Run. Fly. Run.

12.4.21 Rocky 50k. Philadelphia
12.5.21 Hunter S Thompson Fear & Loathing 50kilos. San Francisco

Every year, on the first weekend in December, two Fat Ass races blend urban running with culture & community engagement. While they have no connection to each other, one cannot deny the esthetic of blending two ultra-distance long runs, each across the country, into one free for all weekend. Credit due to Michael “Gagz” Gagliardi. The runs are unsanctioned, voluntarily raise funds via charity organizations, and foster a bridge between local and visiting runners. You won’t find streets blocked off. Forget about the medals. These runs are based on navigation skills and self-will. Runners travel through iconic neighborhoods, streets that demand your attention, and weave through people en masse in busy downtown districts.

As a trail runner, drop me in the middle of a forest and I will walk out with twigs sticking out my shoes, and a good animal joke. So this race recap is handicapped only by my very limited urban road running experience. You see, both cities are polar opposites in the sense of layout, yet very similar in terms of their social diversity. However, you need thick skin as you pass through the seedier sections and a bold presence to zip quickly through congested intersections. Before the recap, my short outsiders view of each city. I suggest you visit and create your own vision. I can still remember Philadelphia’s steam escaping the subway grates in the brisk cold air. Wawa. Loud Philly pride. From firemen honking their horns, to families popping out the windows cheering you on, and even the homeless get in on it. Everyone loves Rocky. In contrast, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was trapped under thick morning fog. The stunningly rich architectural achievements. The poor. The palms. The trams. Contrasts of dreamers, hipsters, and big corporations.

Rocky 50k Fat Ass Run

Good morning Philadelphia! The Rocky 50k, a flat 31-mile course, starts at the intersection of Wolfe & South Lambert streets and ends at the iconic Steps of Philadelphia Museum of Art. All participants have the opportunity to donate to the worthy Back On My Feet program, which strives to combat homelessness by way of fitness, community support, and other essential services. On arriving to a great group of runners, mostly decked out in grey, I scan the crowd and notice quite a bit of familiar faces. Pineland Striders, November Project, Trail Sisters, and Uptown Gentle Friends were definitely represented. Not to be outshined by the two farthest travelers, girls from the Seattle area, hell yeah. The ever charismatic Gagz was present with a veritable host of people who have appeared on his Running Times with Gagz podcast. At 7am super cool race director, Rebecca Barber, stands on a car and gives last minute instructions, then sends a sea of runners off into the Philly streets. Fun fact, you’ll see her throughout the course offering up snacks on a huge baker’s tray. Absolutely perfect and incredibly appreciated.

The community ties run deep in Philly. It was common to see the local runners stopping to eat, drink, and generally catch up at pop-up aid stations. Chief among them is the Stocks Bakery set up on Lehigh Avenue. Stocks is the location where no one should just grab and go. No need to prove speed or show off, the vibe is generally chill. All you hear is the sound of runners chatting and laughing while you savor devouring probably one of the best donuts to ever grace your mouth. I was struck by the amount of heavy hitters from the running community who were more than happy to share the history of the city. Not textbook history, but short life stories. Also, there was no pressure to complete the full course which speaks to the runs’ inclusivity. There were runners who joined for a few miles, those who ran most miles, and runners who were all about the infamous sprint up the Museum of Art stairs.

I could put a long list of important sights to check off in this report. But this recap is about staying curious and true to the essence of the community. Local runners are the gatekeepers who make this race so special. General logistics are found at rocky50k. There are so many places to visit or capture as you run throughout Philadelphia. The Italian street market with a flaming barrel, Adrian Balboa’s tombstone at Laurel Hill Cemetery, and the tranquil Schuylkill River to name a few. Inspire yourself. There’s no official sign up. Just show up. Watch the Rocky movies. This course recreates the training montage seen in Rocky II. At a minimum, watch Rocky II- Rocky’s Run and go run your heart out.

Hunter S Thompson Fear and Loathing 50 kilos / 50 mile Run

Rise and Shine San Francisco! Day two and just under 24 hours since completing the Rocky 50k. Ow-ow-ow-owww, lets go! This race is a completely different animal. A hilly single loop (larger loop for the 50 mile route) that mostly follows the Route 49 Scenic Drive through tourist areas. It’s easy to access via public transportation which works really well for those travelling from afar. The race is also a qualifier for the Ohlone Wilderness 50k Trail Run. A fun ultrarunner fact, Ann Trason ties with Carl Anderson for the 50 mile course record (1990).

The convenience of starting and ending the race at Twin Peaks is perfect in spite of the eventual ascent on the final miles of the course to finish beating up your legs. Prior to the 7am start time race director Chihping Fu ceremoniously recognizes and gifts the Humanity Award for Unselfish Service to Noé Castañón for his 10 years of service organizing shoe and gear donations for the Shoes for Runners program. After the pleasantries and announcements, runners are sent off on a fast three mile descent off Twin Peaks and it becomes very apparent that the race is going to be a beast. The relentless long hills should caution anyone to ease up for the sake of their quads. Those in the 50 mile division have the urgency of a dangling carrot time cutoff at the halfway point. No time to stop for too many pictures.

I will admit to being completely smitten with this city. Do you know the “mind blown” emoji? Yeah, that was me throughout the run. My imagination was going wild from all the movies and books I had once read as I was now easily recognizing landmarks in real time along the race. Oracle Park, Japan Town, China Town, the Coit Tower, Fisherman’s Warf, and the stunning Museum of Fine Arts with an ongoing wedding. There were so many points of interest. The people, the scents, the flavors and sounds were all new to me. I kept reminding myself to run strong, power up the steep roads, and not to get lost. A solid strategy. When the race ends, you’re gifted with a patch recognizing the race and Haight Ashbury Ultra Society. This is icing on the cake. The allure of a patch is not lost on me as it implies a throw back to when patches signified club membership. One runner had about 7 patches on his run vest for each year he ran. I want all the patches. For the data junkies, check out run100s for an extensive list of race details. To register, go to ultrasignup. If you’re travelling from afar, I would recommend the 50 mile route to get more exposure to the Bay Area in one shot.

General Tips:

Directions. You can print out a turn by turn map or download a gpx file to your smartapp (phone, watch). By far, the easiest way to get the right directions is to buddy up with someone who has run the course. The biggest challenge will be navigating between buildings as the gps signals bounce around.

Bathrooms. Plenty of porta potties throughout both cities. San Francisco had the cleanest ones, hands down. Bring wipes. Bring hand sanitizer.

Clothes. Wear the grey sweats and red headband for Philly. You’ll be pumped up. The community gets pumped up. You’ll shine, trust me on this one.

Food. There are mobile stations graciously set up by the volunteers. For the more adventurous runners, check out the local stores and open-air food markets throughout each city.

Fitness. If you regularly race on marked courses with roads blocked off, long stretches of country roads, or trails be aware. Road crossings are innumerable. You can’t pick up too much speed without stopping or swerving to avoid cars before the traffic lights turn green.

Final Stats

Philadelphia: 31 miles, 696 feet of elevation gain

San Francisco: 31 miles, 2,670 feet of elevation gain

Together or separately each race offers a unique running format. Step out of your comfort zone. Take risks. Meet new people. Life is short. Run all the miles.

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