Full Moons, Frozen Rivers and “Fat Ass” Trail Runs
Imagine a trail race with four simple rules: “No Fees, No Awards, No Aid, No Whining.” The course may or may not be marked, and there’s definitely no mile markers or cheering spectators. A no frills race. No race t-shirts or bibs. No aid stations or medics. No corrals or standing around (shivering) at the start line waiting for the gun to sound. A trail race completely stripped down to its core tenant: running (and, of course community). This is the spirit of the “Fat Ass” race.
History of “Fat Ass” races
Fat Ass races first came to be in 1978 after Joe Oakes needed a 50 mile race to qualify for the Western States 100. When he couldn’t find any in the Bay area, he turned to a seven-person relay race. The rules didn’t allow him to run the race solo, so he signed up for the relay 7 times, using 7 different spellings of his name. It worked. He qualified for Western States, ran it and earned his silver buckle.
The following year Oakes decided to do something about the need for a Western States qualifier in the Bay area, but he didn’t want it to be like every other race. Instead he created a low-key, post holiday race that didn’t involve any money: “Recover From the Holidays Fat Ass 50-Mile Run.” And with that, the notion of the “Fat Ass” race was born. An article in UltraRunning Magazine writes, quoting Oakes:
The spirit of the Fat Ass races is what really matters… ‘There is so much greed and so much money in sports these days… there is not a nickel involved in any of these events. You just show up and run. It’s very simple.’
The Fat Ass spirit resonated in the trail running community and it wasn’t long after the first Fat Ass race that many others started popping up in other places on the map. A few decades later the spirit of the “Fat Ass” has not only endured, it seems to be thriving. That being said, it’s hard to really know how many of these events are happening. There is no central governing body or website to find these events. You might be able to find a few listed on public race calendars, but most depend on things like word of mouth and social media to spread the word. Despite the lack of any real marketing for these events, some have been said to draw pretty significant crowds. Matt Frazier, ultra runner and author of the book, “No Meat Athlete,” writes about a 50k Fat Ass race in Northeast Maryland that he ran with close to 400 runners (unofficially). Some have even received attention from the mainstream media, like in this New York Times article about a Fat Ass race, written by Chris McDougall, author of the book “Born to Run.”
Fat Ass running isn’t for everyone, though. Frazier points out, “To enjoy this style of race, one must truly relish the pain of running so far, so alone, and with so little to show for it.”If you fall in this category (and live in Minnesota), I have good news. There is a Fat Ass run happening in Minnesota on February 15th.
Full Moon Frozen River Run
In 2010 Joel Button, long-time ultra runner and President of Upper Midwest Trail Runners (UMTR) started the Full Moon Frozen River Run when he brought together a group of 11 runners for a late-night run on the (mostly) frozen St. Croix River. Starting at the Marine on St. Croix, the group slogged through the rough, choppy snow on the river, navigating around open water (via bushwhacking along the shore). The terrain wasn’t the only challenge they faced; the frigid temps forced them to find creative ways to keep the water they carried from freezing. 16 miles and a few hours later they all reached the “finish line” in Stillwater. This group relished in the pain of running through the treacherous winter terrain in the middle of the night, despite no awards at the finish line. So, they did it again in 2011, and four years later the Full Moon River Run is still going strong. Read Joel’s full recap of the first annual Full Moon Frozen River Run here.
If you aren’t scared away yet, here’s what you need to know to run the 2014 Full Moon Frozen River Run.
When: Saturday, February 15, 2022 at 9:00 pm
Where: St. Croix River (between Stillwater and Marine on St. Croix)
How: Visit the official event page (and email Joel to get added to his email list for updates and details about the event)