By: Renee from RVA
GORUCK and Savage Race recently teamed up to offer a custom Tough challenge on the grounds of Savage Race Maryland. With access to Savage Race’s 27+ obstacles, the course was closed overnight to everyone in the world, except GR-Savage Class 001. I was there. It was incredible. Here’s my story…
A little weird. Maybe I was born with it, maybe it’s GRT.
Female. Age 42, going on 30.
My license says I’m 5’4” so I’ll go with that.
Fitness level: #NotTrainingForSelection.
Notable talent: my dad jokes are hilarious.
My first obstacle course race (OCR) was the 2015 Spartan Super in Wintergreen, VA. Wedged firmly between layers of mud, exhaustion, failure, and triumph, this is where I finally discovered my inner happy place. I’ve been addicted to OCRs ever since.
My first GR challenge was Tough Class #2157 on 12/9/2016, in RVA. I showed up knowing no one, and I made every rookie mistake possible. I realized I had “the weird” just before sunrise, as we silently rucked along the Northbank trail. I was hurting badly by that point, and I wasn’t alone. The surrounding moans indicated just how frozen, tired and miserable we all were. The enormous smile that was plastered across my face made zero sense, given the circumstances. In fact, I was grateful that my scarf-covered all evidence of how euphoric I was at that moment. It’s just one of those things I can’t explain, except to say that it was one of the best worst nights I’ve experienced. I’ve been addicted to GORUCK ever since.
When I heard about GR-Savage 001, I couldn’t have been more excited or terrified. This was exactly the event I’d been hoping for, but it was just a few weeks away and I was worried I didn’t have enough time to train. Having just emerged from winter hibernation, my grip strength was nonexistent, my hands weren’t properly callused, and I wasn’t even sure I had the requisite endurance. I registered immediately.
GR-Savage 001: the lineup.
This was my first GR challenge with Force Recon Marine, Cadre JC. As GRTs were lining up for the admin phase, I asked the gent next to me if he knew what to expect. “It’s hard to say,” he responded, “…Cadre JC likes to switch it up. Every event I’ve had with him has been different.”
Excellent, I like him already.
Next was Savage Race medic, Cadre CJ, originally from the 160th SOAR (A). For those who are unfamiliar, the 160th is the US Army Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), also known as the Night Stalkers. Its missions include attack, assault, and reconnaissance, and are conducted at night at high speeds, low altitudes, under short notice. Think Black Hawks, Chinooks, Little Birds. Basically, they’re like the flying unicorns of US special ops. Added bonus, Cadre CJ was a tad salty on the edges. That’s right, a salty special ops unicorn. Y’all, it doesn’t get better than this.
If I remember correctly, the lineup started with 43 GRTs, some of whom already made rounds on the Savage obstacle course earlier that day. I counted at least three Savage staff/volunteers (Sam, Lee, and Rachel) in the ranks. Next, came the ceremonial confiscation of GRT snacks. Alas, a hamburger… there’s always that one guy. Last, as Cadre JC made his way through the admin checklist, one conversation stood out…
Cadre JC: Does anyone else have an injury to report?
GRT Victoria: Yes, Cadre. I’m recovering from a broken finger.
Cadre JC: OK, when did you break it?
GRT Victoria: A few hours ago. It’s OK though, I have it taped.
Cadre JC: Blank stare (pause for effect). Are you serious?!
Don’t worry about GRT Victoria. She gave her all, and she never complained or even spoke of her injury throughout the event. Thank you GRT Victoria, wherever you are, for the inspiration and for being an impeccable teammate.
Just before the admin phase concluded, Cadre JC walked through the ranks to inspect everyone’s gear. He paused, pointed to me and said to follow him. Wait… me?! Oh crap, here we go.
Team Lead: educated, adult female unable to count to 43; possibly offends multiple GRTs.
My debacle as TL started when Cadre JC requested a very simple headcount late into the welcome party. To say we hadn’t yet gelled as a team is, well, you know. Put mildly, our ship was sinking fast and there was no amount of contractor bags that could’ve saved us. No worries though, Cadre JC gave me an entire “less than a minute” to straighten out the ranks and count 43 heads. I thought, “Should I grab a few pizzas with all the extra time?” As it turns out, I forgot to pack my PowerPoint, so the joke was on me.
One GRT graciously offered his professional advice. He directed my attention to the people at the far end of the front row where the headcount always began. One reason the formation kept failing was because GRTs continued to line up on the righthand side of the cornerstone GRT after the count was established. “I don’t know why they keep screwing it up. It’s so simple… EVERYONE KNOWS you start at 1 and F-off to the left!” he said as his eyes rolled.
Solid advice, I thought. Simple and to the point. When I shouted this instruction to the class, nearly everyone paused. Several GRTs laughed, but a few glared at me with fire in their eyes. One GRT chuckled, “Renee, did you just make that up?” Noooo! But she wasn’t convinced. “EVERYONE KNOWS… I swear… I… I…” I spluttered as I searched for mystery GRT to back me up. Crickets. I was officially blue falconed.
For a while, I felt bad for accidentally offending the FNGs. Oh well, what can I say? Welcome to Wednesday. At the conclusion of the welcome party, Cadre JC reminded the class that Uber was unlikely to find us on the Savage Race grounds; we were officially at the point of no return. Our response? Everyone cheered as a GRT called Thor grabbed the flag and led the team into the dark unknown.
“I don’t think I really understood how cold 36˚ was until it was in my pants.” – GRT Heather Williams
Shriveled Richard was our first and second stop. The icy water was a shock to the system, but we’d just finished the welcome party, so it almost felt good. Cadre JC knew what he was doing. As it turned out, mud and cold water (followed by hearty doses of PT) became the theme of the night. As in, there was a lot of it. It was glorious. Colder than a lawyers’ convention, but glorious nonetheless.
Hours into the dark, we came upon the mighty Wheel World and my heart immediately sank. This was the type of obstacle I could clear when I was fresh, or even several miles into a standard OCR. But as most GRTs know, nobody cares what you can do when you’re fresh. Plus, with all the PT and shenanigans of a traditional Tough challenge, GR-Savage 001 was far beyond a standard OCR. I knew with absolute certainty that I was about to fail this obstacle. I should clarify: the idea of falling was not the bad part. Rather, it was the realization that I was seconds away from standing in yet another icy pool of broken dreams that tormented me. No kidding, I was so comfortably numb at this point that I would’ve paid money for a 12-mile ruck march just to stay warm.
As I approached the monster rig, I scrutinized the mud that dripped from the blue steering columns. Not good. I looked down at my palms and was surprised to find my skin torn and bloodied. What the… how did I not notice this sooner?! Compliments of Sawtooth 2.0, no doubt. I then surveyed the dark, bitter water that viciously consumed one GRT after another. “Plop, splash, expletive! Plop, splash, mother-expletive!” – the official song of Wheel World.
My time was close. GRTs were dropping fast, and suddenly I was on deck before I had the chance to hold my breath. My only option now was to lean in and take my beating. Here goes everything. I leaped to the first wheel. To my surprise, my landing stuck. No matter, I suspected my grip would give when I transitioned to the second wheel. Nope, wrong again. I was now dangling from the second wheel, traveling in circles. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. I slowly inched my way to the third wheel, then the forth, then the fifth. I’m sure the site was something to behold. Not like a ninja warrior show, mind you, but more like a cringe-worthy disaster scene where a frail elderly lady hangs for dear life onto the balcony railing of a burning highrise.
My end was near. The final barrier that separated me from dry land was just a few feet of slippery slack rope I needed to traverse. This was not going to happen; my luck had finally run out. I slowed my spinning to a dead hang and contemplated my final moment on earth. Just then, a fellow GRT came to my rescue. From my angle, the bare-chested GRT stood at least 6’17” tall. With a cool, confident voice he told me I could make it. Negative, shirtless GRT. My grip was in fact, starting to fail. But he didn’t waver. We entered into a negotiation, and before I knew it we struck a deal. I started to swing towards him. Just as I freed my hands from the devil wheel, he grabbed ahold of my leg at precisely the right moment. With astonishing strength and balance, he lowered me safely to dry ground. The crowd cheered. Shaking from exhaustion and disbelief, I was beyond elated. At this moment, it didn’t even matter what torture Cadre JC had planned next. Why? Because dreams come true at GR-Savage. Thank you shirtless GRT, wherever you are, for keeping chivalry alive.
As we made our way past Wheel World to rejoin the class, I glanced one last time into the icy pool of misery. For a split second, I thought to myself, “…what the hell, maybe I’ll jump in now for good measure.”
I can’t say enough great things about the Savage Race obstacles. The material and construction were top-grade, and the metal rigs were very well-maintained. I found no squeaky wheels, or loose monkey bars, or sticky battering ram, or splintery walls. Bottom line: Savage keeps its motor clean.
Also, I’ve come to appreciate the delicate balance that goes into designing obstacles that are technically challenging, yet safe. Savage really sets itself apart in this regard. The obstacles were refreshingly creative and challenging, but not once did I feel like my safety was compromised because of poor design or placement. This is an especially important point, considering the fact that we were hitting obstacles 10+ hours into the event until Endex, with no shortage of PT throughout the night.
Equally impressive was the Savage Race staff. Like clockwork, they’d meet us at every obstacle, rolling in hot with their modified golf carts, lifeguard gear, and white standard issue Spaceballs helmets. Savage Race staff (Sam, Lee, and Rachel) who participated in Class 001 also went out of their way to assist fellow GRTs. I’m sure the logistics that went into this event were nothing short of monumental, but from my perspective, it couldn’t have run any smoother.
Special compliments to Savage Asst Race Director, GRT Lee, who demonstrated each obstacle with absolute ninja warrior skill. My advice to the Savage Race gods: that guy’s an anomaly. Give him a raise. Then, double his salary. Then, buy him a beer. You’re welcome.
I often hear that GORUCK’s challenges are designed to push participants beyond their perceived limits. Are these empty words they use to feed the city slickers? No. Based on my experience, this is absolutely true. What I loved about GR-Savage 001 was how it provided an entirely new dimension to this aspect of the GR Tough challenge. What I mean is, yes, you will absolutely go farther than you thought possible. At the same time, this event will knock you off your feet at times you don’t expect, and you will fail at obstacles or tasks you thought you’ve surely mastered. Why is this good? For me, it upped the game in two ways.
First, I should explain where I fit within the GRT ranks. Have you ever watched a Chihuahua walk beside a Great Dane? Exactly. In my 5’4” world, if you don’t go hard then you’ll go last. There’s just no room for grey womanning when my absolute worst fear is that I’ll hold the team back. For the most part, it’s a healthy fear because it keeps my ass in line. The downside of the insecurity is that I don’t like asking for help. At GR-Savage 001, I didn’t have the luxury of self-reliance.
Second, was the trust game. Traditional Tough challenges demand considerable problem solving, communication and rapport building to effectively operate as teams. But at the end of the day, how much trust is required for teams to meet their objectives? The answer varies, depending on the challenge. In the case of GR-Savage 001, the answer was: afreaknlot.
Take Colossus. On a normal day, I would’ve attacked the ramp with absolute confidence. But 10+ hours into the challenge… it wasn’t pretty. I managed to climb the rope, but by now my grip and my noodle arms were downright pitiful. Cue shirtless GRT #2, who came to my rescue from the platform above. I tried to warn him that my hands were slipping. “Don’t worry, I got you,” he said with a chuckle. No, shirtless GRT #2, you don’t understand… my hands… slipping… I’m too heavy… there’s no way… but it was too late. Before I could object, he swooped down, secured my wrist and single-handedly lifted my phatass onto the platform. Holy smokes. Just like that, as if he were grabbing a cold beer from the cooler on a hot summer day. I stood there dazed for a second, but I managed to thank him for saving my life before he turned to help the next GRT.
My Colossus adventure may have lasted just a few seconds, but it’s those sort of humble pie moments that I learn from the most. And trust me, there was plenty of humble pie that Savage baked fresh in its own backyard to pass around. Some GRTs swallowed their fear of heights, while others chewed on anxieties of claustrophobia, dark water swimming, and mud-borne pathogens ingested from low-crawling through Mud-n-Guts whilst simultaneously fighting the full blast of a unicorn-operated fire hose. At least the mud was gluten-free… I think.
One thing was certain at Endex: every stitch of the 001 patch was earned.
The first GRT to be patched was Savage staff member, Sam. PLOT TWIST. Sam wasn’t just a Savage staff member. As he stood before the class thanking everyone for the opportunity, I learned that he actually cofounded Savage Race! I couldn’t believe it. It’s like I was in an episode of Undercover Boss, except Sam never disguised himself as someone else. He’s just a humble, hard-as-hell working GRT that gave his all to the team and always put himself last.
Thank you GRT Sam, wherever you are, for restoring my faith in corporate humanity. If there’s anything I learned from 001, it’s that you, your staff, and that unicorn of a medic are a true compliment to the GORUCK challenge. I hope the GR-Savage challenge is here to stay.
Last but not least, Cadre JC kept his promise on providing cold, refreshing beer to the GRTs. I have no idea what brand it was, but it tasted like Endex and that’s pretty hard to beat.
Recovery? Never heard of her.
Apparently, neither have the other 001 GRT-Savages. In fact, shortly after Endex, several GRT-Savages went on to complete the Savage Blitz with their OCR comrades. Respect.
Enough already. What about the shoes?
Shoes. Tread and drainage are top priorities for GR-Savage, but don’t compromise the structure. Here’s what I know…
Reebok All-Terrain Super or ASICS Gel-Fuji Runnegade 2 – These are my go-to for OCRs. Excellent drainage, aggressive tread, and superior flexibility make them perfect for mud skipping. Plus, you can lock the laces to safeguard your disgusting toenails.
Major downside: their minimal support creates a liability for heavy rucking or running.
Good for GR-Savage? Possibly, if you modify the insoles. I ended up pairing my ASICS Gel-Fuji shoes with Rocky S2V jungle boot insoles. This worked well; the insoles were key.
Salomon XA PRO 3D (non-waterproof) – These are my go-to for summertime mountain rucking. Tread/drainage are middle-of-the-road when compared to OCR shoes vs running shoes. And since we’re being honest here, I miss the lace locks. On the other hand, they maintain solid support, which we all know is essential for heavy rucking.
Good for GR-Savage? Affirmative.
Brooks Ghost – These are my all-time favorite for distance running. I’ve worn these to a majority of GR Toughs, and they’ve been great.
Good for GR-Savage? Hell no, unless you want to constantly slip and/or lose a shoe in the mud.
Layers are everything. Cotton is the devil.
Layering strategy 1 – Having anticipated cold overnight temperatures, my original strategy was based on the tried and true 3-layer system. My first layer was a fitted, long-sleeve top to draw water away from the skin (nothing fancy, just a cheap “wicking” athletic top from Target).
My middle layer was SmartWool Merino 250 Baselayer (wool is one of the best insulating material for wet conditions). My outer layer was a waterproof windbreaker.
Good for GR-Savage? Negative. I had to set the windbreaker aside several times to maneuver through the obstacles. Once the windbreaker came off, the system fell apart. The wool top (as the new outer layer) would’ve likely torn during low crawls, etc., so it stayed packed in my ruck. I should’ve known better. If I could do it over, I would’ve left the wool at home and brought a second (identical) athletic top for added insulation.
Layering strategy 2 – A more popular approach was based on the premise that if you jump into icy water topless, then your top layers stay dry altogether and you can warm up faster upon exit. As it turned out, we were in the water/mud so frequently that changing in/out of so many layers proved more annoying than hypothermia. In true GRT fashion, the shirts simply stayed off.
Good for GR-Savage? As in, was this an effective strategy for staying warm? If you really have to ask, then I fear you’re missing the bigger picture. The real question is: how soon should the shirts come off? Answer: meow.
No surprise here. Your best bet for GR-Savage is the Rucker, GR1, or equivalent. Also, if your pack has a metal frame that’s large enough to double as construction scaffolding, please consider other options. During the GR-Savage welcome party, GRT Sarah had the misfortune of winning one of these monstrosities in a sadistic game of musical rucks. You wouldn’t believe the bruising she sustained. Not cool, metal frame guy.
Under Armour Youth Football Receiver Gloves (for OCRs) – I should qualify this by saying I’m aware of no magic glove that works well on muddy OCR obstacles… especially obstacles that require a wide, open grip. For me, bare hands work best in this case. That said, my favorite gloves for OCRs are UA Youth Football Receiver Gloves. Yes, they are youth sized, designed for football and ugly as hell, but the sticky palm and tight grip work great on a majority of obstacles, whether dry or wet (just, not muddy).
Good for GR-Savage? It depends on personal preference. I will say, if you plan on using your traditional GR gloves throughout the event, but you want an extra pair of OCR gloves specifically for the rigs, then just make sure you can get them on/off in under 30 seconds. The time hack was a no-go for me, so I stuck to bare hands on the rigs.
Wonder Grip Liquid-Proof Double-Coated/Dipped Latex Rubber Work Gloves (for GR) – Everyone swears by Mechanix gloves, and that’s cool. I see the appeal, but they just don’t work for me. My go-to for GR challenges are the unsung Wonder Grip work gloves. At just $8.16, a single pair has lasted me through at least 10 Toughs, 3 Lights and a crap-ton of actual yardwork without fail. In fact, the only reason I need to buy a new pair is that I misplaced a glove. Good for GR-Savage? Affirmative.
Pro tip – for cold events (as in sub-20˚) when your hands are repeatedly submerged in icy water or exposed to cold air/wind, try a pair of creepy Nitrile exam gloves as liners. I may or may not have learned this nifty trick from winter fossil hunting along icy rivers. Personally, I prefer the black ones because Dexter-creepy is nominally better than dentist-creepy.
WHAT ARE YOUR QUESTIONS AT THIS TIME?
Was GR-Savage 001 similar to Nasty? I wish I allegedly knew.
Was GR-Savage 001 similar to the Hurricane Heat? NO.
What was the attrition rate? If memory serves, 41 of 43 GRTs made it to Endex. I have no idea who/when/where/why the two GRTs dropped. Legend has it they’re still roaming the cornfields of Kennedyville, MD searching for their Ubers.
Should I bring extra weight to GR-Savage? Negative. I know this is tempting for certain overachievers looking for that extra challenge. But here’s the thing, with extra weight, you are pound-for-pound taking away from what you could’ve otherwise contributed to the team. Again, consider the unfortunate GRT Smurfette that will likely inherit your sack of poor life choices during the welcome party. Meanwhile, you’re off somewhere secretly loving her 25# ruck and bragging about your sham inchworm pushups. Above all, remember this: a true GRT stud is someone who puts the team before their self. If you choose to put yourself first, you’re not a stud. In fact, you’re an entire letter short. Bottom line: studs are cool, stds are not. Please, be a stud.
If I sign up for GR-Savage, can I still participate in Savage’s OCRs? Affirmative. GRT Cramer earned top bragging rights by first completing 25+ miles of the Savage Race, THEN completing GR-Savage 001, THEN completing the Savage Blitz in one weekend.
Am I too late? No, but you better hurry up! Find the next GR-Savage here.