Updated: May 21
It all started in 2015. My brothers and I had just started doing some "Mud Runs" as we knew them at the time. We got hooked fast and decided to get our Spartan Trifecta that year, and thought we'd throw in a Savage Race because...well...probably because it was called "Savage".
This is a 5 year, 10 race, tale of transition from hobby OCR racer loving the grit of it all, to competitive OCR racer who simply loves the sport and plans most of my year around training and racing. This article is going to be for the more nerdy people who like details and following progressions. I'll include as much info as I can about the training along the way, and of course I'll be including data from the races, and when I can, anything particular I can remember from the race.
Savage Race, MD - Fall 2015
The first event was at Maryland in the Fall of 2015. Myself, and two of my brothers, were there to complete the course. We did. I know I struggled on a few obstacles. It is likely that I retried some as well. I don't remember if I failed any entirely though. I remember the height of the jump for Davy Jone's Locker was...scary. I never enjoyed free falls before, so it took me a bit to work up the gumption, but I did it!
My training leading up to this first Savage Race had exactly nothing to do specifically with OCR. I'd been doing strength training for roughly a decade prior to this, so I had enough upper body strength for the obstacles, but my endurance, and my obstacle speed and proficiency was obviously quite low.
I finished the race 85th out of 1062 men. My time was 1:20:10. I was really really trying. I always like to go as fast as I can.
Savage Race, MD - Fall 2016
My second Savage Race. I had felt good about my placement the previous year, and had decided that I wanted to do more training to improve my time. So for the year after the first race, I incorporate a lot of HIIT/Circuit training into my programming to improve my strength endurance and overall capacity to "push harder". It definitely helped, even if it wasn't necessarily the right area to target.
We ran the Pro wave that year for the first time. The only thing I remember from that race was looking at the results afterwards with my brother Luke. He finished 4th in his age group (14/75).
I finished the race 35th out of 75 men. My time was 1:11:10. It was enough for 7th in my age group though, and that was exciting!
From there, we thought we'd be on the podium in no time! Ha...
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Savage Race, MD - Spring 2017
2017 is when things get serious for me. By that I mean that I'd decided I wanted to do really well in OCR. I wanted to compete at the highest level. As such, I cut back my hours at work and started doing a lot more training for OCR. I also started running consistently for the first time ever - trying to build up speed and endurance so I'd place much better in 2017. I also did lots of heavy carry exercises, and spent a TON of time on incline treadmills (where I lived was flat), usually alternating between walking and jogging on a 30% incline, or doing KB farmer's carries on the incline, and eventually carrying a 70lb sandbag on the 30% incline as well. I was running mostly on the roads, but out on some short trails in Falls Church, VA when I could. **The heavy carry and incline training was for Spartan Race, but certainly helped with my Savage Racing**
As such, when the race came around, I did much better than the previous year. I don't remember anything specific from that race either. All I know are my results.
I finished the race 11th of 78 men. My time was 56:55. I had broken the 1 hour mark, which was one of my goals. It was still only 7th place in my age group, but it was 11th in the Pro wave, and that was a huge leap from 35th just six months prior.
Savage Race, PA - Summer 2017
I really enjoyed running Savage events and their obstacles and courses so I thought I'd add in some more of their events. The PA event ended up being an awesome choice! I was used to the MD course, so having a new course to go through with the Savage obstacles was a ton of fun.
Again I was able to see the results from the changes and continued effort in my training.
I finished the race 15th of 108 men. My time was 54:24. The best way to compare your races isn't by time. The distances and terrain vary so drastically between courses that it would never be an accurate reflection. You could go by average pace (I didn't have that data) or you could go by % to the lead, or time off the lead. 15th wasn't as high as my 11th place in the Spring, but that 15th was out of 108 athletes while my 11th was only out of 78. The MD race put me in the top 14.1%, and the PA race put me in the top 13.9%. **Look for the small wins**
Savage Race, MD - Fall 2017
I was back at the Maryland Savage Race again in Fall. This race was a big one for me. As I'd improved and had lots more experience in racing and on obstacles, I kept getting faster and finishing better. This race was the one for me that let me know that I was on the right track. It was only a matter of hard work, dedication, and time.
I finished the race in 8th of 80 men. My time was 55:27. Two big things happened at this race. Firstly, I broke into the Top 10. That was a goal I'd wanted at Savage. Secondly, I was on the age group podium for the first time ever. 10th got me 3rd in my age group. I'd already been on overall podiums at other races (a 3rd at a Terrain Race, and a 2nd at a Bone Frog Challenge), but Savage was a higher level of competition in my mind (and in reality) and it was awesome to reach those new levels.
Savage Race, MD - Spring 2018 (AKA - The Blowup!)
Blowup isn't a good thing in this case, sadly. Leading up to this race, I was dealing with an IT band issue that took me out of running for 6 weeks. This race actually fell inside those 6 weeks. I'd been doing a lot of HIIT training to make up for the missed running training.
I remember how I felt at that race. It was not fun. I started out feeling okay for the first 5 minutes. Then I blew up. My legs stopped wanting to move. My breathing was heavy and dramatic. My brain stopped wanting and trying and went into, what I call, survival mode. Survival mode is when you only do what you have to in order to get through something. I couldn't move any faster, and the whole race was just me plodding along thinking to myself, "this sucks".
I finished the race 20th of 115 men. My time was 59:37. Might sound okay, but it wasn't. It felt terrible physically, and didn't help that I knew mentally that I could do better. However,I learned an extremely valuable lesson that day that has helped me at every single race since. **Pacing. If you push too hard too fast you will blow up at some point.**
Savage Race, PA - Summer 2018
I'd had time to let my IT band heal, and I was beginning to get back to my normal running routine again coming into the PA race. This race cracks me up sometimes when I think about it. First, this was the first time my Wife's parents (she was my girlfriend at the time) came to see a race. But the part that was funny was that, for the last 2 miles of the race, I don't remember hardly anything except the last 100 yards. That's because I went into a weird zone in my head where I was just quoting epic motivational speeches and poems in my head. I don't know if that's normal, but it seemed to help at the time, and that's all I care about. The end of the race was getting up the rope and "warped wall" at Colossus and slipping down the water slide into the water. After the swim, it was just 50ish feet to the finish line. I was neck-and-neck with another athlete coming out of the water, and we sprinted to the finish line. I believe he beat me in the rankings...darn.
I finished 9th of 113 men. My time was 55:37. It felt good. It went well. It was a good race. Sticking in the top 10 was where I wanted to be, so I was happy; especially coming off my IT band issues.
Savage Race, MD - Fall 2018
The only thing I think I remember from this event (they all blur together after you've been to the same venue sooo many times) was the age group podium.
I finished 6th of 94 men. My time was 58:24. It was good for a 1st place in my age group. That was a new, and welcome award. I was very pleased with 6th place Overall.
Savage Race & Savage Blitz, MD - Spring 2019
I put in the most consistent running in 2018 compared to any other time in my life, which isn't saying much since I never ran consistently for any real length of time before...ever. Even so, as I was building up my endurance and my running volume, I only reached about 420 miles in 2018.
Heading into 2019, I had some big goals and some big events I wanted to do. One of those was a trail 50K in my "backyard". As such, I ended up running several hundred miles through the winter on mountain trails. To be a great OCR athlete, you also have to be a great runner. I'm just doing what I can to make that happen. The main point heading into 2019 was that I increased my running volume a good bit.
When it came time for the Savage Race, I was in the best place I'd ever been physically. The race was AWESOME. Myself, and another athlete, were back and forth for the entire race; constantly changing positions and pushing our efforts. I live for those types of competition. In the end, I passed the other athlete on the very last obstacle, just 20ft out from the finish line, and beat him.
I finished 2nd Overall of 63 men. My time was 56:09. It felt awesome to get on the top overall podium at a Savage Race; especially because of the back-and-forth challenge it was to get 2nd.
Savage began it's double race weekends at the Maryland location in 2018, so the next day I was back at the event for their Blitz. It's a 5K with some of the same obstacles from the previous day included.
The Blitz went almost exactly as the previous day had. This time, I was racing with the same athlete from the previous day for 3rd place. I spent most of this race trailing him by a few seconds. At the very end though, on the very last obstacle, he missed the bell at the end of the rig, and I was able to pass him.
I finished 3rd Overall of 28 men. My time was 27:41. I'd gotten on the podium two days in a row, and that made the weekend a very fulfilling one for me.
Savage Race & Savage Blitz, MD - Fall 2019
Once again, back in Maryland for a Savage Race weekend. The first race on Saturday saw me running by myself for the last 3ish miles. I could sometimes hear people behind me, but didn't see anyone in front or behind. I felt great, got through obstacles efficiently, and at the end of about 6.3 miles, came up to the last rig to find myself in 5th place with the 4th place athlete still trying to get through the rig. I was able to hop on it and cross the finish line ahead of him.
I finished 4th Overall of 94 men. My time was 58:09. I missed the podium, but there wasn't anything I could do. The top 3 athletes finished quite far ahead of everyone else. I was still happy with 4th. It got another 1st place age group award for that effort.
Sunday's race was a disaster in the lead-up. I lost my favorite racing shoes on Saturday. My compression pants had gotten badly torn (unwearable) on Saturday, and my achilles was very sore. If I was going to race on Sunday, it would be in old shoes I kept in my car that I hadn't used in over a year. They were heavy and didn't have near the traction that my Salming OT Comps would have if I hadn't lost them. I also had to run in longer flopping shorts which I hadn't done in a long time. They are not good for wet, muddy conditions.
I warmed up and decided I'd give the race a try. I expected to be walking off pretty soon if my achilles caused any issues. Thankfully, not a twinge of pain from my achilles once the race got going. I was sliding all over on muddy parts of the course, and the annoyance of wet shorts flopping around didn't help. I was also gassed; just worn out. I kept going though. I came up to the last obstacle in 5th place. Both the 3rd and 4th place athletes were struggling to get through the rig. I got on and through it as fast as I possibly could. I finished ahead of both of them.
I finished 3rd Overall of 43 men. My time was 29:47. I was shocked to get 3rd. Grateful and glad, but shocked. **It's important to always keep going no matter what is going wrong. Never Stop.**
That's it! It may not seem like a lot when it's all written down, but to get where I am now took a few thousand hours of training over the past 3 years (not including all of the training I've ever done that's helped me to this day).
Someone else might have gotten there faster - I don't know. I don't really care either though. All I know is that I am going to keep working and keep learning and keep progressing because I have a goal.
Recently I read a comment online about OCR athletes, and the person who wrote it said that genetics are the reason the top athletes are the top athletes. I think that's a really depressing perspective. Someone is going to read that and give up. The person who wrote it was wrong. While some people may have "better genetics" than others, the real differentiation is in the work and time committed to being the best. I know that if I am going to reach up into the next "echelon" of competition in OCR, it's going to require thousands more hours of training my weaknesses, building new strengths, and a constant dedication to my goals.
You don't need to be "born with it", you just need to start, and...
N E V E R S T O P
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Author: Joel SP Hayes