Monday, February 21, 2011

4th Annual Overgrown Fat Ass: Race Report

View of Mt. Umunhum from Mt. El Sombroso
Intro: Last Sunday (Feb 13th) I had the pleasure of joining some good friends for the 4th annual running of the Los Gatos "Overgrown" Fatass trail (ultra)marathon. This year the course had been lengthened from 26 miles to 31 miles (50K), making it a true ultra-marathon.

This friendly, by-invitation-only event is organized by Adam Blum and Sean Lang of the Quicksilver-Rhomobile Racing Team. Most of the invited runners are either members (or friends) of the Quicksilver Running Club.

For people who are not familiar with the history of the Fat Ass movement, a Fat Ass is a low-key, loosely-organized run that adheres (more or less) to the mantra, "No Fees, No Awards, No Aid, No Wimps." Typically Fat Ass runs are held early in January -- after everyone has put on a few pounds of adipose tissue in their derriere. This particular Fat Ass event is named in honor of a particularly steep and very technical section of trail called Limekiln on official maps, but which is simply referred to by locals as "Overgrown".

Unlike typical trail ultramarathons that offer aid stations every 5 miles or so, this event has only one aid station -- and you have to run up and over the 3,000 foot peak of Mt. El Sombroso to get there. However the effort is well worth it, because this aid station has an open bar! Run by Sean's wife Heidi, the aid station has a different alcohol theme each year. Last year they poured Guinness and whiskey. This year they were mixing up margaritas and tequila shots!

The Start: The race was scheduled to begin at 8:00 am, but perhaps due to the casual nature of the event, runners were still nonchalantly strolling up to the starting line as Adam was finishing his pre-race instructions, causing for a few minutes delay in getting started as he repeated the directions to make sure no one got lost out there. Going off trail could be deadly. If the mountain lions, rattle snakes or poison oak don't get you -- the illegal marijuana farmers might!

I had invited my buddy and regular training partner Dr. Joeseph Bistrain to join us. Joe and I run and bike ride together a few times a week. He had just done a 50 mile bike ride the day before, so he said he would try to join, but would probably only run 20 miles or so. I figured it would be nice to have some company, even if just for first 10 mile out section. Not just to talk to. But also to increase my odds of successfully fending off a mountain lion attack. But it looked like Dr. Joe was going to be a no show. That is, until he sprinted up to the starting line, nearly out of breath, seconds before the race was about to start.

Eventually everyone showed up, got settled down, and the race began. Adam, Joe, and I quickly found ourselves running out in front as everyone was running very cautiously, wisely saving strength for the long climb up and over Mt. El Sombroso, only to turn around at the bottom of the other side and climb back up and over from the other direction. It was going to be a long day!

I decided to back off a little bit and run my own pace, letting Adam and Joe run ahead a bit. I'd had a bad race two weeks prior where I went out too hard and ended up dropping out of the Jed Smith 50K at mile 16. So I didn't want a repeat performance of that fiasco. Plus my knee had been giving me some troubles lately. So, my plan was to go out slow and easy for the first half, and then try to pick it up and run a negative split on the way back. I think Adam and Joe had the same plan as they seemed to back off a bit and settle into a nice conversational pace, just a few seconds ahead of me.

The Attack: However, as we approached the top of Mt. El Sombroso about 7 miles into the run, Adam suddenly pulled a Lance Armstrong/Alberto Contador/Andy Schleck and launched an awe-inspiring attack at the top of the summit. While Joe and I jogged over the top and took it easy on the downhill, Adam was flying down the mountain opening up a several minute lead. Apparently Adam was looking to win the race -- and to win it early.

Not wanting to abandon my cautious plan of running the first half of the race easy, Joe and I continued to run at a comfortable, conversational pace. However, we approached the 10 mile point turns around as he planned (which will give him his planned 20 miles for the day). Now I was on my own. Instinctively I occasionally start picking it up just slightly, hoping to close down some distance between myself and Adam. Wait, this wasn't the plan. Knock it off. Slow down. I've still got 20 miles to run.

As I approach the aid station at mile thirteen I blow right through. Both my bottles are each still about 1/4 full so I figure they should easily get me through the next 5 miles of relatively easy terrain before I come back to the aid station on the return. More importantly, where the hell is Adam? As the fire road straightens out I can see a quarter mile ahead (or more) and he is no where in sight. However, as I start getting close to the turn around point I see him running up the hill towards me. Ok, so he was just a minute or two ahead.

And as I run into the aid station at mile 18, Adam is still there (chugging down the last of his margarita as I later learn). While a cold beer would have hit the spot, there was no way in hell I was going to drink warm Tequila!. Seriously, who drinks Tequila on a 31 mile run? (I am later informed that fellow runner Mike Mahone drank 5 shots of Tequila at the aid station. WTF? Wow!). I quickly refill my two bottles with water and head back out, trying to see if I can catch Adam.

A few miles go by and then finally I catch a glimpse of a tall, shirtless slim figure striding up the trail. Eventually I finally pull up beside him and then throw in a mock sprint, which he matches. Luckily we both come to our senses and realize that we are not going to be able to run sub 6:00 minute miles up this steep, rocky mountain.

"Ugh, This Sucks": Despite the rumors that were later circulated, I did not actually run a 5:00 mile up the cliff-face of the mountain. It was more like a 15 minute mile. But it hurt as much as any 5 minute mile I've ever run. And yes, at one point I did mumble something to the effect of "Ugh, this sucks" to a group of cub scouts who were coming down the mountain. It didn't help my morale that I had run out of water at that point and had to "wash" down my salt pills with a Gu gel packet. Probably only a peanut butter and dirt sandwhich would have been harder to swallow.

But eventually I made it back up to the peak of Mt. El Sombroso. And then eventually I made it back down to the Limekiln trail head. And eventually I made it back down to the road. And then eventually I made it back up that stupid steep little dirt hill. And then eventually I made it back to the start/finish point at Novitiate park.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I cross the finish line in first place. My final time was 5:01:54. Not quite as fast as I was shooting for (I kinda wanted to go under 5 hours), but not nearly as bad as it could have been. And, looking further on the bright side, I wasn't eaten, bitten, or shot. So a definite win-win all around.

Adam (2nd place, 5:28:00) and John (1st place, 5:01:54)

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