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Colorado ultra-runners find niche in unassisted group runs

February 19, 2015 Updated: February 19, 2015 at 10:24 am
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No entry fees, no T-shirts, no winners, no whiners.

That's the hardcore ethos behind a series of long, low-key runs put on as a labor of love by ultra-runners along the Front Range.

While many runners spend winters slogging away on treadmills and multiuse paths, this crowd weathers all elements - faithfully enduring snow and ice for loose-knit, long-distance, off-road runs such as the Ponderous Posterior, which this year entailed a 16- to 26-mile jaunt around Mt. Herman near Monument.

Held Jan. 17, the aptly named Posterior was a regional example of a so-called Fat Ass run - under-the-radar events led by various groups in Colorado Springs, Boulder, Fort Collins and greater Denver. In the Pikes Peak region, Fat Ass runs generally draw up to a few dozen people.

While each run involves an aspect of competition and requires considerable training to complete, it's hard to call them races.

No one pays money to participate. No official time is kept. No winners are declared. Locally, the runs end with exhausted rivals breaking bread and drinking beer at potluck dinners.

The results are no more formal than a scrawled list of names, times and distances run that are recorded by participants as they arrive at the party.

Word of the group runs is circulated on niche websites and email lists.

At humanpotentialrunning.com, which puts on a series of nine Fat Asses through the year, a question-and-answer page calls its Front Range Fat Ass series "glorified group runs," and stresses that runners participate at their own risk.

There are few aid stations and rarely volunteers to show the way. Organizers don't seek permits, arguing the runs are no different from a group outing.

Trophies and cash prizes are anathema.

"With some of them you get bragging rights, but that's about it," said Julian Smith, 49, of Colorado Springs, a veteran of nine races of 100 miles or more since 2010. Smith said he runs in the Fat Ass races to keep active and to socialize with like-minded runners.

Grueling though it sounds, the trend of long-distance, unassisted Fat Ass group runs quietly has flourished along the Front Range for at least the past decade.

Local events have attracted some of the top names in the sport of trail running, including Scott Jurek and Anton Krupicka, a Colorado College graduate and winner of the Leadville Trail 100 Run, perhaps the state's best known ultra-run.

While many participants also race competitively, Fat Asses are usually laid-back affairs, focusing on the experience rather than finish times, participants say.

"Originally they were meant to be held after holidays," to burn off extra calories in the company of friends, said John "Sherpa John" Lacroix of Thornton, the founder of the Human Potential Running Series.

The tradition was born on the fells of England - its rocky hills, that is - and began picking up popularity in U.S. trail running circles in the 1970s and 1980s, Lacroix said.

In the past decade, the number of ultra-running events in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled, from 235 in 2004 to 845 in 2014, according to a November report in Trail Runner magazine. Those figures appear to include races as well as untimed events such as Fat Asses.

In Colorado Springs, the Ponderous Posterior is one of two Fat Ass runs sponsored by Team CRUD, or Coloradans Running Ultra Distances.

The first Ponderous Posterior was held in 2010, along a circuitous route that included Garden of the Gods, Williams and Waldo canyons, Barr and Intemann trails, and Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

The 31-mile route was conceived by Krupicka, a CC student at the time, and then tweaked to start and finish at the Pleasant Valley neighborhood home of veteran ultra- runner JT Teisher, who welcomed runners inside afterward for a potluck and beers.

Teisher wound up hosting participants for the next four years, but he says he holds no leadership role with Team CRUD.

"We keep it as disorganized as possible," Teisher said. "There's no one dude that's in charge."

The group meets several times a week for training runs, including a Thursday morning dash in North Cheyenne Canon Park from the Starsmore Discovery Center to the High Drive gate.

Team CRUD is coy about its other annual Fat Ass, Ring the Peak, a sparsely attended, 65-mile run around Pikes Peak that involves bushwhacking and route finding.

The course follows portions of the Ring the Peak Trail, which isn't complete because of at least one gap involving private property on the south slope.

"Officially, there's some magic that takes place on the backside of the Peak, and we leave it at that," Smith said.

Smith added: "To tell you how big Ring the Peak is, six of us did it last year."

Several dozen runners showed up to the most recent Fat Ass on Mt. Herman.

A funky spirit pervades the group runs, and beer and post-run hijinks help keep the mood light, participants say.

Budding ultra-runner Jeff Gallup of Woodland Park says the vibe was similar at the Frozen Dead Guy 50K in Nederland on Jan. 31.

"It's more or less kind of a party," said Gallup, who ran his first 50k ultra-marathon in May and blogs at barefoot inclined.blogspot.com. "Some people like my wife think that's a nutty way to party."

His 10-year-old twin sons are fully on board, however. They like to join their father as he crosses the finish lines, and they're not shy about touting his accomplishments.

"Whenever I go to their school, I can tell they've told everybody," he said with a laugh.

In the world of Fat Ass runs, that's about as good as it gets.

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