Monday, March 2, 2015

8th Annual Los Gatos Overgrown Fat Ass 50K -- Euro Edition

Euro Johnny

Did I ever tell you about that time I won a 50K trail race wearing dress pants, a collared shirt and a fedora? And how I cut nearly a mile off the course by taking a bunch of shortcuts? Oh yeah, and the beer I pounded at the aid station -- where they were serving wine? No? Well sit down and make yourself comfortable. Here it goes...

This year was the 8th annual running of the Los Gatos Overgrown Fat Ass 50K organized by Quicksilver runners Adam Blum and Sean Lang. While perhaps not the most well-known or most competitive ultra in California, it is however definitely one of the most fun!

With around 6500 feet of elevation gain, the course isn't as hard as say Quad Dipsea or Ohlone 50K, but it will definitely test your climbing legs. And unlike other races that have aid stations every few miles, this race has just one aid station! Luckily it is an out and back course, so runners pass through the aid station twice: once at mile 13 on the way out to the turnaround, and again at mile 17 on the way back. On a hot year, many a runner has found themselves drinking out of seasonal creeks along the course, or in extreme cases, out of a horse trough.

My favorite thing about this particular race is that it has a different theme each year. One year the aid station was a set up as a Mexican cantina serving margaritas. Another year it was an Irish pub with Jameson and Guinness. Then there was the Cops and Robbers theme where I made the mistake of drinking liberally from a jar of cherry moonshine that Sean Lang offered me. I can't recall too much about the last 13 miles of the race that year :)

Race briefing
photo by Mark Tanaka
Euro Edition

This year the race was branded as the Euro Edition, meaning of course that the aid stations would be serving cheese, salami, and wine! Also, as per European custom, it was announced that the course would not be fixed, meaning that runners would be free to cut the switchbacks or take any shortcuts that they could devise. In addition to a prize for the overall winner, this year there would also be awards for "biggest cheater" and "most Euro".

The shortcut aspect would definitely promise make things interesting this year, particularly for experienced veterans familiar with the mountain range. While the established course does take the most direct route through the mountains for the most part, many of the race entrants started scouring old mining maps and aerial imagery looking for secret lost trails that might shave off a few minutes here or there!

As you can see from the photos, race director Adam Blum came dressed to win in his resplendent Euro kit complete with knickers and trekking poles. I decided to go less for the techno-dork Euro look and more old-school Euro hiker look with my long pants, collared tee shirt and fedora.

Big Johnny san Fedora
photo by Keith Blom
And They're Off

My strategy going into this race, I explained to my wife the night before, was to go out ludicrously hard in hopes that my main competitors would take the bait and come with me. I knew that we'd eventually blow up. In fact this was what I was counting on. I routinely practice "blowing up" and recovering during my long runs, so I figured I would have the edge in terms of getting my legs back under me.

Alas, no one took the bait. Larry Neumann wisely hung back biding his time. His buddy Matt Ward initially gave chase for a mile or so before letting me go and settling down into his own rhythm.

However, the advantage of opening an early lead was that it provided me an opportunity to take an early shortcut unseen by my competitors. (Also, this gave me a good opportunity to stash my fedora in a secluded spot as I was already starting to sweat profusely just a few miles into the race). Instead of following the official course and taking a left turn onto Limekiln (Overgrown) trail, I instead turned a 100 yards earlier on the paved road into the rock quarry that parallels the trail on the other side of the river.

Larry Neumann giving chase!
photo by Keith Blom
Unlike the trail that meanders a bit and gains some elevation, the paved road is perfectly straight and perfectly flat. The only downside is that you have to scramble down a river bank, through the river, and then up the other side of the bank to regain the trail. Still, I estimate this little detour probably gained me at least a minute over my competitors. And of course, I would also later take this same shortcut on the return back.

Toshi Moshi the Pimpin' Chickin' Hosaka, who is famous for eschewing established trails in favor of bushwhacking through poison oak, rolled the dice and ventured completely off trail, meandering across the mountains along animal game paths and overgrown trails no longer on any maps. In the end, he conceded that his shortcuts didn't save him any time and if anything, significantly added to his finishing time.

I reached the first aid station still in the lead and stopped quickly to fill my water bottles. I hadn't seen anyone behind me so I figured I had at least a few minutes lead, if not more. I must say that I was surprised, quite pleasantly, to see Larry Neumann running strongly towards me only a minute or two after I'd reached the turnaround. Apparently he had hammered the down hills and made up quite a bit of time, passing Matt and Toshi and moving into second place.

Winos at the aid station
photo by Keith Blom
The Second Half of the Race

The second half of the race was pretty uneventful aside from seeing Amy and John Paul at the outbound aid station at mile 17 and slamming a nice cold IPA that Amy brought me. That was definitely the highlight of the race :)

I never did see Larry again, so I assumed that I put a lot of time on him on the long climb back up over the backside of Mt El Sombroso. There were a couple of good vantage points toward the top of the mountain where I could look back down for a good half a mile or so, and I didn't see anyone.

At that point, knowing I had the race in the bag, I decided to run it in on cruise control rather than trying to push and go for a personal best. I ended up finishing in 4 hours and 28 minutes, which was 5 minutes slower than my fastest time on this course (from the infamous cherry moonshine year). Still, I was happy with my effort and considered it a good training run for the Ohlone 50K coming up in May.

The men's podium
photo by Keith Blom
Larry charged in just ten minutes later for 2nd place in 4 hours and 38 minutes. His buddy Matt held on for third, finishing just a few seconds under 5 hours. Several beers later, Toshi finally arrived bloody and disheveled, looking like he'd been alone in the wilderness for days with no food, water, or razor.

I wanted to stick around and wait to cheer on the other finishers, but alas I was out of beer and had to go off in search of more!

I'm already looking forward to next year and whatever new theme Adam and Sean come up with. Word on the street is that it might be a formal black tie affair!

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

That doesn't sound like Toshi at all. There should have been puke stains on his clothes as well...