Fat Ass Founding Father - Joe Oakes
Originally published in UltraRunning magazine, March 1997, p56.
In the fall of 1978, Joe Oakes was on a solid streak of running, having completed four marathons in an eight week period. Joe had his sights set on a fairly new event in California, the Western States 100 miles. Only 15 people had earned a silver belt buckle at Western States and Joe wanted to join that select group. In order to qualify for Western States, Joe needed a 50 mile qualifying time. He explains: "There were no 50 mile races in the Bay area at that time of year. "There was, however, a seven-person relay race, on the Pacific Coast highway from Half-moon Bay to Santa Cruz. Race officials would not let me enter as an individual, so I sent in an entry with seven different names: Joe Oakes, Joseph Oakes, J. Oakes, etc. You get the idea." Oakes qualified for Western States, going on to earn his buckle. The seeds had been sown however, for Fat Ass races. "We decided to put on our own low-key race around the holidays after that," says Oakes. 'Things layoff around the holidays, so that's how we came up with the name. It was kind of a macho thing, all for fun." The spirit of the Fat Ass races is what really matters to Oakes. "There is so much greed and so much money in sports these days," says Oakes, adding, "there is not a nickel involved in any of these events. You just show up and run. It's very simple."
After the first few years, the Fat Ass spirit started to spread. "Kent and B.J. Frier in Philadelphia, Jo Wells in Toronto, and Alan Firth in England all started Fat Ass runs of their own." There are now Fat Ass races all over the world, with derivations on the name such as the Culo Gordo in Southern California. It gives me a warm feeling to know that the Fat Ass races are bringing fun to people all over the world," says Oakes.
Although his best running days are behind him. Joe's adventurous nature is still going strong. He has dipped into open waÂter ocean swimming, organising a few Alcatraz to San Francisco swims each year. He also completed a 2.5 mile swim from Russia to Alsaska in frigid 37F water. His big goal however is to complete a "trip around the world" that he began many years ago.
"I set out several years ago to complete a trip around the world by natural means." explains Oukes. "I ran, cycled, walked, and swam across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Then I did the swim from Russia to Alaska. The last leg of the trip for me is to go from Nome to Fairhanks." That final leg will be completed by dog-sled, as Joe follows the Iditarod route in March 1997, after the official Iditarod race and awards ceremony are wrapped up. Seems like a fitting accomplishment for the founding father of the Fat Ass races.
More from June 2007
History will record that in December of 1978 one Joseph A. Oakes had need for a 50-miler to qualify for the Western States 100 Mile Run, which was yet in its youth. I could find no convenient 50-miler, but there was the Christmas Relay Race, a seven person 50-mile relay down the coast on Hwy 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz, CA. The race director, Jack Leydig, did not want me to do it as a solo, so I entered as a seven man team: Joseph A. Oakes, Joe Oakes, J.Andy Oakes, etc. I was joined in my insanity by one John Lehrer, who was at that tiime in the employ of Runner's World, then located in Mountain View, CA. (By the way, John and I both silver-buckled that year.)
We decided that this neat-o event was sufficiently San-Francisco-counter-culture that it could live a life of its own, so we repeated it next year without Leydig. We coined the name 'The Recover From The Holidays Fat Ass 50 Mile Run,' always to be held during the holidays, no entry fee, no awards, no aid, no wimps. At the double marathon on Baffin Island the next year I got my first franchisees to put on FA 50s in England, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. No franchise fee, no profit sharing. Same rules. Since that time, Fat Ass events come and go, in places like Siberia, Holland, South Africa, and about 25 states I guess. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH MY BASTARD CHILDREN. THEY ARE ON THEIR OWN, bless them heartily but from afar.
The original version passed into the capable hands of Dave Kamp, who maintains homes in Corvallis, OR and Los Altos CA. It still trives, though in a different venue, sneaking across trails without a permit. There was also a Portland version that ran the length of the Wildwood Trail, same rules but only 50km, called The Purge and Splurge: cold, wet, mucky. They come and they go.
One of the franchisees was Iain Jackson in Vancouver, BC, who took over the Fat Ass franchise from another nameless bloke who has fallen out of my memory banks. Iain and his lovely wife asked my permission to start a nation-wide Canadian running club using that name. My comment was something like, "Be my guest," and they have been zealously toiling away at it ever since, probably losing money on the proposition.
The spirit lingers on. At 72 I no longer have the desire to run ultras, no longer subscribe to ULTRARUNNINIG MAGAZINE, no longer give a hoot who puts on a FAT ASS or where. I do, however, maintain a modicum of author's pride in having unleashed the beast onto the world. LONG MAY IT WAVE!
That's the short version.
There is no relationship between the FAT ASS runs and the DSE, except for my presence in both. The Hangover Run was an old-time DSE run that flourished before and during my time as President of the SF DSE Running Club (600 members at the time.). We ran across the Golden Gate Bridge on New Years Day and had a grand old time sipping champagne afterwards. After my term of office the piss-ant bureaucrats at the GGBridge Authority decided that it was dangerous or something and gave us a bunch of crap about it, so it eventually got moved off their damned gangplank.
The DSE used to put on a run in SF every Sunday, and still do most weeks. Walter Stack was the soul of the club, and he was my mentor. We never bothered to get a premit for anything. Long before NIKE we 'just did it.'