Cape Cod Fat Ass 50k

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Race Report

Posted on the Ultralist:

  • Date: Sat, 7 Feb 2009 20:20:00 -0500
  • From: Fred Murolo
  • Subject: Cape Cod FA 50k last week - RR

I was one of the lucky few who ran the Cape Cod Fat Ass 50k last weekend. Great race, great people. My short report follows:


About 12,000 years ago, at the height of the last ice age, the advancing ice sheet burped a couple billion truckloads of sand at the Atlantic coast and made Cape Cod. In a geologic wink, the ice was gone and the place was full of beaches, dunes, roads and bike paths and the beaches and dunes and roads and bike paths were full of seasonal tourists. The Cape had two marathons, but it needed an ultra.

The Run

Enter the CCUS (Cape Cod Ultra Society), with the energy and vision of Pete Stringer, Bob Jensen and Jeff List (read: the only members of this august society whom I know). In January 2007, they held the first annual Cape Cod Fat Ass 50k at Sandy Neck, a barrier beach and dune area on Cape Cod Bay. A two-lap figure 8 course, it is about half running west on a beach, and the rest running mostly east on (deep) sandy trails along the tidal basin. Wind and cold are factors.

The Wind

I've heard sailors use the term "blowing stink" to describe those relentlessly windy days when you can't make any headway because a pounding wind is always in your face. For the 2009 version of the CCFA 50k, it was really blowing stink. Oh yeah.

  • January 31, 2009

It's 6:40 when I pull into the parking lot at Sandy Neck. Bob's funky camper with the wood stove is race central. Pete has a clipboard signing up runners. Jeff is there and says hi. We're wondering how the day will go. It's been a cold snowy few months. There are about 10-12 cars in the lot, about 20 runners signed up on the clipboard. It's in the low 20's; the wind is whipping through the parking lot, out of the west. Just before 7:00, Bob calls the runners over and describes the course. I'm not really listening very attentively. We walk down the wooden walkway to the beach to face into the wind. Bob draws a line in the sand and says go, and we're off.

I'm not warmed up yet and the wind burns my face and goes right through me. I put my head down and just move forward. The run rises behind us, and my shadow is about 100 feet long on the beach. The waves crash relentlessly with wind-driven chop. Between the wind and the waves, it's loud. I picture sailors of old going crazy from the constant noise. There is no solitude in this nature.

At about two-and-a-half miles, we turn left around the edge of a tidal creek and then run with the wind back to the parking lot. I'm squinting into the rising sun and warming up. At five point something miles, I am back at the car filling my water bottle, before heading down to the soft dunes on the estuary side of the south loop of lap one. Staggering through the sucking sand with the morning sun in my face, I'm really warm. The "road" here is all dry, a refreshing change from the first year's high tide and wet feet.

At about 11 miles into the run, we turn left toward the beach and then left again into the wind, up the beach toward the parking lot.  This is the toughest part of the course=97over five miles of beach running, on uneven small rocks or soft sand, into a 20-30 mile an hour wind.  In a minute, the

warmth from running on the tidal inlet side was gone and I was freezing. I picked my way along the beach, trying to get the best surface to run on. The wind made the sand a blur of movement like in some desert movie.

After about an hour slogging up the beach I saw the steps up to the parking lot and my car. I got there, lap one complete, in 2:59. I sat in the driver's seat and stripped to the waist, going with all dry clothes for lap two. The car windows steamed up like prom night as I wriggled out of clammy tech gear.

Then I was off again, up the beach, into that wind, but renewed in dry clothes. I did the first loop of lap two without incident and got back to the car at about 4:30 on the clock. I figured about two hours for the last 11 mile loop, and I set off down the dune road with the wind. I had no idea that I was the only person doing the last loop in this direction. Somehow I didn't get the memo (maybe because I wasn't listening) that we had the option of running the second loop of the second lap in reverse, meaning we could go down the beach with the wind and then turn and run up the inlet side into the more forgiving wind. So here I am running down through the dunes and people start passing me coming the other way. Jeff stops and talks for a minute, commenting about my "choice" to run it the hard way. I shrug and go on, like it's no big deal. I don't confess that I'm doing this out of ignorance, not bravery. And, then the rest of the runners pass; and yeah, they're ahead of me. They've already made the turn and are headed for home, while I still have the dreaded five miles of beach.

But, as it does in all ultras, it passes, albeit in slow motion. I reach the trail 5 cutoff to the beach. I run through the scrub pine toward the beach. I hear the wind in the trees; then I lurch through the gap in the dunes onto the beach and feel the slap of the breeze in my face. It's high tide, and there's not much beach to work with. The sand above the water line is soft and in motion from the wind. I stagger on and think there should be a term for this gait, called jagger - combination jog and stagger. Maybe there already is. Maybe I had this thought last year. The dunes to the left, water to the right, contour of the beach, it all looks the same, like a cheap video game loop. I think, "Just keep matriculating up the beach" (obscure Hank Stram reference from Super Bowl IV). I say it out loud. I do it.

Finally, I see two figures up on the walkway against the bright sky. I get to the steps and go up to the camper. It's Bob and Jeff. They congratulate me, offer me food and drink. Bob notes that although I am last, I am also first as the only fool who did the final loop counterclockwise. Bob's wife Fiona is still there as well, and she gives me a finish hug. It took 7:15. Holy crap, is that slow. I am all smiles.

My takeaway is all positive. Since my last ultra, I have had nothing but trouble: (relatively mild) pneumonia, then exercise induced asthma that made me feel like I was suffocating. November, December and January my longest run was 11 miles as I struggled with my health. But that's behind me, and it felt great to just run and breathe freely. And the CCUS guys are great. Bob was so friendly and helpful. Jeff finished about an hour and a half before me and hung around to give me a pat on the back and hand shake at the finish. And, just as I was about to get in my car and drive home, Bob said, "Hey, did you get your quahog shell?" In the post run haze, I had forgotten it, but now I have hand-lettered shell #3.

Bring on the season.

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