This page last updated: Saturday 20 March 2010
Fat Ass Founding Father - Joe OakesOriginally 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 beft 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 water 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.