South Carolina: FATS 50k

I’d had a brief break after finishing Mueller and was building up to a 55k in October. Last minute nerves got the best of me and I decided finishing a 50k would be the best way to prepare. The FATS 50k is not a fatass 50k as I initially misread it. The 50k is the only distance offered. In the last several years, finishing times have been up to 10+ hours for the 50 – 70 finishers. The race takes place at the Forks Area Trail System in Sumter National Forest near North Augusta, SC (just across the Savannah River from Augusta, GA). These are apparently very highly rated mountain biking trails and were well maintained. Although elevation was only about 2,600′, the hills were constantly rolling, a delight to the mountain bikers, I’m sure.

FATS 2600 elevation
2,600′ of rolling, rolling hills

The course consists of four looped trails in the southern half of the trail system: Great Wall, Deep Step, Skinny, and Brown Wave. Great Wall is the first and last loop for just over 31 miles. Not surprisingly, the area MTB groups have the best trail guides.

FATS map

We were still enjoying our first year with the Southwest Companion pass, so one of the limiting factors for race selection was proximity to a Southwest airport. We flew into ATL, rented a car that was deemed acceptable by my Companion/crew, and drove the 2.5 hours to Augusta. Packet pickup was held at an Augusta running store. We met the very friendly RD and learned a little more about the race before driving across the border to check out the trails and find the starting line. We found the starting line without any problem and headed back across the river for dinner and an early bedtime.

Race report: Our hotel in Augusta, GA was about 20 minutes from the race. We had an 8am start but weren’t sure how bad parking would be so we headed out just before 7am. We had no problem parking in the trailhead lot and there was extra parking across the forest service road in a field. The RD called us over to the start a few minutes before 8am. After a few last minute instructions, he counted us down and we were off.

The multiple loop course was nice and was a good way to break the race into smaller sections. Aid stations were at a minimum at the end of each loop and sometimes midway through a loop (Brown Wave). My crew especially enjoyed the aid station on Great Wall that we stopped at 3 times because he was able to hang out there for most of the day.

fats
Found this 2013 course map and it still matched the aid stations years later.

I had no problem following the course thanks to the already existing trail markers supplemented by race-day markers. IMG_0574

We had perfect weather and great trails. The trails weren’t too technical and occasionally we had views of the Savannah River through the trees. The sections on power lines were short and not too steep. The few mountain bikers we encountered were friendly and didn’t seem upset about losing their trails to us for the day.

IMG_0585IMG_0584

IMG_0581
Nice, gentle power lines unlike SweetH20.

After finishing, the RD congratulated us and handed us handmade wooden medals. I was able to change clothes in the trail head bathroom and then check out the post-race food: chili, drinks, and a lot of stuff that reminded me too much of the aid stations. There were still plenty of finishers celebrating by the time I was done running. It’s always nice when the party hasn’t ended before you finish! We headed back to the hotel to clean up and find dinner. Overall, this was a nice, low-key event with plenty of other runners and good support on nice trails. It set me up well for Canyon de Chelly a few weeks later.

tl;dr:

  • 50 – 70 runners in the last several years
  • No cut off, finishers to 11 hours in recent years.
  • Elevation gain total about 2,600′
  • Course has multiple loops and only one is repeated twice as the first and last section of the race, done in different directions. Well-marked.
  • Vault toilets and portapotties at the start.
  • Plenty of parking at the start or across a forest service road.
  • Packet pickup day before or morning of the race.
  • Crew access at multiple points, easy to get to.
  • Yes, you get a medal! No shirt, but the race is only $55.

Off trail: We wandered around downtown Augusta, GA the next day and learned about the Augusta Canal, “the nation’s only industrial power canal still in use for its original purpose.”

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