This weekend I completed my first Savage race in Kennedyville, Maryland. Before running this race I figured most OCR events were probably pretty similar, and in a lot of ways this one similar to other races I’ve done, but there are a lot of things that set it apart as well. The race itself wasn’t drastically different from what I am used to, but the overall feel for the event was much different. From the moment I walked in I got a much more light-hearted and fun vibe than I have experienced in the Spartan Races. I feel like that same energy permeated through the entire event.
My first impression of the festival area was how small it was. I am used to the large and sometimes labyrinthine festival areas that Spartan Race tends to create. This one was simple and didn’t have too much in it that could get you turned around, which was nice. I was a bit concerned that the area wouldn’t be able to accommodate all of the racers (according to the announcer there were around 4000 people signed up), but even when I had finished the race I didn’t feel like the area was ever too crowded, so I guess they knew what they were doing. The announcer they had on the stage had a good amount of energy and was doing a great job keeping the crowd engaged. I appreciated how many racers they called onto the stage that were repeat racers, or had birthdays, or had other interesting stories. There was a lot more crowd participation than I’ve seen before.
The first heat, the Pro heat, ran at 9 and my heat was set to run 20 minutes later. I thought it interesting that they ran in 20 minute heats rather than the 15 minute heats they have in Spartan. I assume they do this to try to prevent obstacle jam ups. If that is the goal then they need to figure out another method, but more on that later. I hung around the start line because I wanted to see the Pro racers start. Once they were off I went to warm up: A quick run around the festival and parking area followed by some stretching and dynamic warm ups. I made my way to the start line around 9:15. I noticed a large crowd of people at the entrance to the corral and the gates were shut. I also noticed the corral was only about half full, so I went to talk to the man controlling the gate. I told him that I was in the 9:20 wave and he informed me that everyone on my side of the gate was for the same heat, but they had to cut off the number of people going in. So basically they refused to let me run in the heat I signed up and paid for. Had the corral been completely full I might have been more understanding, but that wasn’t the case. And I shouldn’t be punished because they overbooked it. It was at this point that I realized there was no verification for your start time at all. Spartan gives you wristbands with your time so that you are sure to get into your wave. There is no verification at all, so to best of my knowledge half the people that ran in the 9:20 wave were running in the wrong heat. So I then had to stand and wait for 20 more minutes to get to the start line. Since I had just warmed up and was ready to go I was a little upset. Not that I am elite racer or anything, but I do take this stuff seriously. If I left the start area to try to keep warm I would have likely missed the next heat as well. So I had to stand there trying to jump in place and do what stretching I could in the crowded area by the gate. This was a really bad start to the event in my opinion. I know most people are just there for fun and probably don’t care too much, but I was really disappointed by it all.
Once we finally were allowed to line up on the start line I was getting over the whole start time debacle; I didn’t want something simple and silly like that to ruin the whole race, so I was doing my best to stay calm and let it go. At the end of the day it wasn’t that big of an inconvenience, so I am ok with what happened, but they do need to think of a better system for their start lines. Anyway, the start line area was a lot more fun than at the Spartan Races. The announcer was much more energetic and it had a much more fun and laid back tone than the Spartan speeches. There was crowd surfing, jumping, hollering, kneeling and grunting to get everyone hyped up for the start. I have to admit it was a good way to start a race.
The race itself was pretty awesome. It was 6.1 miles or just under 10k. I would say that the course was a little more flat than a lot of the Spartan Races I’ve done, but they had a decent amount of elevation change; There were a few really good hills in there. There was also a good amount of muddy areas and water you had to walk through. The terrain was, overall, a little less technical than what Spartan offers, but I feel like they sent us through the wet areas a little more often than I’ve been seeing in the Spartans lately. I also noticed the had a ton of signage on the course. There was definitely no way you were going to get lost on this course. I have ventured off course at a Spartan Race a couple of times. They made sure there was no way that was happening here, which was actually pretty nice.
I really liked the way they chose to do their obstacles as well. They seemed pretty well spaced out over the course. It wasn’t like a Spartan where they tend to all be crammed up by the festival area. But the course was designed in such a way that it was easy to walk to a lot of them from the festival area, so if you wanted to watch people do the obstacles you easily could. They do seem to like to give you several obstacles back to back though, but it was actually kind of fun. I didn’t feel there were too many parts of the race where you were just running for a long time. There was always an obstacle on the horizon for you look forward to. The obstacles themselves were pretty awesome. I feel like most of them were designed for people to complete them, rather than to wear you out. A lot of them were really challenging, but not so hard that most people couldn’t finish them. I feel like there are a few small tweaks they could make to make some of them a lot more difficult, but I don’t think that’s goal of the company. They were looking to put on a tough, but fun race, and they did just that.
I really liked trying my hand at some of these new obstacles. Some of them tested me in ways the other races haven’t and I was definitely feeling it the next day! It was really fun to try something I’ve never tried before to see if I could complete it. I think that’s what drew me into this sport in the first place; the thrill of the unknown! I was really surprised at how well I did on some of the obstacles that I just didn’t think I was going to complete. Most of obstacles I was worried about are the ones that require good grip strength, like Wheel World or Sawtooth. I have been working on my grip strength a lot and it’s really starting to pay off! I wasn’t able to complete every obstacle on the course, but those that I failed I did try again to see if I could complete them. Some I was successful on the second attempt and some I was not.
I was a little disappointed by some of the traffic jams at some of the obstacles though. Some of them weren’t the fault of the race, some people were just intimidated by the obstacle or were taking a break, but there was more than one occasion where I would have to stand for a couple of minutes to get to an obstacle. The worst was probably Davy Jones’ Locker. It’s a 15 foot climb and then jump into a pool of water below. Understandably, there are a lot of safety concerns with this so they only allowed 3-4 racers to jump at a time and the previous racers had to be clear of the pool before the next group could go. It’s a fun obstacle, so I won’t complain, and the Pros wouldn’t have had to worry about that, but the slowdown was unfortunate. I’ve seen worse jam-ups in other races, but I feel like OCR has been around long enough now that they should be able to get some of these kinks pretty much worked out by now.
I’m not sure how or why, but there was actually not a crowd at the showers though! You could walk right up and get cleaned off. That was a welcome change. The only odd part was that they put the showers on the opposite side of the parking area from the festival area. So you had to walk past all of the parked cars to get there. I don’t know if this was done to help keep the crowds down in the festival area or to try to make it easier for people when they are leaving. Maybe it was even that there was a small body of water nearby that the shower water would drain into. Whatever the reason it was odd, but the shower situation was nice. And what was also nice was the changing tent! It was a little smaller than the Spartan tents, but they had a huge table inside which was amazing. Spartan gives you a folding chair or two, and they are hotly contested. This table allowed everyone to get dried off and changed without much hassle at all. Two thumbs up for that addition!
Overall this was a great event! I had heard everyone talking about how much they enjoyed the Savage Races, but was a little skeptical. I was pleasantly surprised. This is definitely a race I will be looking forward to completing again as soon as I can! As for my performance, I finished in the top 10% of the open racers. This is very encouraging news! Now I only wish I had kept up my training this whole time. Who knows where I would have ended up! But that is some really good motivation to get back on my regiment! I’m excited for what is to come!