TOPSFIELD, Mass. – A few things have changed through the years at the G.A.C. Fat Ass 50K. There was the change of venue in 2003, the shift from the last Saturday in December to first Saturday in January starting in 2005, and the new start/finish area in 2022 to allow for more sun.
Still, plenty has stayed the same. It’s still free to participate and there are no bibs. You just show up and run. Additionally, the most important details – the people, the low-key atmosphere and the all-are-welcome attitude – have remained consistent through the years, and they were once again on display for the 23rd running of the event on Saturday, Jan. 7, at Bradley Palmer State Park.
A record crowd of around 200 runners gathered around Race Director Roger Martell for the succinct pre-race briefing just before 9 a.m. Martell held a flag in his right hand and a ribbon in his left.
“Follow the pink ribbons and flags,” Martell instructed the runners, holding up each for a bit of emphasis.
“I’ll take your names if you finish a marathon or 50K,” he added. “OK … ready, set go.”
With that, the runners took off and Martell walked over to the aid table to chat with his son, Roger Martell Jr., Jim “Gilly” Gilford, and several other G.A.C. regulars whose volunteer efforts made the day possible.
For the next eight hours, they busied themselves by taking care of the runners and walkers and helped them achieve their goals for the day. A few were there to push the pace and compete for top finishes in the 50K, covering five loops along the way. Others were there to run a marathon, while most simply sought to run or walk a lap or two and then hang out and socialize with friends. All of those objectives were encouraged and embraced.
Regardless of pace or distance, all runners were treated to near-perfect running conditions while navigating the rolling hills and mostly non-technical terrain. The course offered a mix of singletrack and doubletrack trail, some gravel and fire roads, and about 1.5 miles of pavement scattered throughout the loop. Runners encountered only a few mildly technical, rooty spots, but found themselves passing through snow-covered forests and fields thanks to a light coating the day before.
Though there were blue skies above, runners were surrounded by falling snow during their first few loops as it melted from the branches above and dropped to the ground. By mid-day, the footing turned slick and squishy in some places as the temperature climbed from 33 degrees into the 40s.
No runner took more advantage of the ideal running conditions than Cole Crosby. Making his G.A.C. debut, the 34-year-old resident of Cranston, R.I., darted to the front during the first minute and steadily pulled away. He zipped through the course with his lead never in doubt and ultimately cruised to the finish with a 20-minute cushion on the field, winning in 3:35. Only five runners have gone faster in the event’s history, led by Patrick Caron’s course record of 3:23 from 2019.
Crosby’s closest competitor was 41-year-old Brian Burke of Medford, Mass. A frequent face at the event in recent years, Burke earned his third runner-up finish and second-best time on the course by finishing in 3:55. He also placed second in 2019 (3:49) and 2020 (4:16). Todd Callaghan, 53, of Beverly, Mass., finished third in 4:00, followed closely by 47-year-old Sylvain Olier of Somerville, Mass., in 4:01. Ricky Kee, 34, of Beverly, Mass., followed his third-place finish from 2022 by taking fifth in 4:27. Jack Bailey, 44, of Medway, Mass., was sixth in 4:30 and Gordon Collins, 43, of Poland, Maine, seventh in 4:32.
Katy Kelly, 54, of Dorchester, Mass., capped her G.A.C. debut by finishing eighth overall and first in the women’s field in 4:50. It was the seventh-fastest women’s time in event history (Issy Nielson’s course record of 4:31:50 was set in 2012), and it was the latest strong showing by Kelly who won the Womp Romp 50K in October.
After closing out 2022 by finishing 100 miles at Ghost Train, 38-year-old Jennifer Boshco of Billerica, Mass., was the women’s runner-up in 4:59. Rounding out the women’s top three was 37-year-old Kristen Smith of Danvers, Mass. Smith finished second in 2019 and first in 2020 before placing third this year in 5:29.
In total, 37 runners earned 50K finishes. Another 15 completed a marathon, with Greg Esbitt, 49, of Ipswich, Mass., and Carina Wegner topping the men’s and women’s fields in 3:59 and 4:59, respectively.
Beyond the miles logged, the event also had a successful haul for Beverly Bootstraps. A year ago, the race organizers started a clothing drive to collect like-new clothing for the local community services organization. That effort continued at this year’s race and participants amassed two large, overflowing tubs full of clothes to be donated.