Have you ever wondered why you do some of the things you do? I was in this state of mind as I stood at the starting line of the 11th annual (Coach Gilly thinks it’s only the 10th) running of the G.A.C. Fat Ass 50K at Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield, MA. It’s easy to question your thought process when the temperature is a windy 17 degrees and you’re wearing nothing but a long-sleeve shirt and pants, a headband and gloves. I quickly got over this foolishness and took pride knowing the tradition of the hearty New Englander lives on in me and the 80 to 90 other trail animals toeing the line on this frosty morning.
The FA course is a pleasant mix of single and double track trails, open fields and a short stretch of pavement, all neatly wrapped up in a wheel-measured 10K loop. The terrain is tame by most standards but it does include one long, steady climb along twisty single track to the top of Moon Hill. (UPDATE: it's just an unnamed hill, not Moon Hill) This was my favorite section of the race, except when I was getting tired on my 3rd loop ;-) Although the race course is relatively easy the difficulty of the run was bumped up a notch due to the snow and ice covering the entire route.
This is a low key event, no entry fees and no numbers. Runners were asked to make a donation to the aid station table which made for a vast variety of tasty treats, a hallmark of all GAC races. The registration process consisted of writing your name on a blank sheet of paper. At the end of each loop you had to check in with one of the volunteers so you could get credit for completing the 6.2 miles. I imagine this also served as a way of keeping tabs on who was out on the course in case someone went missing. Getting lost would be a difficult task as the course was well marked with bright orange ribbons and flags. These markers really stood out against the pure, white backdrop of snow.
My friend Kevin Z and I had planned to run at Bradley Palmer a couple of times during the past few weeks to check out the course but the weather never cooperated. We finally got our opportunity on race day and it was worth the wait. The course was very runable despite the snow and ice. In fact, running on the icy patches was easier than running in the soft snow. The sheet metal screws in the soles of my Brooks Cascadias gave me excellent traction on the treacherous ice. Most of the runners I saw had some type of traction aid like Yaktraxs, Kahtoota microspikes or screws. These were a real help navigating icy stretches of trail but were useless in the open fields. In the fields, the powdery snow was so dry that even after hours of trampling by thousands of footsteps it never compacted. In some of the deeper areas it felt as though you were running in mashed potatoes. At one point Kevin sunk past his knees in the white stuff.
The race served as a good training run and we maintained a fairly even pace on the first two laps. We were in no way pushing the pace, just enjoying the scenery and stopping to take some pictures along the way. We finished the 1st 10K in 1:11:45 and the second loop in 1:08:29. We stopped at the aid table after each lap to sample some of the goodies. I had the best ever molasses cookie, made nice and chewy by the cold air. Yummy! On the 3rd and final loop we started to tire. The open fields that were tough going on fresh legs were getting very difficult to run with fatigued quads. We slowed to 1:14:01 on the final loop that included a lot of walking breaks.
I was very pleased with this run and happy that Kevin motivated me to do a 3rd loop. I was ready to bail after two! Even after six weeks of minimal mileage I was able to dig down and pull off a 30K in snow. Not bad. I guess I’m in better shape than I had assumed. I will be resting most of the upcoming week to see if I can shake this vicious cold in my head and chest. For anyone keeping score, Kevin Sullivan must have melted some ice blazing his way to a first place 50K finish in 4:03:30. And this was just a training run as he preps for the Western States 100 this summer. Nice job Kevin! Paul Young was 1st master and 2nd place overall.
Also, a special thanks to race director Roger Martell and all the volunteers who braved the cold weather for hours so we could enjoy a beautiful day of running on the trails.
Ok, now where’s the remote?