Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Original Fat Ass 50K - Saratoga Gap, CA

Well I'm holding my own fat ass race (free, unorganized, winter trail run) in a couple weeks. So how could I not do the original Fat Ass 50K held at Saratoga Gap (where Route 9 meets Skyline) only 15 miles from my house also located at the summit of the Santa Cruz mountains? It was first held by Joe Oakes in the early 1980s, and the RD mantle passed on to David Kamp when Joe moved to Oregon.

This year, the day broke cold but sunny and beautiful. I wended my way up the twisty Skyline Drive from my perch in the mountains south of the Gap, getting to the race a few minutes before 8 am. Race director Dave Kamp, Steve Patt, Keith Blom, Christine Miller and a few others were there.


I was a bit nervous about running this as I am directionally challenged even on a "real race marked course". On an unofficial course which would no doubt have recently downed trees from large winter storms that we've had in the Bay area in January, I was pretty sure that this race would stress my meager orienteering skills. Luckily Keith Blom was there, and we generally run about the same speed (though I think he's a bit faster). So I at least would have a partner in figuring out where to turn.

We headed up the Skyline Trail to the Hickory Oats Trail. This is the same route as the middle miles of the Stevens Creek 50K.


Then down down down the Slate Creek Trail. There were several possible offshoot trails. But someone, presumably Dave Kamp, had subtly arranged sticks into directional arrows as clues to the right way to go. We eventually reached a park maintenance area which had water. We ran into early starters Mylinh Nguyen and Chau Pham. I congratulated them on their recent Ultrarunning magazine profile and invited them to the LG Fatass on February 10th.

After some water and a snack we left the camp area, crossed over Old Haul Road and found the Portola Trail. We climbed up the slope hitting the Butano Ridge trail, while Keith regaled the newbie ultra guy (me) with stories of his many 100 miler exploits (love the one about sprinting from No Hands Bridge to finish WS in 24 hours).

Finally reaching the top we headed down the Basin Trail. We stopped occasionally to try to figure out the right path.

Once we reached China Grade road Winnie and Lee Jebian's van was parked with snacks and water set out. After partaking of both, I left my jacket and gloves and we set out into Big Basin on the Basin Trail. It was plenty warm by this time - I was sweating and a bit concerned by my lack of electrolyte pills.


Shortly we ran across Winnie and Lee doing trail work. We kept going and soon enough lost the trail markings. The Jebians happened to come up and they helped us find the right path. Once on that path it undulated up and down and eventually across some lunar like rock formations. I had raced on these in some runs held by Redwood Trails. Not too fun in light shoes, but at least we were generally going uphill by that time.

Eventually we hit the long sought Skyline to the Sea Trail and commenced the upward climb. We came out onto Route 9 at Waterman's Gap, and it wasn't quite clear where exactly to go.


We eventually found the trail off to the right and began the run upwards. With a little over two miles to go, my oft-injured left calf started to cramp up (so much for no need for electrolytes on a seemingly cold day) and I had to let Keith go on ahead. Shortly afterwards, the trail let out onto route 9 again and I couldn't quite see where to continue back onto the trail. I ran the last two miles on the road, finishing just as Keith arrived at Saratoga Gap as well. Clearly the road was a bit shorter and avoided some hills. Keith recorded my time as a couple minutes after his: 5:47. Whit Rambach came in a few minutes later. He had apparently started at 8:15am, so it appeared that he was the "winner" (shortest time) by 10 minutes or so. By this reckoning, I guess I was third, though relative place is somewhat irrelevant in a fatass run (especially one with stops to figure out trail markings every few miles). Overall, I was happy with the early season running on a hilly (7600 feet of climbing) and tree-obstructed course. It was a great race on a beautiful day in, I believe, one of the most beautiful places to run in the country.

Thanks to Dave Kamp for his above-the-call-of-duty course markings and continuing to host this historic event.


Blogger Maven said...

This is the history of the Fat Ass Fifty. In about 1983 Joe Oakes was looking for a 50 mile qualifier for Western States. He saw the ad for the Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz 50 mi Relay and decided that would be the one. He entered as five people, JM Oakes, Joe Oakes, etc, and ran solo, along Highway 1. The next year, in those early ultra years, he decided it was time for a low key ultra, so he created the "Recover From the Holidays Fat Ass Fifty Mile", on the same course (Highway 1, road). His format: "no fee, no aid, no awards and no wimps". When David Kamp became RD in the late 1980s he moved it to the Skyline to the Sea Trail, still a 50 miler (trails), and then eventually to a 50Km format starting and ending at Saratoga Gap, the current course.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Adam Blum said...

Thanks for the clarification. Intrigued by your post I found this link:
with a statement from Joe himself on the topic.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Scott Dunlap said...

Looks like a lot of fun! Not so fat ass by the time you're done with all that climbing.


6:06 PM  
Blogger Adam Blum said...

Its a great course. Looking forward to running it again in Wendell and Sarah's Skyline to the Sea race this summer.

2:59 PM  

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