This was the first time in several years that I stayed home over the New Year’s holiday. Sure, there were plenty of races to do in different parts of the country during this period, and I was indeed tempted to sign up for at least one. For the last two years I have traveled to Arizona to do the timed races at Across the Years in Glendale. This year I decided to stay home and take it easy. However I found the series of races known as the Savage Seven just too tempting to ignore.
The Savage Seven was Chuck Savage’s brainchild. Back in 2010, Chuck decided it would be a great idea to do 7 marathons in a row, one a day, with all the races in the same location to make logistics easier. It would be an ‘easy’ way to rack up a week’s worth of marathons during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. He approached several runners to determine if there was sufficient interest and indeed found that Marathon Maniacs and 50 Staters agreed that it would be a wonderful challenge. The first set of 7 was held in Ocala, FL, on December 26, 2010, with 13 runners. Five of these runners completed all seven races while others did just one or two. In subsequent years the Savage Seven was held in Pensacola and Winter Park. This year the races returned to Ocala.
That was lucky for me, since Ocala is an hour away from my home. I decided that four would be a good number – sufficient to keep me well-trained between my other scheduled races. I originally signed up for December 26 through 29 (which would be a quadruple – 4 in a row) but later changed my mind to the 2 days after Christmas and the 2 days before the New Year. That would give me the weekend off. Then I changed my mind several more times, in part because of weather concerns (I wanted to avoid any day with a 100% chance of rain). Chuck was cool with my indecisiveness; he said I could do any 4 days I wanted. Ultimately, I chose to do Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday, omitting Sunday, the rainiest day.
The races take place on the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway on Route 35/Baseline Road, east of Ocala proper. To make sure I could find it in the dark on race morning, my husband and I did a dry run the week before. That was wise because I would have found it almost impossible to see the trailhead entrance in the wee morning hours if I hadn’t known where it was beforehand. Since each race started at 6:10 or 6:15 am, it was critical to have a headlamp or flashlight for the first of the 5 loops around the park. Weather can be unpredictable in north central Florida in late December. Some people had come from as far away as Washington state and Maine; they had hoped to be greeted with sunshine. Unfortunately, it drizzled – or poured – every day and the sun peeked through only occasionally. Temperatures were cool, in the mid-50’s at the start and the 60’s at the finish. It might have risen to 70 degrees on Monday. At least I could leave my mittens and handwarmers at home. It was never cold enough for those items.
There were two aid stations, one at the start/finish and one at the turn-around. Both had water and Gatorade as well as fruit and cookies. The first few days, real food was sparse, but subsequent days had sub sandwiches and pizza. Runners did a couple of short loops in the parking lot at the very beginning of each race for 1.2 miles and then did 5 laps around a 5-mile out-and-back through the park. The certified course was all asphalt and plenty wide enough for casual dog-walkers, cyclists, and racers to harmoniously share the trail. There were a few mild ups and downs but most of the course was essentially flat.
There were lots of good things about this series of races and a few things that drove me bonkers. Positive elements included:
- Laid back relaxed atmosphere and good organization
- Short-sleeved cotton tee shirt with attractive design on the front
- A medal for after every race, with a different color lanyard and the day’s number embossed on the back; there is also a special award for those who finished all 7 days (I didn’t see this)
- Great volunteers who cheered us on, kept track of our laps, and were in general exceedingly helpful
- Indoor restrooms (hooray!) close to the start/finish line (and a portapotty at the turn-around)
- Generous 8-hour time limit
- Friendly and courteous participants who made each day’s race a fun event. I enjoyed talking with Liz, Ila, Cheryl, Betty, Mike, Harry, Nick, and Frank, and numerous others.
I can think of only one negative thing: the winding curvy course through piney woods. Some people said they saw deer, and a bear was supposed to be in the neighborhood, but the only animals I came across were birds and a few squirrels. I tried to cut the tangents but the road curved so much that it was difficult. After a while, I grew immensely tired of just seeing pine trees. I am still trying to figure out how I can do 12 hour, 24 hour, and 72 hour races around 1 or 2 or 3 mile loops without a problem, but trying to do five out-and-backs along a curvy trail drives me crazy.
My times for each race were not very pretty – I finished in 6:19, 6:25, 6:36, and 6:35 – but I was satisfied simply to finish. These races were definitely not about setting PRs or winning (although some people were very fast) but about having a good time and racking up the miles. Next year, the Savage Seven is supposed to be held in Ocala again, and if I am in town I will definitely sign up for 1 or more, maybe even all 7. This series is definitely walker-friendly and highly recommended.