02 August 2014


GoPro group picture minutes before the start of the inaugural Stone Mountain FA Run.

My first Fat Ass
I must admit, when I first received the Facebook invite from James Suh to the Stone Mountain Fat Ass Run, I had no idea where and what this mountain was, but since I was in the middle of preparing my training schedule for Pinhoti in November, I thought, "What the heck, sign me up!" he promised repeats of steep climbs, sounded like great training to me:-) I also looked forward to the opportunity to see some of the Nashville, 'Nooga and ATL ultra peeps again.

For those of you who do not know what a "Fat Ass" is, it is not so much referring to the size of the participants' behinds (though it is not mutually exclusive;-) as it is an indication of an informal race, a friendly get together or competition, put on by fellow runners for runners. It is usually free and everyone is generally expected to be self-sufficient or self-supported, e.g. no stocked aid stations other than what participants bring.

Over the course of a few weeks after the initial FB invite, James fine-tuned his plans for this event. The idea was to try to complete 10 repeats up and down Stone Mountain within a 5 hour time limit. None of us had ever done this before, so we had no idea how tough or easy it would be or if it was even doable at all. While 20 folks had initially signed up to part-take, we ended up with 15 runners total, some getting there late and doing a couple of repeats, others leaving early, etc. but in the end 12 of us started at 7AM sharp and stuck around until the end.

Luckily, I wasn't the only fool to make the trip to Atlanta from Huntsville. Cary had also decided to sign up for this fun adventure. While we were trying to figure out when to drive to ATL and where to stay, James was kind enough to offer to share rooms at a downtown ATL hotel he and Olaf had booked for the weekend. Awesome, 'cause nothing beats free! Thanks again to both James and Olaf for letting me crash the entire weekend and not just Friday night. That simplified the logistics for me tremendously. Especially, since I also needed a place to stay for the night following the Stone Mountain event. Why? Well, I decided that it might be a great idea to start with some back to back long runs in preparation for Pinhoti 100 and it just so happened that the Hot To Trot 8 Hour ultra was to take place the very next day at Lithia Springs State Park just on the other side of Atlanta. The goal now would be to complete the Stone Mountain challenge and to try to get in a 50K on Sunday. 50 miles for the weekend didn't sound too bad on paper, after all, I had run 50 milers in a day before, right?

That would be true, if it hadn't been such a challenging pair of races. First, the Stone Mountain "out & back" or "up & down" course consisted of a one mile out section with 850ft of climb straight up a rock and a steep one mile section with 850ft of descent. Completing the challenge would mean a total of 20 miles with 8500ft of climb in less than 5 hours. Then I would have to turn around the next day and try to run a 50K at Lithia Springs park, which I knew had some challenging trails as well, even though I neither knew the actual course nor the elevation profile of that particular course. But I did have a feeling that it wouldn't be easy, not on its own and especially not on dead legs.

A few of us met for a pre-race meal at a nice pizza joint just outside of Atlanta before Olaf and I headed to a different downtown Atlanta hotel the first night than the other guys (booking faux pas). After a fairly short night, my alarm awoke us to an eighties throwback (Soft Cell "Tainted Love") at 4:30AM. The plan was to drink a cup of coffee before heading to Stone Mountain Park. Neither Olaf nor I eat before a race, so we were ready to go pretty quickly. We arrived at the park gates just after 6 AM and I was sure we would have to wait until 6:30 for the park to open. Instead, there was already a nice lady manning the gate, collecting our park fee and letting us proceed to our meeting place, a large parking lot at the bottom of the Stone Mountain hiking trail. I had never been here before, so when I finally saw the actual mountain, I was surprised. It was basically a giant bald rock. Wow, and we are supposed to run up and down THAT thing?

Olaf and I were the first runners to arrive in the designated parking area, but it was already bustling with activity. Apparently, Stone Mountain is a very popular location for active minded peeps looking to run a few laps or go for a hike up the mountain. Minutes later, other runners were trickling in as we made out way to the trail head to set up our make shift aid station with a couple of chairs and coolers. James had brought a large white board to allow each runner to track their loops. Throughout the morning, people would congregate around this whiteboard, shaking their heads in disbelief when they realized what we doing. Some folks would come back time and time again to check the current status of the "leader board".

Once everyone arrived and we had said our hellos, James explain the goal again. We decided to do the first lap together as a group as sort of a reconnaissance lap before everyone would be on their own. I started my GoPro to take video footage and some pics on the first loop. Right away, it was quite the climb. This would be a very tough challenge.

Our group doing our first lap of Stone Mountain.
We took off on our first lap at 7AM sharp. The trail was marked mostly with spray paint, which made sense, since the entire trail was rock, though there one one short trail "bypass" section on the down that had gravel. There really were no flat sections on this trail at all, no switchbacks, no nothin', just climbing straight up the mountain. One section towards the top of the mountain was so steep that the park service had hand rails installed to assist hikers during their ascent. 

From about 2/3 up the mountain, you could easily spot downtown Atlanta and its suburbs.

Just before we started our final climb to the top of the mountain, there was a large clearing that reminded me to stop, turn around and take in the view. It was pretty d@mn cool. I had no idea this place even existed and here I was just below 1686ft, the highest elevation of this mountain, which isn't too shabby considering where we were. It took about 16 minutes for all of us to arrive at the top of Stone Mountain, take in the views, take a group picture around the survey marker and continue on our quest to complete 9 more ascents after making it down from here again.

This survey marker indicated the highest point on the mountain and served as our turnaround point.
 Olaf was the first to head back down again and I decided to try to hang on to him for 1-3 laps, if I could. Unlike me, Olaf is a really fast runner and I had no illusions of grandeur, I just wanted to see how long, if at all, I could hang with him before having to drop my pace considerably. I arrived at the bottom of the mountain shortly after him and proceeded to take a swig from my bottle. I had decided not to carry anything, after all, we would be back here every 2 miles:-) My plan was to chug half a bottle of Skratch every time I arrived at the bottom and to take SCaps ever 3 laps to stay hydrated and to try to keep my electrolytes in balance. Olaf started the second lap and I stayed behind him. I figured one more lap before he'd drop me like a hot potato. Granted, it was just a fun event among friends, but I was sure that I wouldn't be able to keep up with him even if he didn't really push the pace at all. I figured one more lap before he was gone out of my sight.

Our make shift aid station at the trail head at the bottom of Stone Mountain.
 Miraculously (I'm using the term very loosely), I was able to hang on with a gap widening between us on the climbs before it would shorten again on the descends. Around lap 4, we both kinda started running together, talking and actually having a good time. I know, crazy right? How can you have a good time doing repeats like this! Well, I did and so we continued on our way, chatting and running, pretty consistently, too. The atmosphere was fantastic, we would always see other runners either ascending or descending the mountain, up and down we all went, encouraging and cheering each other on. It was great. Physically, I felt great, too, which was kinda strange considering what we were doing.

Olaf and I started to look at our watches. We realized that we could probably get the 10 repeats done in less than 4 hours, IF the wheels wouldn't come off. Cool, I thought, I might not only finish this things, but actually finish it in a respectable time...and alongside someone like Olaf, who I consider a friend, a really nice guy all-around and a very very fast runner. This guy actually wins marathons, for crying out loud. As I continued to check my watch, our pace continued extremely consistent. The weather was playing nice, too. No rain, a nice cloud cover and the temps weren't that bad either.

When Olaf and I started our final climb, most of the other runners were now congregating at the bottom of the mountain, chillin. I think most had decided at this point to call it quits as soon as someone completed the challenge and it looks like both Olaf and I would. Again, we climbed up together, Olaf leading the way, me following behind. Once we reached the top and started our descend, I started to head down first, I think. Anyway, Olaf's foot had started to bother him a bit earlier in the day (an old in jury, I think), so I knew he would be slower on the downhill. It didn't really matter, we had been running this way most of the day, he leading up the mountain, me passing him on the downhills only at times. We started together and we finished together. I arrived at the bottom in 3 hours 43 minutes and Olaf was following closely behind.

The "winners" of the inaugural Stone Mountain FA Run (Kraut #1 and Alf).
I can honestly say I had a great time running this FA that was created in and out of James' wicked mind. Before we even left the park, he was already contemplating minor format changes to make this thing even more fun next year. One thing we all agreed on, we must do this again! Seven of us decided to hit up a local Korean All-You-Can-Eat Buffet in honor of the RD. Of course, it is always funny to me to see the faces of the waitresses as a bunch of athletic folks come in only to eat one plate after another after another followed by drinking gallons of water.

7 of us met for a post race lunch at a popular Korean All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.
Once we were done and said our goodbyes, it was time for me to head back to the hotel and start packing and resting for day 2 of this fun filled weekend in Atlanta. I can't wait to do this ain. Thanks, James and everyone who participated.

Serious profile of a serious run:-)
P.S.: Obviously, I can't forget to mention my buddy Michael Scott, whom I lapped twice:-)

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