Wednesday, January 15, 2014

An Ice Start

The first stop on my 2014 Ultra Tour was the GAC Fat Ass 50k at Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield, MA.  This race was originally scheduled for Jan 4th, which just happened to coincide with winter storm “Hercules” - a greek gale that dropped a ridiculous 24 inches of snow squarely on Topsfield.  Knowing the race organizers, I’m sure they would have been happy to hold the race in those conditions, had there been any place for us to park.  However, the park ranger plows (scheduled to clear the lots) refused to intercede and the race was delayed for 7 days.

The intervening week was filled with day-time warmth, night-time refreeze and rain, so the trails that greeted us on race day were a cross between mud, packed snow, ice and puddles of screaming death.  Ok, it wasn’t quite THAT bad, but it was really, really slippery! Thankfully, during that week I had also done a little pre-race work on my old trail shoes and, with the help of some ½” sheet-metal screws, created a beautiful pair of home-made ice-cleats.

Temps at the 9:00am start time were in the upper 40’s and scheduled to continue rising to

the upper 50’s - with off and on rain all day.  So, there I was. Hat, gloves, ice-cleats, t-shirt and shorts. Ready to start my first ever 50k.  Seemed silly, I know, but so was the idea of skating five 10k laps around a snowy spit of land, on the North Shore, in January.  But with an entry fee of ZERO dollars and all the junk food you could eat, how could you really go wrong?

My race plan was just to finish. If I could do it in less than 5 hours, all the better! But mostly it was just to get a good, LONG run in.  Finish strong and start my new year off right.  With that in mind, I started off slowly and let a big pack (of about 10 runners) run away from me.  I was pretty tentative, even with the screw shoes, in the early going.  I picked my way through the ice patches trying to find the best place to land. I ran the whole way and completed the first 6.2 mile lap in just over 55 minutes. Not bad. Considering.

At the start of Lap 2 I caught up to two guys who had stopped at the aid station.  We ran together and chatted for a little bit before I let them go again.  I passed them for good at the start of on lap 3 when they stopped again and I blew right through.  Lap 2 was a little quicker. Just under 54 minutes.  I ran Lap 3 mostly by myself, occasionally passing a few lapped runners and one time passing a large group going in the opposite direction. They must have reversed for their middle lap. I finished Lap 3 a little slower (57 minutes) but that included a stop to refill my hydration pack.

During Lap 4 the rain started again, but I was pretty “warmed up” by that point so it was a

welcome addition to the race condition.  About halfway through that lap I started getting sick to my stomach of the sweet and sugary fuel I had been consuming - Gu’s, Shot-blocks and Stroopwafel.  So, when I stopped before my last lap I grabbed a handful of salted potatoes. Mmmm.  That hit the spot!  I was a bit slower again in Lap 4 (just over 61 minutes) but still on target for a sub-5.

Lap 5 was pretty hard. My legs were feeling quite heavy.  I was getting tired of slipping around. And, it felt like I was slowing WAY down.  A couple miles in I was passed by a shirtless Dima Feinhaus (an ultra-running phenom) and I just couldn’t stay with him.  He offered me some words of encouragement, but it was no use. He moved out from me like I was standing still. By this point the rain had made the icy trails even icier and I slipped into a dark spot in my psyche - walking at one point on the steeper sections of single-track.

Eventually I got to the top of the ridge, regained my composure and cruised down the last

mile and a half to the finish. The last lap took me just over 64 minutes but it seemed twice as long as that in my head. My final time was 4:52:30. A 50k PR and one I should easily be able to break next time out. I hung out a bit with the 6 other 50k finishers, warmed myself by the fire, ate a grilled cheese sandwich, some chocolate chip cookies a few Pringles and washed it all down with some Coke. Yeah, Ultras. I could definitely get used to this!

Next Race:
  Martha’s Vineyard 20m


  1. Nice job out there. Sounds like conditions were "interesting" to say the least! Looks like you've gotten off to a great start to the year of ultras!

    1. Thanks! It was fun. Well, most of it anyway. :)