at my total time for the race and thought I would have a shot at 6 hours if I could speed up lap 2. Well I got to the bottom of the gravel road with a mile and a half to go. I was at 5:56. At this point, why kill myself anymore? This is going to be a slower than a normal 13.1 miles. So, I decided to take a nice run along the lake. The sun was shining, it was perfect running weather, and I had 1.5 miles of my season left. Take it all in, thank the volunteers, cheer on the other racers, reflect on the accomplishments. Zip up, hat on straight, race # on straight. Coming into the finish line there were tons of people, race announcer calling my name, music blasting, but all I could hear was Lisa screaming for me. You gotta love her! The pain all goes away here. Season’s over. Wow! At the end of this race, you get a cool finishers shirt and some good food and good ice cream. This is a charity foundation running this race. So the swag is there if you raise enough $. Time goals are out the window. The majority of people are walking lap 2 of the run course. But at the end of the day with this race, you either got a brick, or you didn’t. That’s all you hear about.
Goal #1 – sub 11 hour Ironman – check
Goal # 2 – A Brick In The Westernport Wall – check
And after all that, I get to go to Hawaii to cheer on Lisa racing Kona.
Not a bad year for Team Albrecht!
A few points that I have to make :
- SavageMan absolutely needs to go on everyone’s list. Period, end of story. There just isn’t anything else like it. You can’t call yourself a seasoned long course triathlete and live in this area and not do SavageMan. Ironman and SavageMan are the requirements for any long course triathlete.
- If you are a cyclist, you must do the Diabolical Double.
- I hear all the time about what is harder. Here is my opinion and what I have learned from doing these:
- Nothing compares to the glory and pain of an Ironman
- TTT is good Ironman training, but over the weekend you get to sleep and eat in between races while breaking the Ironman distance into 4 parts. If you can do TTT, you can more than likely do Ironman, but that doesn’t mean you can do SavageMan.
- Just because you can do an Ironman bike ride, this doesn’t mean you can do the Diabolical Double bike ride. So Diabolical Double is harder than TTT.
- Just because you can do the Diabolical Double bike ride, doesn’t mean you can successfully complete the SavageMan bike ride. Meaning get a brick, then run that brutal half marathon course.
- Therefore, Ironman is the hardest, followed by SavageMan, then Diabolical Double, then TTT.
- SavageMan offers a Club Challenge Club Challenge – This sounds like a great idea for Team FeXY
And it supports our charity. More details are on the website:
The SavageMan Triathlon is including a competition for organized clubs. Deep Creek Lake in September is a great location for an end-of-season club gathering, and the SavageMan Triathlon Festival offers a perfect venue and perfect event around which clubs can hold their end-of-season event. There are many training and other recreational activities opportunities in the lake area for non-participants. We would like to get as many people as possible involved in the fight against melanoma and encourage members of clubs to participate in SavageMan either as participants or volunteers. If you are a member of a club or a club president and would like to discuss with SavageMan race organization about including your club, please contact us
A club must have a minimum of 8 members to qualify, and to participate each member must either volunteer or participate in the SavageMan Triathlon.
The Club Challenge is scored on six separate categories, with each club receiving a score from 1 (first) to n (last) for each category. The club with the lowest total score wins. The categories are:
- Number of participants in both SavageMan Triathlon races
- Number of event volunteers
- Total dollars raised for Joanna M Nicolay Melanoma Foundation
- Male cumulative time: cumulative time of club’s fastest male in each race
- Female cumulative time: cumulative time of club’s fastest female in each race
- SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon relay time
Are You Savage Enough?
The spectator’s epilogue, by hooslisa
Much of endurance sport is all about pushing the envelope. It’s about doing something farther or harder or crazier than you’ve ever done. The Savageman 70.0 bundles all of that into one. As someone who has done a few Ironman races I would be lying if I said this race didn’t scare me. You hear about the infamous Westernport Wall, but hearing about it and seeing it are entirely different. It is an intimidating sight.
After watching the pros appear to grind it out to get to the top and to watch a legend in the sport of triathlon, Dave Scott, fall on his attempt, I was seriously nervous waiting for Ryan. The pride (and relief) I felt when he crushed it, was immense.
What is even more amazing (and gets signficantly less press) is that the Wall is only the very beginning of a long, arduous 7.1 mile climb. The relief riders feel when they get off their bikes is quickly overshadowed by a ridiculously challenging run. The run, which lies in the shadow of the legend of the bike course, could be one of the toughest half iron distance run courses out there. There is truly no reprieve during this race.
Despite all the challenges, I watched all day as racers fell, got up, brushed themselves off and kept pushing through. It was incredibly inspiring.
The most inspiring performance for me was watching Drew Smith, a fellow FeXY, and three other members of his family race for Team O’Brien. Drew has been plagued with nagging injuries this season AND this was his first half iron distance, but he perservered. I imagine there were forces and thoughts that only Drew can understand that helped motivate him up the Wall and on to race completion. Team O’Brien competed in memory of his step-father who lost his battle with Melonoma earlier in the year. If you see Drew, please remember to congratulate him on a really great accomplishment.
Congrats to all the Savageman finishers. Your performances were truly inspiring.