Atlanta Fat Ass 50k – Risking Snowmaggedon

Download PDF

Janette Maas and Rob Apple climb the stairs for the umpteenth time.

January 9, 2010

This run would normally be routine.  I’ve run it a couple of times before and like any good Fat Ass race, this one’s low key and fun – really more of a way to get some miles in together than anything else.  No big deal.

But two things were notably different this year.  The first was a new location, in Sweetwater Park, with the exact course there yet to be announced.  Rob and I run the Sweetwater 50k there and were sure this course would loops (so everyone can run as many or few as they want) but hoped it wouldn’t include the less than scenic power line.

The second difference was the weather.  Forecasters were excitedly predicting a large winter storm of indeterminate but alarming magnitude sometime late that day over Atlanta and our entire 4-hour drive home.  The exact timing was unknown but we decided to go for it anyway.  Things could always change for the better.

The race was on Sunday, so I could attend the Cumberland Trail Conference Board meeting Saturday morning before driving down to the race.  The entire weekend’s trip would be a big triangle.  Driving from my house up on the Cumberland Plateau to the meeting in Crossville, Tennessee, in the snow, ice, and (according to the radio) freezing fog next to tractor trailers was stressful enough.  The drive from there down to Chattanooga to pick up Rob, and from there to Atlanta was easier and I hoped the drive home from Atlanta would be just as ice and snow-free.  I filled up the gas tank so we would have to stop on our flight out of town the next evening.

Poor, salt-encrusted car.

Ready to Go

Lined up with everyone else at the Sweetwater picnic shelter that morning, we found out we’d be running trails blazed blue, then white (with some flagging) on a 5ish-mile loop.  Yes, even the math would be easy!

Everything looked cheerful and optimistic on the first loop.  A crowd of runners started and morning sunshine greeted us at the first turn.  Snow seemed like a far, far away story.  The loop was surprisingly nice and varied.  It led us through a nice mix of contrasts – rocky and dirt road, uphill and flat, stream side and upper woods.  Boredom wouldn’t be a factor today and we saw several friends along the way.

Rob and Sarah Tynes before the start.

Ah, what a beautiful, sunny morning!

It feels like a fantastic day to be running on a trail.

Pretty trail.

And good company.

Let's go for another loop!

By the second loop, I was warmed up and enjoying the course.  When we got down to Sweetwater Creek, I took off to play through the rocky section. I had just passed Janette Maas, planning to run ahead and get her picture and possibly Sally Brooking’s picture, when I caught my right foot on a root and yanked my hamstring in the instinctive effort to stay upright.  I’ve done this countless times in the past, rarely with good results, and sure enough, the hamstring all the way into my lower back clenched like a fist.  I walked it off for a minute and we got going again but neither gentle running or stretching relieved it’s unhappiness, so I limped the rest of the way around, concentrating on making the leg work right, or at least not get worse, while Rob talked.

Sally. At least I got the photo...

Another trip down the stairs.

By the third loop, the cheery outlook diminished.  A noticeable number of runners had dropped, creating the urgent feeling that we were definitely at the end of the pack, running slow.  At the same time, hours had elapsed and the storm must be growing closer.  The morning sunshine started to seem eerie, like a calculated deception on the sky’s part.  Both factors reminded us time was ticking away.

Rob leaving me behind on the flat easy-footing section (also known as "Rob trail").

During the third loop, Rob told me I was limping, so ignoring the hamstring hadn’t helped.  Back at the aid station, I resorted to some leftover Aleve I hadn’t touched after it gave me serious problems at both Ozark 100 and Javelina 100 last year.  The need for relief outweighed the small potential for damage in such a short race.  While I was at it, I  put on a brace for the ankle I mashed going up Thompson Peak in Arizona over Christmas.

Talking with Matthew Grund, who was running loops the opposite way.

Ankle brace. Grrr...

On the fourth loop, the sky clouded up within the space of what seemed moments.  Near the creek, we passed a blue heron hunting for food and wondered how they survived snow and ice storms like the one on its way.  I was still dragging a leg as normally as I could, but speed was the one thing that would hurt it more.  We couldn’t go much faster.

Where'd the sun go?

The fifth loop was a bit easier running as the Aleve kicked in.  Sally Brooking, already long done, passed us going the other direction looking for Marty Coleman.  Other than her, Jannette Maas, and another runner, we were pretty much alone.  I kept hoping not to feel a snowflake.  Please, just one more loop…

Sally, already done and still looking fresh.

Making tracks.

We started the sixth, goodbye loop as quickly as we could.  We were both ready to be done.  By now we were clearly some of the few runners left on the course and we knew we were pushing our luck with the weather.  It could start any moment.

Happy chicks finishing up their last lap as we start ours.

One last time over the big rock.

In spite of the growing sense of panic, everything finally clicked and I felt the best I’d felt all day.  My stride finally eased out and Rob was having a hard time keeping up.  It’s a little ridiculous for it to take 25 miles to warm up, and I really would like to have run more, but we were both happy to arrive back at the picnic shelter for the last time.

We figured we had enough time left for a few necessities.  We downed a few cups of the excellent vegetarian chili – it really hit the spot – said goodbyes, changed into some dry clothes in the car, and pointed the car toward home.

Sarah and Kim Pike holding down the timing tent. Bye until next time!

Scary Radar

On the road, it was now down to simple timing.  We got on I-20 outside the park and turned on the weather band radio (I love my Subaru) while I got out the iPad to check the radar as we turned north on I-285.  It showed pink for ice completely over us and white covering our route on I-75 north to the Tennessee line, but nothing showed on the windshield.   Rob suggested it was evaporating before it hit the ground.  Whatever was happening, I hoped it would continue.  I didn’t realize how much things had changed while we were out running.

When I got home three or so hours later, I turned on the Weather Channel to see video of I-75 ground to a halt, littered with unmoving cars that all had their flashers on.  Unbelievable.  I couldn’t believe we’d been so lucky.

Sometimes it’s tough to keep such a busy running schedule.  The logistics of getting there can seem more challenging than the race itself.  Though they’re always worthwhile and I wouldn’t change a thing, sometimes, races are easy to get to and sometimes not.  Right now, I figure we’re due an easy one.

One Response to “Atlanta Fat Ass 50k – Risking Snowmaggedon”

  1. Jason Rogers says:

    Great report, Susan! I wish that I had run with you and Rob during the final three laps, because it really was lonely out there after many people had dropped. I was hoping the best that you and Rob would be able to return home safely in the weather that night, so I’m glad y’all made it.

Leave a comment