I had wondered if the ‘FAT ASS’ type of race existed out here on the west coast, and voilà, now I have two in a row here in January. For those who aren’t familiar with them, they’re basically free races, or very cheap, put on by kind souls who like distance running and are willing to put something together for the benefit of the local running community. I’m here at the MAC ASS 50K (and 10K and 25K), in McMinnville, about an hour southwest of Portland. The race is being put on by a local high school cross-country team, as a fundraiser. Free to sign up, but they’re asking for donations. So, I’ve put in forty bucks in the coffee can at the check-in desk.
It’s cold. Just below freezing, with frost on the ground. Fortunately, in this little park picnic area, the organizers have two separate fires going, along with a big outside space heater. The 50K is starting at 8, with the 10K and 25K starting at 9. I’d say there’s about 40 people here now. The other Oregon barefoot runners are all doing the shorter distances, so I don’t think I’m going to know anybody, but no, there’s Janson, down from Washington of all places. He’s doing the 25K but got here early, so has come looking for me. Janson will be one of my pacers for the Badger Mountain 100M challenge. In fact, he’s the one who told me about it. We talk about tentative plans for that race, and I’m surprised to learn that he’s fully expecting to be up all night. I’d been planning to get him pacing me early so he could get back to his family, but now we’re thinking, if and when I get some more pacers, that maybe he can trade off with someone. Anyway, we’ll figure it out.
This race does fall nicely into my training though. Two weeks ago I did my first ‘30/30/45’ and this past week I’ve been doing more ‘normal’ runs. But I do still need one long run a week, and this is it, along with a little practice in getting ready for a race, and with the added bonus of some minor competition in order to get me to run faster. Next week I’ll probably be doing another FAT ASS up near Olympia, with ‘normal’ running in between, and then I’ll do another 30/30/45 week.
The organizer dude calls everyone to the Start line to explain the route. No one wants to be in the front of the pack, so he has a hard time getting everyone to gather up. So he just talks to those of us nearby, explaining that the course if flagged in pink, along with some directional signs, and that we “shouldn’t think too hard” about directions, and not to every backtrack if we see a sign not directly in front of, concluding with, “Don’t worry, you can’t get lost.” Uh oh. Whenever a race director says that, many people get lost.
No official start, really. He just says go. I go slow, letting people pass, not in any hurry, especially since we almost immediately go uphill, up this dirt road, past a huge clearcut. Apparently there is logging allowed in State Parks? Or we’re not in Metsker State Park at this point? Not sure. I am concerned by how slowly I seem to be going, worrying that I might in fact end up last in the pack. I could run faster at this point, but I’m pacing myself.
And we basically go up to a certain point, manned by two volunteer dudes who are drinking beer at 8:30 in the morning (wow) and turn back around. At this point I’m running with this woman, and come to find out she thinks she’s running the 10K! She’s shocked to learn that we’re all 50Kers here. “I was wondering why he didn’t give directions for the 10K course!” So yeah, maybe the organizer dude might have clarified that in his speech.
At least on the way back I get to see that there are in fact people behind me. I’m not last! Yes! We return right back to the park picnic area and Organizer Dude is there at the dirt road that goes back up to the Start. He points in that general direction and says, “Left at the green sign!”
I am by myself at this point, and hesitate, because there’s a fork in the road, with some green flagging off on the right fork. That can’t be right. I stop and hold out my hands. He yells after me, “To the left! To the green sign!”
I look back where he’s pointing, then up the right fork in the road I see a light green sign up in some trees. Oh. Ok. Wow, that bodes ill.
We’re on a trail that circles around the picnic area, and the pond it’s next to. When back within sight of the picnic area, there’s a woman taking photos, and she points me left again and up a small trail. It tops off onto another logging road, and here I kind of get into a group of folks. We follow some pink flagging to the right, back down into some woods, and soon come to a flagged off trail to the left, though the signs are not facing us. The woman in front of me goes, “What should be do?”
I say, “Well, remember, he said not to think about it too much, and not to backtrack. But I’d understand if you didn’t follow me.” She and I continue on the main trail, though the people behind us seem to have taken the left.
We bail down onto another logging road, with no apparent flagging either direction. No, there’s a faint pink flag off to the left. Still, seems not quite right. But we go on, until the woman goes, “Uh oh, there’s my son. And he’s supposed to be at the beginning of the pack.”
Her son and his two freinds say this road leads out to a paved road, which can’t be right. So we all backtrack up to that place where the flagging went to the left, though the youngsters soon lose us. How embarrassing, to run a race with your mom!
This newer trail takes us up into an old clearcut area, where there’s lots of ‘reprod’—younger trees. And here is where chaos ensues: There’s a fork, with either a trail, or a smaller logging road, and there are groups of people coming and going both directions on both forks. I’m starting to feel like I’m in the movie The Poseidon Adventure, with my group unsure of where to go, but asking other groups, who seem equally unsure. This can’t be right. There’s a green sign that says 50K and points up the logging road, so we decide to try that.
Which takes us onto some other trail through the woods, flagged though, and not unpleasant, though we’re still seeing people going both directions, though nobody can confirm this is some kidn of ‘out-and-back’ or not. And then we get dumped right back at that trail/road fork. Well shoot. What’s going on here? We turn around, and meet another group coming the way we just came, who say this is their first time through.
We continue, going out and about, and getting dumped out right back at the same trail/road fork. Und scheisse. Was machen wir? Que diablos hacemos?
We finally meet at guy on the trail who turns us around yet again, claiming he’s just done what we’ve done, twice. He takes us back to the fork, where one of the organizer dudes is now standing, directing people. He points us back up the trail. I ask about the 50K sign, and he goes, “Remember, only follow a sign if it’s facing you.” Yeah, well dude, this trail sign says ‘50K’.
I’m getting annoyed and even angry, but then I think, you know what? This is an opportunity. I’m training for a Hundo, and this is an opportunity to run even more than 50K today. Still though, to put people out here running around lost, in really cold weather, feels a little irresponsible.
I lose the woman I was running with, but gain a couple other folks for a while, and not that we’re lined our properly, though we end up at the fork yet again! This time the two young beerdrinkers are there instead of the other guy, and they point us up the logging road. I say, “Are you sure? This will be the second time I’ve gone this way.”
They’re suddenly not so sure. “Yeah, we heard something went wrong.”
Great. But this time that first guy is farthur up, and he points me up the road, instead (!) or following the flagging. “Just head straight up until this road hits another logging road, and turn right. Don’t follow any flagging, follow the green signs from now on.”
Ok....And of course this logging road turns into a trail. Did I just get lost again? Goddammit. And there’s still people coming down in the other direction. But I find a green 50K sign, and see that this there’s another sign facing the other direction, meaning this is a place with traffic in both directions, and by now, the 10 and 25Kers are out on the course as well. Ok....
But I do in fact bump out onto a larger dirt road, with flagging to the right. Ok....
More people running the other way, but also a couple of folks running my way too. I ask them, “So do you have confidence in where you’re going?”
They both give a fairly confident affirmative, though then I find out that they’re running the 25K. So yes, now I’m being lapped by people who started an hour later than I. Great.
On a side note: the guy I’m running with points out a young man coming towards us as the worlds champion trail runner, though I don’t catch his name.
But, finally, we get to a water station. I’ve been running 2.5 hours now, my water bottle long empty. That can’t be right. But the two good ole boys running the station can’t confirm any directions about the course, except to point me up this STEEP side road a little ways back. As I turn back towards it, one yells out, “It’s just a .4 mile out-and-back.”
I almost stop. .4??? At this point, that’s almost insulting. I’ve been running around in circles and you want me to run uphill, on a super rocky road, and then back? Grrr...
But I do it. I guess I see why it’s on the course, because it takes runners up to the highest point in the area, with a view of the two large valleys on either side. Ok fine.
Back down, heading back to the station for a top off. The good ole boy tells me, “Back down the road. Look for the green signs.”
The good news is that there’s still people coming the other direction, so I’m not last. Though, actually, they could all be 25Kers by now. Argh. But there is indeed a green sign, pointing down and to the left, onto a kind of...trail. More like a trailblazing route through the trees. This isn’t an official trail, though it’s becoming one with how many people are running over it. I wonder if the State Park officials know about this?
Basically I’m sidehilling along under that road I just ran along, but then the trail bails downhill. At least I’m pretty sure that the route is all downhill from here, so I’m having fun just running fast, making up for lost time, even finally passing some people.
Not too much later, I get to the second water station. Ok, that’s weird, but I top off. The guy there points me back up hill for a four mile loop. At this point, I’m walking the uphills, to this is kind of a long walk. But that’s fine. I use it to down a Clif Bar. And then, I reach the peak of the trail and barrel back down, ending up right back at that water station. More water, then he points be to a hidden downhill trail. Unflagged. Good thing someone was here to show me.
Down down down. Then an evening out, and some slight up uphill as I follow a trail paralleling a river. I suspect that this is the river that goes up to the picnic area. Wierd to have those two water stations crammed together right at the end. And my confirmation is correct: I come out into the open, a little downhill from the Start.
Still plenty of people under the rotundra, and now there’s food! I cram in some chips and hummus, a deviled egg, and some tangerine juice. Most 50Kers I’d talked to along the way said they were just going to bail when they got back. Me, I’d really like to run a 50K. I mean, I need/want a long run. Yet, I check my watch: Oy. It took me 4 hours and twenty minutes to run this first loop! That’s crazy!
I check in with Organizer Dude, going over with him the route, and the flagging and signs. A young woman volunteer says/claims that there was some mischief, that some “mountain bikers” has switched signs around. I’m not so sure. Feels like incompetence to me, but maybe they’re right. Organizer Dude tells another guy that they’ll be out here until dark. Well, ok, if someone’s going to be here, I guess I’ll try a second loop. Especially if others are going to be out there.
I head out after that one guy. Thankfully we don’t have to run that first out-and-back up the logging road, just arond the pond and up. And man, this time the route is clearer, and I see that I got lost way way early. This time I end up at the trail/road fork way faster, and know which way to go. I pass that one guy somewhere in there, but he catches up to me just as I’m about to do the long uphill that’s the end of this little maze area. He stops though, asking, “Should we follow the flagging?”
I explain that at this point we just follow the green signs, and that I’ve been through this whole area like three times. He kind of doubts me, which is totally understandable, but follows me up, and when we bail out onto the top dirt road, he says, “Wow. Thanks for lining me out back there. I would’ve been lost forever.”
“Believe me, I know how you feel!”
We run together down the road, and turns out this guy has run Western States! I don’t get what he’s doing so far back in the pack (if there is indeed a pack at this point—I’m starting to feel like we’re the only two people out on the course). But I get to pick his brain a little about running a Hundo.
I’m checking my watch though, and even though we got through that maze part with no problem, and much much faster than I did the first time, it’s now six hours in: which is my usual finishing time for a 50K! And at the first water station, the good ole boys are gone, though they left a gallon of water behind.
We top off, and I make my decision: I’m not going to do that .4 out-and-back. This is just taking too long.
The other guy is going to do it though. So we part ways. I say he’ll probably catch me, and the shakes his head. “I doubt it.”
So, interesting. But, onward. And now it’s all mostly downhill. At the second water station, there is nobody. No water. Check my bottle: almost empty. Ok, screw this. I’m not going to run around without water. So, I skip that extra four mile loop. I’m just heading for the Finish.
This second time through has gone MUCH faster. I feel like I could’ve PRed if I hadn’t got lost. And man did I get lost! I think I lost an hour or an hour and a half!
And soon I’m back at the Finish. And yeah, everything is packed up. The volunteer guys clap when they see me. I tell them that there’s still another guy, maybe an hour behind me (because I suspect he’ll run that four mile loop too). They’re surprised. Organizer Dude checks the list. They thought I was the only person out there. In fact, my name got checked off already. They think I’m him! Good thing I said something.
At this point, they organize and send guys out on motor bikes to find him and get him back, because they all want to leave.
Me? I head to the little food still left out and chow down on more chips and hummus and juice. Organizer Dude give me my 50K finisher hat: a camouflage hunting cap that I’m never going to wear, yet which I feel I’ve earned still.
Like I said, I normally run a 50K in six hours. My watch says 7:20. Crazy. Thinking about it now, if I had been Organizer Dude, I would have shut the race down and prevented me and that other guy from heading out for a second loop. I’m not sure he even realizes how badly many of us got lost. Oh well.
Despite my earlier annoyance and anger, I feel good. I got a good long run in, and adapted and overcame. It’s actually been a wonderful day! And now to do the worst thing possible: sit down in a car for an hour and a half and have my muscles all freeze up. Woo hoo!