A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Thanksgiving Day Marathon - A Great Format, A Great Race

It was only about a week and a half before Thanksgiving that I got the news for this race through one of the clubs I'm in. And I instantly decided to go to it.

My developing ultramarathon intuition just gave me a friendly tug that day. And I heeded the call to come. And I was glad I did.

The race was held at Van Cortlandt Park (VCP) in the Bronx, just about Mecca for runners everywhere in NYC from high school to Masters runners. During the course of a year, they hold so many races at VCP it would be hard to count. And the park has so much of a storied history with running that you can deem it legendary.

There was also one other thing about this race that made me go. It was a Fat-Ass event.

What the heck is a "Fat Ass" event, you might say?

Well, it comes from the ultramarathon circles, and it started with a person named Joe Oakes. As the Cool Running website states:

"The term 'FAT ASS' was coined by Joe Oakes, who founded the original 'Recover from the Holidays Fat Ass 50' which was run from Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay along the shoulder of Highway 1 just south of San Francisco, USA. The original event was a VERY low key post-Xmas run. Joe, being an organizer at heart, encouraged other folks across the country (and now the world) to do the same -- devise a course and invite their running buddies to share in a little post-holiday fun. Interestingly, the original run is no longer. The San Francisco Bay Area Fat Ass 50 is now run on trails in the Big Basin area starting and finishing at Saratoga Gap.

In recent years, the number of these runs has mushroomed and there are now many FAT ASS runs all over the USA and even Worldwide Fat Ass Events. The vast majority are in very early January, just after the Xmas/New Year break and are generally 50 miles or 50km. The purpose is to burn off all those extra calories you consumed from Thanksgiving to New Year's that contributed to you getting a Fat Ass."

 The bottom line is that these are not formal races at all, just free, informal group runs that can be competitive or not, with little in the way of frills. Some Fat-Ass races might have no support; runners need to bring their own support. Runners will probably not get any T-shirts or awards, and runners might have to time their own race. There is an honor system involved in whether or not you completed the course, and most people will be honest in their assessments. Plus the race is totally free to enter, although it is highly recommended that you donate a little to the organizers so that they are encouraged to put on the event for next year.

Pre-race speech by our organizers. Bunny costume required :-)

The only two things you can count on is that the course is probably accurately measured and marked, and that you will have ample competition to make a personal race out of the event. And that really is what is needed to host a successful race, doesn't it?

Fat Ass races have recently propagated in other parts of the US and is now recently starting to make its way to the Northeast. This event might actually be the first Fat-Ass within New York City alone, although I might be wrong with that assessment (let me know if there were others before this event).

My prediction is that the Fat-Ass format will continue to grow in support over the next several years, especially in hard economic times, when it now normally costs $30 to enter a formal 5k race ($10 per mile? You got to be kidding...). Anyone who wants to compete could now do so without going bankrupt.

As for the Thanksgiving Marathon, Half-Marathon, and 10k, the the numbers that turned out for this event was pleasantly surprising. There were perhaps about 100 people who participated, and for a race that only started advertising 2 weeks before the event, it turned out to be an instant success.

The course is basically one, two, or four 6.55 mile loops (for the 10k, half-marathon, and marathon respectively) starting at the turtle-and-hare trophy on the Broadway side of the park. There are several hills on the course, but there were also places where one can basically cruise without any difficulty, and the course wasn't too technical (not too many rocks or roots). There was minimal support at the start/finish line (water, bananas, and oranges). And they did give you a fork for a finishers award, which was really nice. The size of the fork did correspond to the distance one completed; small forks to the 10k people, medium forks to the half-marathon people, and giant forks to the marathoners.

Personally, I did run the race and ended up doing the half-marathon, although I was set to run the full marathon. A personal blunder destroyed any chance of completing the marathon as I unceremoniously locked my keys in the car, therefore cutting me off from my critical food and drink that would have helped me complete the marathon. And if it wasn't for a kind-hearted woman that I knew from one of the running clubs in the area that drove me back to Staten Island, I would probably be running to Staten Island to get my spare keys (my Metro Card was locked in the car along with my wallet), something I really didn't want to do after doing a half-marathon. As for my "official time", coming from my watch, I came across the line at about 2 hours and 2 minutes. Not bad for a trail half-marathon, eh?

So there you have it. I would love to see this race next Thanksgiving so that I can give the marathon another try. And this time, I intend to take public tranportation. :-)

The race's website is here for your reference: 

http://www.thethanksgivingmarathon.com

Please place this race on your calendars next year and come out to support this race.

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