Sunday, March 5, 2017

2nd Saratoga Fat Ass 2017: working around the weather

First, let's get the record straight: after 3 major races in February (a sub-3:20 50K at Jed Smith, a Masters win at the 50K Trail Nationals 2 weeks later and 111 miles at the Riverbank 24-hour the following weekend), I don't think I have a fat ass to get rid of. As a matter of fact, since I adopted Vespa in competition a few years ago, I'm living on fat in all these races!

Still, the fat ass, that is the unofficial, social, early season runs are great training routines and provide opportunities to get a break from the racing rhythm while meeting friends in a more casual setting. I was travelling in January and missed the first Saratoga Gap fat ass, which is a long standing tradition for our South Bay ultra running community. A few years ago, Quicksilver team/clubmate, Keith Blom, launched the 2nd Saratoga Gap Fat Ass in the month of February. As everybody knows by now, even in Europe, California got the water that we missed for the past 5 years. While this is all good, because it came all at once within 2 months, it created quite some perturbation on the ground. For instance, Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) lost at least one entire section (both lanes gone). With that, Keith had to postpone the February event to this first weekend in March. Since the original date conflicted with the FOURmidable 50K, and I wasn't running Way Too Cool 50K this Saturday or the 50K Road Nationals in Caumsett, NY, on Sunday, I had really no good excuse to miss this year's edition! One could argue that it seemed close to last week's long run on the track but I had already ran 44 recovery miles throughout the week, so I was back on my feet, although I wasn't considering pushing too hard.

Despite the new March date, there was still some incertitude on the event. First, the main road to get up the hill to the start, Saratoga Gap, was closed all week because of multiple landslides. Fortunately, it reopened just in time on Friday, saving the detour by Page Mill. There were also questions about which trails will be closed. Thankfully, Steve Patt scouted out the entire course on Friday and reported that it was all runnable but for a few fallen trees requiring some climbing over or going a few steps aside the trail. To add to the good news, our local meteorologist and outdoor guru, Leor Pantilat, announced rain only in the afternoon (at least in Auburn for Way Too Cool, which is rather far from a weather forecast). But, indeed, the weather didn't look too bad in the early morning. All that convinced me to drive up to Saratoga Gap one more time (I ran the original/classic/1st Fat Ass in 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, and the 2nd one in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. In retrospective, I find it so cool to have all these runs documented in my blog, can't certainly keep as many details live in my head with the time passing...).

After waiting for 5 minutes at the one-lane light at the top of Highway 9, I reach the parking lot just in time with 10 minutes to get ready. Keith was already there with Jeremy, Stuart and Dennis, Andy arrived at the same time, and Rida a few minutes later. It wasn't really raining but we were in the midst of the cloud and I was already chilly so I put two layers on (I had forgotten my rain jacket and was hoping it wouldn't get wetter than that, oops!). Everybody left at 8:01 am, without even taking the traditional group picture. I started a minute behind and passed Dennis, Rida, Andy and Keith in the first hill, catching up with Pierre-Yves a mile later and we ran together down to the Castle Rock campground, updating each others on our respective families, recent races and plans and projects for the year. In the first hill after the campground, Pierre-Yves said he'll walk a bit and I went on to see if I'd reconnect with Jeremy and Stuart, ahead. I was super careful going down Goat Rock and was thinking of the first time I had met Jeremy, on that same section, and was blown away by his footballer agility and speed. I finally caught up with both of them as they were enjoying a break at the campground, the only water point on the course (which we pass at mile 3, 7 and 17). I was happy to have company again for the way up to the start.

Here is a picture taken by Andy Benkert who captures very well the type of weather we had this Saturday morning and the smokey views:

We completed the first loop (~10.5 miles) in about 1:45. I refilled my GU2O bottle and took a few brownies before we went on the Skyline to the Sea trail this time. Jeremy had so much speed and pleasure on the downhills, it was inspiring to see. Myself, I was happy to just stay behind Stuart as I was still feeling cold and rather tired. My favorite section of this whole course, Travertine Trail, was quite wet again this year, which is the way it is supposed to be in winter. Yet, barely enough to get wet shoes and socks. I took the lead on the fire road up to the campground again, then Skyline, and the three of us regrouped at Saratoga Gap for more calories in. We probably stopped for 5 minutes and I was really getting chilly again with the humidity and relatively slow pace so it was time to hammer the next loop with Jeremy. I felt bad that we weren't waiting for Stuart but Jeremy told me Stuart had issues with his IT Band and was probably not going to go down the painful Charcoal fire road with us. Jeremy was flying down Charcoal and it was hard to keep up, even on the Table Top loop. At that time, I was thinking that he was going to hammer down the last uphill but, as a matter of fact, I finished slightly stronger, thinking that this wasn't such a tough uphill compared to what I will experience at UTMB in a few months...

I got back to the car right before 1:00 pm, for 4:58 of elapsed time and 4:41 of running time. Jeremy arrived 5 minutes later.

I wore my old pair of Cascadias again, like at FOURmidable, it's time that I give a try to the Brooks Mazamas or Pure Grit 5 for UTMB!

Strava is giving a cumulative elevation of 5,325 feet, from the Garmin activity, not sure how accurate this is.

On our way back, we had both seen Keith and Rida running together as they were starting their last loop. Andy and Stuart's cars were gone, but Pierre-Yves' one was still there so he was on his third loop too. Sounds like Dennis also completed the three loops.

I'm super grateful to Keith for organizing this event again, and postponing it to a date all good conditions were met (for me anyway, not for those running Way Too Cool of course). And to Jeremy for the great motivation and company through these 5 hours. What a great way to log 

Overall, what a recovery week after Riverbank! I ran between 6 and 10 miles every day of the week, this demanding fat ass 48K on Saturday, and 15 more kilometers before getting on a flight to Raleigh, NC, at 2 pm this Sunday. 83 miles for the week, you don't want the engine to stop running...! ;-)

No racing in March for a big change, just looking forward to the training, on a variety of terrain to stay healthy and to account for the diversity of what's coming up: road racing in April and heavy trail racing in May. Hope to see many of you on the trails or the road in the meantime!

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