By Tony Orru
Once on You tube I watched a video showing triathletes trying to make it to the top of a very steep hill in Maryland. It was epic watching them: some made it to the top while other didn’t. That hill was Westernport Wall: an ascent with a 31% max grade. The race was Savageman; and this is my story.
Tony previewing the climb
Why Savageman: After two 70.3 I was looking for a very tough one, I wanted to find one of the toughest 70.3 which was also an iconic race.
The course: The race location is in Western MD, close to the border with WV. It is in an amazing and beautiful place: the lake is clean, the water pristine, and most important the only
flat part of the entire race.
The 55.7 bike course is very technical as the descents are fast, narrow, and twisty. They require a lot of attention because are they very unforgiving and it is easy to reach and pass 50 miles per hour. The climbs make a total of 6,700 ft of gain, all of which are consolidated over 30 miles. This means there are very high grades (up to 22%), and you can expect rolling hills after the major climbs are over.
How to earn “The Brick”: If you ride without stopping the 1.2 miles of Westernport Hill (12% average grade and 31% max grade) you earn a brick with your name engraved and placed at the top of the Hill.
A few of the people who have earned “The Brick”.
The Hill: The climb itself during the race is a unique experience with a very loud, colored and excited cheering crowd at the top, all this while they play Rocky’s song “Gonna Fly Now”.
Just a few of the characters that cheered racers to the top of the wall
Proper training and gears it is the way to get the Brick. It is absolutely doable. But it takes work. On the 31% section my max wattage was 539 while I reached 193 heart beat per minute. I was all out and do not remember much of those 30 seconds.
Tony may not remember the moment this picture was taken, but he sure did train for it.
The run: As if the ride wasn’t enough, the run has over 1,600 ft of gain in its 13.1 miles. Some
hills have grades up to 15%. It is relentless.
How I trained: I started riding hills early in the season, reaching a peak the last 3 months before the race. In the month of August, I did 25,000 ft of gain in one month, and I was keeping the rides within 50 to 60 miles. I was always trying to build 5,000 – 6,000 ft of gain at least each ride, but many times I went over 7,000 ft. Hogpen East and Brasstown bald are the hills I rode the most.
Rides in the mountains were alternated with intervals on the trainer: 5’, 10’ at VO2 max and 20’ at
FTP. I kept the same approach for the run. My long, hilly runs were always after a ride in the Gaps. I was alternating tempo run on rolling hills with long hill repeats.
Bike set up: I raced on my road bike with low profile aluminum Mavic wheels, 34 cassette with a Shimano long cage derailleur, and a Shimano compact crankset. A special thank you to Podium Multisport for the technical support and fine tuning of my bike.
Time and Result:
07:01:11; 13th out of 37 in my AG, 100th OA out of 215.
I recommend this race to everyone looking for a destination race and an iconic 70.3