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Third time not a charm at Savageman

Two weeks ago my husband and I traveled to Deep Creek Lake for what would be our third Savageman 70 triathlon.

In 2008 got our feet wet with the Savageman 30, a race that offers up a taste of the 70 without suffering through the full Half Ironman distance. I finished fourth in my division that year and returned in 2009 to claim a third place finish. I remember collecting my hardware, packing up my gear, and marveling in horrified awe over a post-race dinner that many of the 70 racers were still on the course. I was glad I wasn't one of them.

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But by 2010, we were ready to attempt our first Half Ironman distance race. However, in choosing the Savageman 70, we had unwittingly signed up to take on what Triathlete Magazine had, earlier that year, dubbed "The hardest race on earth."

What makes Savageman so singularly savage is the more than 6710 feet of elevation gained over the 55.7-mile bike course, most of which is sandwiched into the middle 23 miles and features the infamous Westernport Wall, the steepest climb in all of road triathlon. Though the wall is only four street blocks long, the average grade is 25 percent and it culminates with a poorly paved stretch at a max pitch of 31 percent — steep enough that the road is closed to traffic.

The wall, however, is merely the first mile of what amounts to a seven-mile climb up Big Savage Mountain, with riders suffering through an elevation gain of nearly 2,000 feet and extended pitches in excess of 20 percent.

Unfortunately, come race day, I was still recovering from a metatarsal stress fracture and had to transfer to the Aquavelo division. I would get to battle the hills on my bike, but would not have the satisfaction of completing the full race. So, in 2011, we went back for more.

But as luck would have it, in 2011 I was nursing an angry plantar fascia and had a nasty case of bronchitis. Since we were gearing up for our first full Ironman distance race just two months later, I wasn't taking any chances. To save my foot, I decided to walk most of the run leg. But despite holding back, I was still coughing up blood by the end of the race, compliments of the bronchitis. Four years would pass before we would return to face the Savageman 70 again.

This year, I was finally healthy for Savageman — no injuries, no illnesses — and the weather was about as good as it gets in Garrett County in September. Alas, 25 miles into the ride I got a flat tire that cost me 20 minutes.

Despite the flat, I still managed to set a course PR and finished second in my division.

But without the flat, I would have finished first and qualified for Nationals, a reality that leaves me feeling like I still have a score to settle at Savageman.

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