Welcome! The intent of Anecdotes from the Trail is to share my experiences while trail running or racing (occasionally on the road too.) And to feature other trail runners and their accomplishments. You may see the occasional gear review or even contest. Please visit from time to time. Happy trails!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

GUTS Fat Ass 50K 01.09.11

Sean Oh captured this great photo of me. Thanks Sean!

A race that's not a race...that's what a "fat ass" race is supposed to be. But you and I both know that's hardly the case. There's always going to be some level of competitiveness, even if friendly. This year's GUTS Fat Ass 50K was going to be a little different. Turns out that after many years of hosting this race from the GUTS club president's house, it was going to a new location for 2011. This year's race was held at Sweetwater Creek State Park.

This would change the race from a four 8-mile loop course to a six 5-mile loop course. The new course would follow the Blue and White blazed trails at Sweetwater and would give us runners a little of everything along the way from winding, single track to technical rocky stuff to sandy, washed out creek beds to gravely, jeep roads. All while running through dense forest and by a beautiful rushing creek.

There is a 50K at Sweetwater Creek State Park every year called the SweetH20 50K and it usually takes place in May. But the Fat Ass doesn't take the participants on much of that race's course including the dreaded Top of the World. I ran that race in 2009 and if you want to catch up on that adventure, click here.

Runners gathering pre-race (Photo by Susan Donnelly)
I rode out to the race with my buddy Woody and we would run much of the race together. We all gathered inside a picnic pavillion at the park that had a nice roaring fire. You see, it was pretty darn cold outside and we were all huddled waiting to get out in it. Suddenly we heard, "OK runners, seven minutes to start. Get ready!"  We stumbled on out and bunched up waiting for further instructions. It went something like this, "bla, bla, bla...OK now go!" It took us all a second, but finally someone stepped out and the rest of us followed.

It's funny how quickly everyone fell into the proper pecking order. For most of the race, I did little passing and few passed me. Here's kind of how each loop went:

Loop one: We ran down a road for a short distance and were soon on the Blue blazed trail at the park which is mostly single track going through the woods. I was running with Woody, Ryan and about three other guys from GUTS. We all kind of stuck together on this loop. We passed the mill ruins by the water then headed down towards the creek after climbing down some steep trail and a set of stairs. Then we ran along side the creek on some technical stuff, climbed over a couple of large boulders, passed another creek and a little lake and then started climbing. Now normally this climb is not too bad, but it deserves honorable mention here as this little climb would get tougher and tougher on every loop. It's called Jack's Hill. It's only about a three quarters of a mile, but the grade is just hard enough to sneak up on you. I was able to run up it this time, but it would it take me by the end. We were all still more or less together at this point as we wound our way back on some single track for the last mile to the aid station or start/finish area. We strolled into the aid station, grabbed a couple of PBJ sandwich quarters and Coke and headed back out.

Portion of the trail by the creek. (Photo by Susan Donnelly)
Loop two: Started this loop still with Woody, Ryan and a few others from the first loop but we would break up on the second time up Jack's Hill. Woody dropped me and I some how got separated from Ryan and his buddy. I came into the aid station still feeling pretty good. My friend Spurgeon came in and after quickly refueling, he headed out like a bat out of hell and I somehow knew I wanted to stay on his ass. Woody, who had come in to the station before me, stayed behind changing into some different gear.

Loop three: I got on Spurgeon's heels for the first part of this loop and ultra/triathlete badass Jen Vogel was also with us for the first couple of miles. Jen and I were chatting while Spurgeon was busy putting the hammer down and we were just trying to keep up. We lost Jen some where by the creek and Spurgeon was on a mission. As he put it, "I'm running four loops hard. It's not my fault they made them shorter!" He was referring to the old Fat Ass, of course. On Jack's Hill, I managed to catch up with Spurgeon and pass him. I stayed ahead of him until the aid station. I never saw Woody on this loop.

Loop four: Once again chased Spurgeon out of the station for this loop. We hit the blue trail pretty hard and soon Spurgeon started putting some distance on me. By the time I was by the creek again, Spurgeon was long gone. I was also wondering where Woody was since he's faster than me and I was thinking he would have caught me. Sure enough, right before I started the climb at Jack's Hill, here he came looking fresh as a daisy even after the effort of trying to catch me. He tried to stay with me but it wasn't long before he was putting distance on me too. he got to the aid station before me and waited up to run the fifth loop with me. Spurgeon was just coming out of the station when we cam ein and we would soon catch him again on the fifth loop.

Loop five: Starting to hurt a little at this point. Woody kept saying this would be the worse loop because the sixth loop would be the last one and we would be excited to get it done. It wouldn't be the worst one for me, that would definitely be the sixth loop, but it was good thinking. We ran together for most of the loop except for the last mile or so where Woody went on ahead and I some how had caught up to Spurgeon again. We came in to the aid station together. I was really happy to see my wife and my son who had made it out to watch me finish. I kissed them both and headed out for the last loop.

Me and my family at the finish.
Loop six: By this loop, I was definitely feeling it. I tried to run with Woody but he soon was gone and I ended up doing this loop mostly by myself. Spurgeon had left the aid station before me and I would never see him again. The inclines that were no big deal on the first few loops were taking it out of me on this loop. I was averaging some where around 50 minutes per loop until I hit this one which took me over an hour. I struggled up Jack's Hill and did my best to finish up. I turned off the last bit of trail, up the road and into the finish. There smiling and waiting for me were my wife, my son and Woody. High fives all around!

I later found out that I squeaked into the top ten in tenth place by finishing in 5:41. Not a PR, but definitely one of my better 50K times. A lot of faster GUTS runners either only ran a few loops (a Half Ass) or they were taking it easy in training for something bigger down the road. It was fun to run with friends and especially Woody and Spurgeon.

Kudos to the GUTS gang and volunteers for sticking it out in the cold to host yet another fantastic event! My family and I left the park after changing into some dry clothes and I replaced some calories at Cracker Barrel. Yum, chicken and dumplings! Turns out that's pretty tasty recovery food.

Next race: Black Warrior 50K in February!