A 50k is a race of 50 kilometers which is 31.07 miles which is 54,681 yards which is 164,042 feet which is 1.969e+6 inches. A fatass is a race…sort of. It is essentially a run where a bunch of folks agree to follow a route (see! kinda like a race), but there isn’t necessarily aid, or shirts, or medals, or cheering crowds, or anything other than running with folks for the love of it. When my sadistic friend Lamar cooked up the idea to do a 50k fatass ultramarathon in the city focusing on the many stair sets all over town I thought ouch! I’m in! Soon Alyssa became involved in organizing and we run trail together almost every Sunday. Between these two people, both wealthy in historical knowledge and organizational skills this was sure to be a blast….and it was.
A group gathered under the Birmingham Bridge on Sunday morning. There was a fairly large crowd for this endeavor. Twenty five people made the picture just before we started. Most planned to do varying distances. Seven would finish the entire 50k.
We started our journey with the Hot Metal Bridge and climbing our first stair set off Bates Street went up into Oakland. Lamar mentioned this was his least favorite part of the course and was glad to get it out of the way. The course would start easier and get more and more difficult as the day went on. Along the way we would be treated to many views that people seldom have the privilege of enjoying and , unlike most, we would get them all in one day. Thanks to kind friends there would be a few aid stations along the way and then we would have stores and gas stations to replenish our supplies.
Crossing Oakland and over Polish Hill we dropped down towards the strip and crossing the 31st Street Bridge made our way up Troy Hill via Rialto. Local roadrunners all know Rialto fairly well. With a 24% grade it isn’t the steepest in Pittsburgh, in fact, it is the 5th steepest in the city limits, but it still is substantial enough to bring the burn.
After ascending Troy Hill we soon dropped down on the Route 28 stairs, an impressive set that you can see…well…from Route 28.
Down is a much more pleasing way to tackle this set than up! But soon we would climb the Vinial Street steps just down the road from Penn Brewery. It is one of my favorite sets though it is brutal. At mile 8.5 we met with Megan for our first Aid Station. She had the goods packed! Pretzels, pizza, goldfish, and many other treats. Refilled on water and well sated we continued on. Our next destinations would be Spring Hill and then Fineview. As one might expect the views were excellent and the climbs severe. Leading up into Fineview is the Rising Main stair set. It is a long ascent with 371 steps, the longest stair set in the city. Each set is at differing camber likely due to soil creep on the slopes. While Mark and a few others sprinted up it (Strava segment!), I slowly plodded step after step, false horizon after false horizon. Finally reaching the top there were more steps! Just a small set of wooden ones going up the last rise. Happy with the accomplishment of the climb we wound through Fineview and came down for a great view of the oddly modern backside of Allegheny General Hospital. But as soon as we came down we went straight back up another stair set putting us around a half marathon (that’s 13.1 miles) in. Less than 20 to go, but we had been assured the course would only get harder with the last 10 miles being relentless climbs and descents of the Southside slopes.
John was waiting for us at mile 14 at Allegheny Commons Park West and his car was loaded with water, snacks, and my drop bag. I changed out shirts and ditched my jacket, grabbed a ziplock full of Hammer Endurolytes Extreme, Endurance Aminos, and Race Caps.
The next stop on the all day party train was the West End Overlook. I had never been here and wanted my first time up it to be on a run so I was excited for the climb. It was shorter than I anticipated, but steep enough for sure. The view is every bit as impressive as I had been led to believe. This picture doesn’t do it justice. We spent 5 minutes or so and said goodbye to some friends who were cutting off from the course and heading home. From here we went through the West End and came up Mt. Washington via Shaler Street, a 14.5% climb that never seemed to end. We all walked up it and I felt like we were crawling. Once up , however, and the views along Grandview Ave leading to Point of View Park were enough to keep my legs steaming along.
From here we crossed Duquesne Heights and dug into some trails. My feet were happy and I tried to consciously breath deeper and take in this short, yet welcomed stretch of forest. By mile 21 I had bonked hard. I knew I lost track of something nutritionally or electrolyte wise and began to compensate. I took an extra Hammer Endurolyte Extreme cap and took down a shot of nocciola gel with a few big drinks of water and plodded on. After another mile or so I started feeling a bit better, but never fully recovered from that low.
We managed not to get creamed by cars on Woodruff and climbed the Mann Street steps which roughly marked the 10-miles-to-finished point! Lamar had said a few times over the course of the day that the last 10 would be brutal. The man didn’t lie.
I was dragging my backside along and needing a refill on my water. I was lagging behind the group and occasionally people were looking back and asking if I was ok. I was…at least I wasn’t dying and that is good enough. Mentioning to Lamar I’d need a fueling stop soon he said we were close to the Rite Aid. I grabbed a big container of water, a can of coconut pineapple water, and a bag of chips. After slamming the coconut water down and having some of a raw Hammer bar I was feeling ok again. Off we were! Though now we walked much more than we ran. It was really heating up and by the time we got to Emerald Vue park we were all thankful for the tree cover.
At mile 25 we hit Arlington. The last 5 miles had been fairly arduous, but this was more a function of the miles covered than the terrain. The next 6, however, were pure madness on a quantitative basis. We would trudge up and down and up and down and up…you get the idea… and down the Southside Slopes for incredible views and to sate Lamar’s sadistic tendencies which I had become clear to all. The climbs ranged from 100-400 feet and there were many. From Allentown on we would have no fewer than 7 big climbs.
One after another we trudged. My knee was not happy from IT issues (which fortunately would have no lasting repercussions past the remainder of the run) making descents much much less fun than the climbs. Still I felt blessed. We were all very fortunate to be able to go out and do something epic like this. No rewards..no medals…no official times…nothing, yet everything. A long day spent with friends doing what we all love beats medals and shirts and all that any day of the week. In pain born out of love with no hope of reward there is magic and we shared a proverbial metric shit ton of magic that day.
Making our final descent put us under a mile from the finish. Looking around you could tell we all felt like we did something amazing…and we did.
Thanks Lamar and Alyssa for all your hard work in making this an incredible day!!