What is a fat ass race? http://trailandultrarunning.com/the-fat-ass-ultra-a-history/
The article link above will give you a slight intro to what they are. The world of trail and ultra running started with low-key informal runs, events , even races that were more about comradery than competition. A “Fat-ass” race means it is very informal. “No frills, no fees, no BS”. That is the usual tag-line you will see. When I ran my first ultra at the White Rock 50k, a “Fat-ass” ultra hosted by members of the Arkansas Ultrarunning Association , I entered into a whole new world of running and racing. You see, ultras used to be this format in the majority when I first got started. Grass-roots, no entry fee or minimal entry fee. Maybe you get a t-shirt, maybe not. It was the community that brought immense value to the race and was the central focal point.
Now in 2023, things in the world of ultrarunning have most certainly changed. I hear of more money pumping into the sport. More “Professionalized athletes”, more brands, more blow-up signs and tunnels, rock star music entertainment, schwag duffle bags (I do love my merch), bigger is better, and so much more. My writing of this is not to be a commentary or debate on old vs new, past vs present, nothing about the versus. But rather an acknowledgment and call to arms to top-end athletes in the sport to support these events because the past is still with us and we should support events like the GAC 50k before they face elimination because they remind us of what makes ultrarunning so awesome, the community.
Why would I run a fat-ass 50k? Why would a high-performing athlete run a fat-ass 50k?
It comes down to the community. The GAC 50k is a perfect season-opener after the holidays. On race day, 200 some runners showed up to run 10k loops around Bradley Palmer State Park in Massachusetts. For me, it was a “no pressure” scenario to test my fitness and get a workout in a race setting completed along with having the chance to interact with the local New England running community. For the professional trail and ultra runner, running a local tune-up may not appeal to them. With no financial incentive, bonus for a win etc, running a local fat ass race maybe is just too risky for them if they were to twist an ankle for example. For me, running the GAC was a risk worth-taking.
The entry into the GAC 50k was a bag of like-new clothes they would be donating to a local shelter. Everyone gathered at a picnic table and the RD after the race briefing, said “Go” and we all started running. The single aid station at the start/finish line had all types of donated food by racers and the local community. It was amazing! One mega aid station full of every Snickers, gummy bear, grilled cheese we love.
As I took off on the trace of snow out on the wooded trails of the park, I entered into a route that was perfect New England. Rocky, leaf-laden trails, woods, open fields, rolling hills, black top sections, twisting double-track trails; the GAC 50k had it all. Runners could do 1 lap or 5 of the 10k loop. Those that completed the 4 loops and the 50k would give their name to the RD to go on a results clip-board at the conclusion, awesome old-school vibes right there!
My race was a simple one to tell. I just went out and ran. Did my thing. I only looked at my watch twice. Ran by feel, by my natural pace rhythms. I went out fast, a sub 40 minute first lap, only later to look at my data showing lots of 6:20-6:30 mile splits. The course early-on had a nice dusting of snow on it. The ground hard and fast. I knew I would have a few solid laps before the warming would turn the trails to mud and mush. After the first few laps, I soon began to catch-up with the other runners out on the trail. It was awesome to say “hi” and exchange some encouraging words as I ran on by. I wore some water-resistant jogger pants from Lululemon that did their job of keeping my legs warm and dry before I took them off for lap 4 as the day had warmed. That ensured my legs stayed as dry as possible in the mush.
I felt a little hungry by lap 4 and had a delicious chocolate chip cookie, and some M&Ms that did the trick to curb my hunger. The last two laps the volume of people on the trail was sparce from earlier but the encouragement and enthusiasm was still high. The mud and mush of the trail made the effort harder and so I just eased-off the throttle and coasted in. With a 2:47 marathon split, I knew I had a solid finish time in me. I came in on the park road and pushed to the line. A solid “W” and finish in 3:35 or so for 50k.
It was fun seeing Massultra out there getting photos along with local legend, Pat Caron. For me, being immersed in the New England running community was really awesome. I feel like I belong and am happy to represent New England well in my other races and projects this year and beyond.
Being newer to the New England ultra running scene, only living in Providence for 2 years now, I am still exploring and experiencing all of the different events that comprise the New England trail scene. My ask to top-level ultra runners is why not make a rust-buster be a local fat-ass style event? It offers the perfect opportunity to test new strategies and immerse yourself within your local running community. You might also be providing a great service to your sponsors by engaging with your local community too!
As we look to schedule our 2023 racing calendar, I make it a point to run 1 local ultra race a year at the very least. The GAC 50k is an example of a Fat-Ass event that looks to be strong with over 200 runners coming out on a cold but sunny, New England winter day. But others may not be so lucky. As we look to get our Western States Qualifiers, Hardrock Qualifiers, UTMB points or stones, please try to throw some love to our local legends. Those events that are what the sport of trail ultras grew from. They are still out there and need your support. Because at the end of the day, a fat-ass offers all participants something more than t-shirts, trophies, belt buckles, and rock bands, guarantied raw : community. Happy Trails!
Gear used for the GAC 50k:
Lululemon Blue Jogger Pants (kept my legs dry in the mud the first few loops before going more stream-lined the last two loops)
A combo of Ucan Edge and Untapped Maple Syrup gels
Nathan VaporZach Race Vest with 1 12 ounce flask of water that I added sports drink to on laps 4 and 5.
North Face Vectiv Enduris 2 trail shoes. Got a nice deal on these in the white and pink colorway. Nice rocker, cushion, rebound and grip was solid for this run.
T8 Commando boxers and T8 sherpa Shorts and Iced Tee. Light and Chafe-free. Sworn comfort for me.
Dion snowshoe beanie. Nice and warm.
Swiftwick Aspire 4 socks. Love my Swiftwicks and these stayed light and protective the whole 50k in the mud and snow.
Zensah calf sleeves (compression) in blue camo. Look cool, run cool, and keeps my legs feeling relaxed when the going gets tough.
KT tape on the knee. This has saved me IT band/knee pain I have dealt with after Hellgate 2021. Allows me to perform my best.
Squirrel’s Nut Butter small stick. Lube up. No chafe problems.
Coros Apex Pro. Amazing watch, reliable pacing, and battery life for days.
Nathan Dash 1/4 zip-Soft, warm and great stretch and worked great as my outer layer.
Craft Baselayer–Keeps me warm and dry for those winter runs.
For more info on the run: https://massultra.com/2023/01/08/photos-2023-g-a-c-fat-ass-50k/