While Marathon Maniacs like myself will go anywhere, anytime, for the chance to do a race, we especially love challenges – doubles, triples, ultras, the more the better. But the Savage Seven is unique – it consists of 7 marathons in the 7 days between Christmas and New Year’s day. The brainchild of Chuck Savage, former race director of the Ocala Marathon, the each race in the Savage Seven is run around a track: over 100 laps around a quarter mile track. Around and around and around. And around. Last year the races were held in Ocala, Chuck’s stomping ground. This year, Cheryl Murdock hosted the S 7 in Pensacola, FL and the track was on the soccer field of the University of West Florida.
While most people sign up for all 7 races, it is also possible to sign up for just one or two. For those for whom 7 races in 7 days is not enough, there are also two additional races, not certified and unsupported, on Christmas eve and Christmas day. These are carefully organized by Cheryl, complete with finisher awards and prizes. Since I was planning to spend Christmas day in Tallahassee with my oldest son and his family, and since Pensacola is a short 3 hour drive from Tallahassee, I decided to try the first of the 7 official marathons. After an entire morning devoted to opening presents and a delicious Christmas dinner, I drove to Pensacola, my running gear packed in the trunk.
Most of the runners who were committed to all 7 marathons were staying at one of several extended stay hotels in the area. I, on the other hand, opted to spend my one night in Pensacola at a new Holiday Inn just 4 miles from the track. It was a good choice, clean and comfortable, and the cost was lower than originally quoted. Once there, I relaxed. These races are very low key and informal. They are not chip timed and there is no expo or packet pickup. I went to bed early, slept hard, and rose around 4 am to a drizzle with temps in the 50’s.
I checked out of the hotel around 6:15 am and made my way to the UNF track. There were a number of people already there and Cheryl was waiting for someone from security to unlock the gates so we could set up our drop bags and she could give us our bibs and goody bags. The goody bag turned out to be a good-sized tote bag with the Savage 7 insignia sewn on it and inside were an assortment of treats, including a mini-LED flashlight, a long sleeved tech tee with a cute cartoon about the race on the back and emblem on the front, and some samples and tourist information. Each participant was loaned a small hand-held counter that we could wear around our neck or hold in our hand. Every time we passed the start line, we had to press the counter to keep track of the 108 (yes, 108!) laps plus an additional 2/3 lap to get us to the finish line.
After some last minute instructions, we took off at 7:15. The inside track was left open for Chuck Engle, who was trying to do all 7 marathons in sub-3 hours. We cheered him on and admired his smooth running style. I spent the first 3 hours of the race making sure I stayed in the outer lanes to keep out of the way of faster runners. When Chuck finished (in under 3 hours), the rest of us spread out and I felt okay about occasionally walking in the inside lane; that certainly helped my time (which turned out to be a personal worst for me).
I knew I was in trouble from the very beginning. My back and side muscles were still hurting from my cold and cough so I tried to start out slowly and carefully. I had intended to take an OTC pain medication when I first woke up but in all the excitement I forgot. After several hours I began to just ignore the pain and eventually it settled down (either that or endorphins finally kicked in and overrode the pain). Another sign of trouble was more pressing. Boredom set in quickly for me. After only 8 laps around the track, I was feeling desperate – only 8 laps completed, 100 more to go, and already I was tired of looking at the same old stuff. I did remember to bring my ipod but it was hard to listen to music when there was so much talking and laughing among the racers. The spirited camaraderie was what really saved the race for me – all the runners and walkers were friendly and talkative and eventually I spoke to almost everyone, including Larry Macon, Roxanna from California, Mama Jean, and so many others. I think without that repartee I would have gone completely crazy going round and round that short loop.
The light rain continued through most of the morning, with a tiny bit of sun peeking through occasionally. It was great weather for a race, not too hot and not so cold and if we needed to change clothes we had our drop bags close by. There were 3 porta potties slightly off the course and 3 bathrooms a farther distance away. The one aid station (which we passed, ahh, 108 times) had lots of sweet and salty treats plus peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water, soda, and Gatorade. It was more like an ultra buffet than a marathon in that respect. Cheryl kept a close watch on everything and everybody and had enlisted several hardworking volunteers to help.
I was REALLY happy to finish this race and I was REALLY happy I was NOT doing the other 6 marathons. If these races were on varied and interesting courses, I think it might be fun to try the series, but to go around a track for 756 times is just too much for me to wrap my head around. Next year the Savage 7 will be in Orlando, just a 3 hour drive from my home but I am pretty sure I will look for another challenge somewhere else!