I ran my third consecutive Club Fat Ass New Year’s Day 50k on Saturday which I believe means that the event is officially an annual tradition for me.
It was a chilly morning, but the sun was smiling through chapped lips on the 118 starters, over 50 of whom were running the 50k, many tackling the distance for the first time. The paved sections were frosty, but not slippery, and the normally soft trail sections were frozen, making for a fast course. I should mention at this point that the CFA New Year’s Day 50k is a fun run and not a race, or at least “not necessarily a race” as described in the event’s fine print. I repeat, it is not a race. Yes, it is.
After passing the early front-runner, Gary Robbins, who sprinted the first 50 metres of Brockton Oval parking lot on crutches, we turned onto Kinglet Trail as a pack of about seven guys who didn’t realize that this event isn’t a race. Yes, it is.
The early pace was fairly relaxed. Last year’s rabbit, Ryan Conroy, chose to stay close enough to the main group this year for us to keep him from getting lost. Also returning from last year’s race were national 100k team member and Saucony spokesmodel, Sammy Lotfi-pour; one of my usual Broadway Running Room training partners, Dario Herrera; and fellow 2011 Western States entrant, Mike Palichuk. Chris Tomkinson and Matthew Seftel were the race newbies in the group and also helped keep the average age of the lead group a little to the north side of forty. We missed the company of our buddy Henry Chan, who signed up but must have got lost on the way to Stanley Park, and Ryne Melcher who was called into service at the last minute at the Kintec aid station at Spanish Banks. Ryne did say that he would definitely have run had he known I wouldn’t be wearing the short-shorts this year.
The clear skies meant we had great views, but it also meant it was cold enough early on that Sammy remarked he had icicles forming on his new and very bright orange Saucony gloves, which matched his new and very bright orange Saucony Kinvara shoes. I got out-dayglowed! Darn! I knew I should have worn my bright neon yellow Brooks singlet!
With much of the seawall between Second Beach and Sunset Beach fenced off for reconstruction, we zigged and zagged and climbed more than usual, surely adding several metres of elevation to the flattest section of the course.
The familiar ring of Maureen Wiens’s cowbell welcomed us as we approached Burrard Bridge. Sadly, five injured lumbar discs kept Tim on the sidelines of this year’s event and shelved any plans he may have had for following up the first-ever Double Fat Ass 100k from a year ago.
With as many 40 year-olds in the group as we had, guys were ducking into bushes and behind dumpsters along the way so we almost didn’t notice when the much more youthful Dario dropped off the back at Locarno Beach and didn’t catch back up to the main pack.
As we made our way toward Spanish Banks and the trailhead into Pacific Spirit Park, we spotted Melcher’s sweet new ride, the giant orange Kintec van, which marked the location of the aid station (thank you again Ryne, Gary, and the dude in the clown shoes!).
Once we got into the trails, the climb up Salish trail strung out the group a bit until the lead pack was down to Sammy, Mike, Chris and me.
We reached the turnaround at Camosun and Marine Drive in about 1:58, almost exactly the same time we got there last year, but unlike last year’s quick turn, we took the opportunity this year to water the foliage, chat with Matthew’s support crew who had come all the way from Winnipeg, and generally mill around like we were waiting for something to happen. Ryan Conroy decided to call it a day and was replaced on the return trip by another of my regular training partners, Donovan Watts, who opted to run with us despite the fact his girlfriend, Richele Frank, was running her first ultra and would be arriving a few minutes later.
Sammy kicked the pace up a bit on the gradual climb along Salish back to 16th Avenue, essentially reducing the lead group to Donovan, Sammy and me, with Mike chasing thirty seconds or so behind. Ironically, I could feel the first signs of distress in my legs right around the Pacific Spirit Park office where Sammy dropped back during last year’s race. I held it together and soon found relief on the gradual downhill section of Salish between University and Chancellor Boulevards.
Donovan openly mocked our downhilling on the final steep drop to the gate at the Admiralty trail. “What? You guys are running like you’ve already run 25k.” Actually it was 33k, prompting Sammy to announce that it was officially his longest run since the Frosty Mountain 50k in September.
The race took an odd turn at this point. After leading the short climb to the top of the Spanish Banks ridge that offers runners on the Admiralty trail wonderful views of the North Shore through the leafless trees this time of year, Sammy pulled off the trail, presumably to answer nature’s call.
Shortly after, Donovan and I descended into the larger of the two canyons on Admiralty. Calling it a canyon may be a bit misleading since the entire stretch encompasses only a couple hundred metres of running, but they do call it a canyon. There are stairs and a series of short switchbacks to the bottom before runners cross a small bridge and then climb back up via another series of stairs and an oftentimes mucky stretch to the ridge on the far side. The descent isn’t a long one but it drops sharply. I glanced back as Donovan and I reached the bottom and saw Sammy’s bright orange shoes and gloves emerging from the trees at the top of the ridge. We were almost to the top at the far side when Sammy let out a horrible scream. We looked back and saw Sammy sprawled across the bottom of the canyon just before the bridge crossing. We paused and Donovan said, “there’s no point in both of us turning back. I’ll check on Sammy. You keep going.” Uhhh… okay.
Hearing Sammy go down hard like that in a race that isn’t really a race threw me off and left me questioning my decision not to turn back. Had I lost sight of the fact that this was in essence a fun run? Nearly 35k into a 50k and without a cell phone or first aid training, I don’t know how much help I would have been to him but I’d like to think I would have gone back to check on Sammy if Donovan hadn’t been there to help. The aid station was only minutes away so at the very least they’d be better equipped to assist if Donovan came back with bad news.
I let Ryne and Gary at the aid station know Sammy had fallen.
“Did you trip him?” Gary asked as I refilled my bottle and reached for a sleeve of Shot Bloks. I gnawed at the packaging and gabbed a bit more with the guys when I spotted Donovan and Sammy flying down the last bit of trail toward the road, a couple hundred metres away.
“You’re not going to wait for them, are you?” a somewhat surprised Gary asked with a smile.
Seems like the sporting thing to do, I replied.
“We’ll see if you still think that when Sammy blows right through here in a minute,” Gary chuckled.
Good point, but they were close enough by then that taking off really would seem unsportsmanlike so I waited until Donovan gave me the okay and waved me on.
Donovan didn’t think Sammy would continue, but I wasn’t convinced. Sammy is tough, having survived to take the victory at the gong show that was the inaugural Fat Dog 100-or-so-Miler last summer, so I wasn’t about to count him out after a little flesh wound. Sure, it’s not a real race but something told me that if Sammy still had use of both legs, he’d keep going.
Sure enough, as we approached Locarno, I glanced back and saw flashes of bright orange rapidly closing the gap behind us.
How are you doing? I called back to Sammy.
Oh shit. Sammy’s pissed that I didn’t wait for him.
Or maybe he just didn’t hear me. Either way, he caught up and mentioned he had some cuts and scrapes and landed on his hip. And couldn’t carry his water bottle in his left hand. And might be concussed. Ouch! Next thing I knew Sammy was pulling away.
Shit. Sammy’s REALLY pissed that I didn’t wait and now he’s laying on a serious hurt so I don’t soon forget. This was after mentioning that he believed we were running a 2:55 marathon pace.
This was a frickin’ Hollywood storyline: charming hero goes down hard in a gruelling race only to dust himself off and battle back with a superhuman effort to overcome his injuries and defeat his heartless adversary. Who wouldn’t want Sammy to prevail at this point? I was practically applauding the guy myself and just wanted to be there at the finish to congratulate him and hoist him up on my shoulders.
We were on a record-breaking tear — a tear that would break my record — and Sammy was absolutely flying with 10k to go so I wanted at least to stick close enough to see it firsthand and make sure he didn’t go off course since it seemed at times like I was the only guy in the race who had read the course description. So I bore down and did what I could just to maintain the gap. Sammy may have fallen hard but he still looked as smooth as ever. And me? Not so much.
Sammy’s lead grew to 80 to 100 metres and he seemed relentless along Point Grey Road. I held it and thought that with Sammy banged up I might narrow the gap on the stairs down to the two-block long waterfront trail off Point Grey Road before Kits pool. I did but not by much.
Then I felt Sammy coming back to me as we rounded Kits Beach and we were together again by the time we hit the Maritime Museum and the turn onto Chestnut (Note to Mike: when you reach the Maritime Museum TURN right onto Chestnut!)
Heading onto Burrard Bridge, Donovan led the way like an icebreaker clearing a path for us through the pedestrians which now spanned the bridge, catching the odd dirty look from people who clearly felt they owned the walkway and weren’t about to yield an inch of it to some guy in spandex.
I glanced at my Garmin as we hit the marathon mark on the climb up Burrard Bridge. Despite numerous pit stops, Sammy and I hit the 42.2k mark in 3:13, right around the time I reached it last year after only one brief stop.
Heading down the stairs on the northwest side of Burrard Bridge and through the Aquatic Centre parking lot, we were greeted once again by Tim and Maureen Wiens waving from their back balcony. Shortly after making the turn onto the seawall path, I sensed Sammy was no longer behind me, but there were plenty of people out walking so it was a bit of a zoo as we weaved through the masses. We passed Polar Bear Swimmers congregating at English Bay in preparation for their dip and then headed into Stanley Park. As we made the turn at the Second Beach concession, I muttered to Donovan, “I’m afraid to look. Is Sammy back there?”
Donovan gave a long look back. “No, you must have two minutes on him by now.”
He then laughed and said, “Well that’s no reason to let up. Get your ass moving!”
I peeked at the Garmin a few times as we rounded Lost Lagoon and saw that our pace was around 4:00-4:10 per kilometre. At the top end of the lagoon I pointed out the first, vehicle underpass and said I hope Sammy knows we’re supposed to go through the second, pedestrian underpass just off Chilco, and not the first one which shorts the course by over 400 metres. The second underpass is about 3k from the finish and we hit it in 3:34. I did the math. Record yes, but by how much?
Then as we approached the Rowing Club, I spotted the familiar neon orange gloves and shoes of Sammy looking down at us from Stanley Park Drive. Sammy had taken the first underpass and was clearly wondering where the hell we had just come from. Donovan played the bad guy role and pointed backwards in the direction of the second underpass.
Sammy let out an exasperated but good-natured groan, “You guys are so mean making me go back there!”
From the Rowing Club, it was basically a 2.5k sprint to the finish, albeit one with a slightly rising detour around the construction at Brockton Point. I pushed hard along the Seawall after rounding the point, climbed the stairs and sprinted for the finish. I kissed the fire hydrant and stopped the watch at 3:46:28, over five minutes under the old course record. The Garmin said I ran my last kilometre in 4:02, the fastest of the day, and averaged 6:40 miles for the last four miles from Sunset Beach. Not a bad way to cap a 76-mile week.
Sammy rolled in at 3:49:55 also beating my old record, and then headed to the water to beat his own 16:30 swim record, staying in for an insane 20 minutes! I was done at five minutes and despite being mocked by event host Ean Jackson on my way out, I felt no shame about it whatsoever.
Dario was third in 4:05 and Mike fourth in 4:09 despite an extra tour of Vanier Park and some car-dodging across Burrard Street to get back to the right side of the bridge.
I had some twinges in both hamstrings in the last 8k, but nothing I would call a full-on cramp. My left glute was sore from bowling with the girls the night before and the run certainly aggravated it. I may have tweaked my upper left hamstring as well but it’s a little too soon to tell exactly where the pain is coming from. The bursitis behind my right achilles was tender, but thankfully my right hip felt pretty good aside from a little tightness in the hip flexor. All told, I’d say I got through it in good shape. Now to see if I can get out and run a few k with the guys in the morning!