No Fee, No Awards, No Wimps.
It’s interesting how running 50 miles can change your perception of shorter distances, like when did 50k become a shorter distance? When I ran my first 50k, the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge, in May 2007 I spent months training for it and the race was an epic adventure. Seven months later, here I was doing another 50k with very little “training” and only about 2 weeks of preparation, just long enough to taper. Normally I would plan something like this months in advance. Because of the 50 miler I ran in November the 50k distance was no longer intimidating, and it helped that this wasn’t a real race. The GAC Fat Ass 50k is kind of like a winter picnic with running breaks in between meals. This type of event is what running is really all about, spending all day with friends on the trail, meeting new people, trying new combinations of food items, trying out flashy new articles of clothing. Brilliant.
Despite my attempts to round up a solid crew of Mainers for the trip to Topsfield, MA Jamie was the only one who came through in the end. I think the holiday break from teaching allowed him to focus on running for a while and got him excited about plans to run the Western States 100 this year. We arrived early enough to take a short walk on the trails, set out our drop bags and aid station contributions and mingle with some of the other runners. Registering for the race consisted of having someone write our names on a clipboard, no other information required. As more runners arrived the aid station table that we would return to after each lap was becoming overloaded with goodies.
After hanging around outside for the better part of an hour I felt a bit chilled and threw on an extra layer before the start of the race. The temperature was in the upper 20’s and I knew that the inevitably slow pace wasn’t going to warm me up that much. Even though I knew that dehydration wasn’t going to be much of an issue today I planned to carry my Source hydration pack filled with a weak mixture of Hammer Sustained Energy. The pack also provided me with the opportunity to carry my camera, a few gels, and to stow clothing as it warmed up and I needed to shed layers.
Lap 1: 0-10 km, 58:38
Maybe I was over excited to be running, but despite my best attempt to set out at a sensible pace I found myself unusually far up the field. Although I didn’t think my pace was too fast I didn’t want to run alone so I slowed down a little. Tom Page caught up to me and we chatted for a bit but I could feel the pace creeping up and I knew that I really was going too fast so I let him go. For about two miles I was leading a long line of runners on the snowy single-track. Jamie was right behind me talking up a storm with Ron Farkash, and somewhere back there were John O’Connor and Lori Lebel. I felt a bit out of place leading this pack of runners given their ultra running achievements. I tried to run away from Lori in my previous 50k, it was a mistake then and I suspected still not a good idea today.
In the week before the race Topsfield had received more rain than snow and since it was still below freezing the snow on the trails was pretty crusty. In places where there had been a lot of foot traffic the surface was very irregular and felt a bit like running in scree. Most runners were wearing Yak Trax but thanks to the screw shoes Jamie and I were wearing we were taking icy corners like we were on rails.
Aid Station: 3:10
Lap 2: 10-20 km, 60:13
In our first visit to the aid station, staffed by the friendly folks of GAC, I was introduced to a delightfully tasty treat: ginger snaps and cream cheese. Ron didn’t waste any time at the first aid station snacking and took off without us. I wasted a little more time fussing around with my wardrobe, switching my long sleeved shirt for Moeben Sleeves, and set off on the second lap with Jamie and John. John was attempting his longest run in several months since injuring himself while playing with his son, and was doing a great job running and keeping us entertained.
I don’t know where everyone went but the group we started out with seemed to really get spread out on the second lap. I also couldn’t help but notice that there were quite a few people walking the trails, many with dogs, but thankfully they stayed off the single track and generally were out of our way.
Aid Station: 4:40
Lap 3: 20-30 km, 60:53
Jamie downed a whole can of Moxie before heading out on this lap, not sure why, but as he seemed to question whether or not is was a good idea I reminded him: Moxie Makes Mainers Mighty. I stuck to the ginger snap and cream cheese sandwiches, not sure if they were going to make me mighty, but they tasted damn good.
The temperature was really starting to rise, the sun was getting high and it was a beautiful day. The snow was beginning to soften and there were a few places in the open fields where it felt like we were running through mashed potatoes and I was gravy, but thankfully it was never long before we headed back into the woods and onto firmer snow. Bradley Palmer State Park where we were running is very close to where the Stone Cat 50 Miler was held and the geography, although snow covered, seemed very similar. The big difference was that this course featured a more significant hill, and we got to do it 5 times.
Some time after passing a dead rodent in the trail for the third time our conversation turned to zoology and we came upon the really big question of the day: What is the one mammal besides the duck billed platypus that lays eggs? We planned to ask this of the aid station volunteers but when we arrived our thoughts were immediately distracted by the mountain of food before us.
Aid Station: 5:37
Lap 4: 30-40 km, 63:11
This was our longest aid station break of the day, and not exactly a low point, but this is when I first noticed feeling tired. The fourth was also our slowest lap. Just like the penultimate lap at Stone Cat was the toughest for me the same seemed to be true today. I never wanted to stop running, or questioned whether or not I could finish, but it seemed harder to maintain that 10 minute per mile pace we’d been doing for the previous 3+ hours.
About 2 miles into this lap we passed Sarah Heck who had gotten a late start. When we told her we were on our 4th lap she said “good, you only have 2 more to go!” I panicked for a moment while I double checked the math, thankfully Sarah was wrong and we only had one more lap after this one. Don’t get me wrong, running is fun, but it’s nice to know when you’re going to stop.
There wasn’t a lot of conversation on this lap but we did question the origins of the term “Fat Ass” relative to ultra running. There were a few people we came across during the day that bore a resemblance to the name of the event but we never reached a definitive conclusion.
Aid Station: 5:13
Lap 5: 40-50 km, 62:09
There was a sense of relief that came as we headed out on the last lap, by now we knew the course well and had a sense of how much it would take to get through it. Neither Jamie nor I were taking this run too seriously but we wanted to finish strong and at least maintain the somewhat consistent pace we had been running all morning. We definitely seemed to do a lot of walking on the hills this lap but we were able to keep a good rhythm going and didn’t slow down too much.
With about 2 miles to go we started to close in on a runner ahead. I really didn’t care where we finished in this race, or that’s what I thought until I was confronted with the possibility of passing someone. The racing instinct kicked in with both Jamie and I, and without saying a word we focused on catching him. Just after we passed him Jamie whispered “lets pick up the pace” so we proceeded to roll him up and smoke him. I felt a little bad for doing this, but I was interested to see if we really could pick up the pace this late in the run, it was nice to know we had a little extra left to give and I didn’t feel bad for long.
Although Jamie and I never planned to run the whole race together I was glad that it ended up that way.
Distance: 50 km / 31.1 miles
Heart Rate: 161/183