All was quiet on Sandy Neck Beach in Barnstable, Mass., by the time the light snow began to fall on Saturday, Jan. 18. The scene had been far different just a few hours earlier. The beach was a hotbed of energy and activity on this frigid day as runners took part in the 14th annual Cape Cod Frozen Fat Ass 50K ultramarathon and 25K race on the sand.
Despite the 15-degree temperature at the start and the high barely reaching the mid-20s, a record 91 runners completed either of the distances at the classic New England race. That surpassed the previous record of 78 runners set just last year, indicating the surging popularity of an event that began in 2007 with just seven finishers. True to its humble roots, the race remains free of charge, gives out quahog shells foraged from the beach as awards, and continues to foster the close-knit family atmosphere upon which it was founded.
Runners gathered inside the cozy Sandy Neck Beach Snack Shop to stay warm up until a few minutes before the 7 a.m. start. They made their way down to the beach, received a few instructions and were sent on their way. Bundled up in tights, jackets and stocking caps pulled tight to keep out the wind, the pack of runners made its way down the beach, beginning what would be a difficult test to kick off the new year – battling the wind, enduring the cold, and doing it all on sand.
The course consisted of its usual figure-eight layout with runners completing the first six miles as an out-and-back along the beach and then covering the final nine-plus miles on a winding loop through soft sand dunes before finishing along the beach. Runners in the 25K completed one full trip through the course while 50K runners did it twice.
While the Cape Cod Frozen Fat Ass is known for its regulars, the family has grown steadily in recent years with dozens of new faces joining the field. In fact, newcomers turned in the fastest 50K performances in 2020.
In the men’s field, Scott DeFusco and Ryan Pelletier made their Cape Cod debuts memorable as they outdistanced the field with DeFusco ultimately taking home the win in 4:50, followed by Pelletier in 4:57. They were followed by a pair of Cape Cod regulars. Marek Bykuc earned his fifth top-five 50K finish in the past six years, placing third in 5:17, while Fernando Salcido earned his third finish of the 50K race with his best performance on the course, placing fourth in 5:17.
The women’s race was also dominated by a Cape Cod newcomer, and Molly Karp etched her name in race history with a dynamite debut performance. A year after winning the G.A.C. Frozen Fat Ass 50K in Topsfield, Karp brought home a victory at Massachusetts’ second January Fat Ass race, cruising through her two loops on the sand in a course-record time of 5:15. The previous record was set in 2017 when Leah Lawry ran a 5:16.
While Karp ran away with the win, newcomer Kari Sudfeld placed second in 5:38, followed by Lynn Poyant in 5:53.
Even though newcomers posted the top finishes, plenty longtime regulars were among the record 33 finishers of the 50K, including Fred Murolo. Murolo, 63, of Cheshire, Conn., is the only runner to complete the 50K each of the 14 years the race has taken place.
In addition to the two-loop ultramarathon, a record 58 runners completed the one-loop 25K race — and that record turnout produced record-setting performances in both the men’s and women’s races.
In the men’s race, five runners did battle at the front of the pack for most of the way. With a half-marathon behind them, it was anyone’s race between Andrew Kephart, Sean Murphy, Galen August, Johan Keller and Ethan Finkel. Finkel faded a bit in the final miles while the other four held on. Ultimately it was Kephart who secured the victory in 1:56, followed closely by Murphy in 1:57, August in 1:58 and Keller in 1:59. Kephart established a new 25K men’s course record with his performance, but Murphy also surpassed the prior record and August tied it. Eric Ahern and Pascal Marimer set the previous men’s 25K course record in 2017 when they tied for the victory in 1:58.
The women’s 25K race wasn’t quite the nail-biter that the men’s race was, but the outcome was still up for grabs in the final miles. Rachel Bainbridge and Marissa Rivera started fast and didn’t let up. With Bainbridge leading the way, they opened up a sizeable gap on the field. Rivera was in close pursuit throughout the final miles, but Bainbridge didn’t relinquish the lead and ultimately finished first in 2:14. Rivera followed five minutes later in 2:19 to place second. Lindsay Rosenthal was a distant third in 2:30, followed four minutes later by Tracy Schultz.
For Bainbridge, who notched victories at the Traprock 50K and Twisted Branch 100K in 2019 along with runner-up finishes at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler at Wachusett Mountain and the TARC Fells Winter Ultra 32-miler, the 25K win on Cape Cod marked a strong start to the new year. It also marked the fastest time on the course in women’s history, surpassing the prior mark of 2:17 set by Rebecca Cotugno in 2019. Cotugno broke her own course record last year, surpassing her previous record time of 2:19 which she shared with Molly Alesch (2012) and was matched by Rivera this year. Rivera’s strong showing followed her win in the 30-mile race at the Midstate Massive Ultra-Trail in October 2019.