Savage Race took central Florida by storm, quite literally, the weekend of March 29th and 30th as it returned to the site of its humble beginnings, the breathtakingly beautiful Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City. The stage had been set as thousands of eager participants arrived to embark on a treacherous 7.1 mile journey through mud and swamps, and across miles of rutted fields, to take on some of the most difficult and unique obstacles to be had in the sport of obstacle racing.
Savage Race is quickly situating itself among the elite of obstacle races, joining the ranks of other heavy hitters such as Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. And this not only from the number of participants it hosts (this race brought in more than 10,000 registrants over the two day event!), but also in how they have learned to create events which run seamlessly, thus providing a stellar experience for everyone in attendance!
From the moment I arrived on-site early Saturday morning, I quickly noticed how everything from start to finish had been extremely well thought out in order to create an atmosphere which would cause zero headache for anxious participants. Parking, registration and packet pickup, festival area, and the course itself were laid out superbly, making for an enjoyable experience for participants and spectators alike. Volunteers both on and off the course were knowledgeable, encouraging, and all around awesome! And despite the threat of storms that morning, the air was electric with the energy of excitement and anticipation. Savage Race had returned again, and this race was guaranteed to hit a home run.
One thing I can say about the Savage experience, is that their timed courses are not only a ton of fun, but they are also incredibly intense! Each event entices competitors from far and wide to take on their course, not only to conquer a beast of a race, but Savage now also offers the allure of cash prizes for top placement. These factors alone bring forth fierce competition, as those striving toward a podium finish battle it out on an unforgiving field. But this race is not only for the avid competitor, it is also a fantastic event for the casual runner. Simply signing up motivates entrants to build a team and begin training, as they prepare to set out on a quest that will challenge each person to overcome fears, that will cultivate an environment to encourage and support one another, that will build memories and friendships, and will ultimately lead each person to complete a race that will provide an immense sense of pride and accomplishment.
I had opted to run the competitive wave that Saturday, and was immediately impressed by the caliber of athletes who had arrived to test their skills on the course. Rules were read, the anthem sang, and the countdown began as we anxiously bounced in place, eager to step foot onto the course that beckoned. Finally, we were given the signal and each runner exploded onto the course, surging forward with only the sounds of our pounding feet and ragged breath in the air. Each of us immediately focused inward, our minds feverishly whirling as we mentally prepared for the miles ahead, while also searching to settle into a solid pace that would ensure we pushed our physical limits, yet not so much as to deplete our energy prematurely.
The first obstacle arrived, the aptly named Shriveled Richard. As you may guess, this required a leap into ice filled water, an obstacle in which many dread. Without hesitation I jumped in, sucked in a deep breath and plunged under the board situated in the center of the trough. It was freezing, yet once I found myself back on the course I found that the cold water left me feeling quite refreshed as I pushed onward.
One of my favorite touches of the Savage Race experience is that they have selected an amusing and witty name for each obstacle. For example, The Colon Blow (inclined drainage pipes to climb through), Nut Smasher (balance beams), Swamp Ass, Kiss My Walls (traverse wall), etc. I feel as though this brings a touch of humor to the course, producing even the smallest amused smirk on the faces of those who must attempt the task presented. I love when a race can effectively mix a difficult task with humor, as I feel that, if even slightly, it helps to lighten the mood of the intimidated participant.
As we traveled each mile of the course, we encountered several series of muddy hills and valleys, over unders, a shimmy through angled drainage pipes, wall climbs, a log carry, a cargo net climb, the thickest, muddiest barb wire crawl I’ve come across in a long while, a slippery incline wall, a traverse wall, and wobbly balance beams (to name a few). There were some truly innovative obstacles that I’d never encountered before at any event. One was called “Pipe Dream”, and simply consisted of a long pipe suspended over water that participants were to slide their hands along from one end to the other. It was slick, difficult, and such a great, yet simple, idea! Then there was “Missionary Impossible”, one of my favorite obstacles of the day. This obstacle was comprised of a tarp laid out on a hill, with water being poured onto it and a cargo net stretched out over top. Racers were to lay on the tarp and pull themselves up the hill, using the cargo net as a ladder to climb up to the summit. It gave the legs a break, worked the upper body, and provided a refreshing shower of water at a perfect point in the race. I’ve never seen an obstacle like this one, and I loved it!
This course also boasted a few of the Savage Race staples. One of the most daunting, the “Sawtooth” is a wicked series of monkey bars that begins at an incline, juts down and back up in the center, and then declines to the opposite pedestal. It is insanely difficult, and an obstacle I was concerned I may not be able to complete. Upon reaching the center of the structure, I found myself mentally assessing my own ability to maintain grip while also mustering the energy to ascend to a higher bar, and at that moment I nearly gave up and dropped into the water. Thankfully, I did not allow myself to let go and instead surged forward, hanging on for dear life as I progressed bar by bar. And I made it! It was truly the highlight of the race for me, as it was an obstacle that had intimidated me, challenged me, and forced me to overcome my fear to press on. This is probably one of the main things I love about obstacle racing. The euphoric high that washes over you as you take those first steps after conquering an obstacle is like none other. And if I’m not able to fully complete an obstacle? Well that just gives me all the more motivation to keep training so I don’t fail the next time. It’s an amazing feeling, and I’m so happy I didn’t give up on myself in that moment.
Other staple obstacles of the Savage Race course were encountered in the final mile of the race. As participants neared the finish line, we were first required to, in rapid succession, take on “Davy Jones’ Locker”, a jump from a high platform into water, followed by the ridiculously ominous “Colossus”, an insanely tall quarter pipe that racers must run toward full throttle, plunging up the steep incline in hopes of grabbing one of the short ropes that dangles from the top lip. I found myself hanging onto this rope for dear life, as a wicked calf cramp seized up my entire left limb. Thankfully a couple of gracious volunteers responded to my plea for help and assisted me over the top rim of the ramp just before I was about to fall.
From there we took a thrilling slide down the backside of the quarter pipe into a pool below, took on one final barb wire crawl, to then encounter the ever-dreaded “Tazed”, a crawl through electrically charged hanging wires. After the shock, all that remained was a fire jump, and we were home free to cross the finish line to collect our hard-earned medal and shirt.
The day progressed and the storms arrived, flooding the already water-logged property. Lightning flickered across the sky, thunder cracked, and race day came to an abrupt end. In an effort to secure obstacles, protect the safety of volunteers, medical staff, and runners, the heads of Savage Race had to make the decision to pull everyone from the course. This could have been an epic failure had a situation like this not been handled correctly, but an instant notification sent out over social media and via email promised those who were unable to complete the event an opportunity to return the following day for another chance to run. If one was not able to come back the next day, then a simple email to Savage would ensure that those who missed their chance to run would still be provided an opportunity to run at a future event.
In my opinion, Savage handled what could have been a disaster wonderfully, and this was yet another impressive measure of a seamless, well organized, and cohesive organization. Thankfully the skies cleared, and several thousand racers showed up the next day, greeted by sunny skies to enjoy a perfect day in the mud.
Savage Race is a stellar event! Signage boasts that it’s the “Race Built To Kick Your Ass”, and it does just that. But despite the ass-kicking, it also provides all who participate an awesome sense of pride and accomplishment in everyone who crosses their finish line. It’s tough, it will challenge you, and you’ll have an absolute blast while doing it!
Savage Race will be traveling across the country this year to venues in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and the Mid-Atlantic. If you live near these areas, be sure to get signed up, you will not be disappointed! Savage will be returning to Florida later this year, and you can bet that I’ll be joining on the challenge yet again. Hope to see you there!
Want more dirt on Savage Race? Check them out here.