22 September, 2015

Barkley Fall Classic 2015: The Baby Barkley has plenty of bite

A big part of me feels like the value of race reports has decreased significantly over the last few years. With social media commentary, more comprehensive websites, ultra signup, etc that there is way more information about ins/outs of any given ultra that it’s almost redundant to add my two cents. Nonetheless, I’ve been wanting to get a chance at the barkley for a long time so even if it’s the "baby barkley” I felt it worth capturing a few things.

First the facts: my finish time was 11:55 and I came in 57th out of 101 finishers

214 started; 162 male, 52 female
101 finished the 50km; 79 male, 22 female
69 finished the marathon; 51 male, 18 female
44 did not finish; 32 male, 12 female

The hype is part of the experience for the BFC. Scary emails from the spiritual father of the BFC, and actual race director for plenty of other nutty races Gary/Lazarus Lake incl The Barkley, are exercises in discernment. Clearly, most of it is designed to induce fear and nausea. But there are always nuggets of important race details, course intel and, he’s a damn good writer. I do get a little weary of it but now I know to accept it as part of what makes people so love his events.

I love a sport where there’s a better than even chance that a grown 51 year old man will take a fall like a cartoon character. FYI, that’s me. Twice yesterday. The first time was probably pretty boring but I’m sure the second time I would have been impressed with my total lack of control, off the path into the dirt/sticks/rocks. I’m feeling it today but I rather like the fact that the can happen and I’m moving the next day…slowly but moving. 

I was scared of this course. I did a ouray 100 training run on some of these trails in july and knew that the climbing would be serious. I wasn’t even close to how much climbing there would be. This year they added two major climbs that are part of The Barkley (rat jaw and testicle/spectacle) truly freaking amazing. Briars, jungle, elevation gain of about 20k feet in 50k of trail and some grade that was, essentially, vertical. I can do the stuff that is just about putting down my head and grinding it out. What was surprising was how much was runnable. Some really sweet downhill trails through gorgeous eastern TN mountains that are the beginning of the blue ridge. For me to hit the cutoffs, I had to do both. Some of it I really nailed and some I struggled with. But if you were taking this as just a hike, no way you could finish. And if you weren’t willing to really run, NFW either. A real test of ultra running I think.
The very beginning of rat jaw. It got worse. Much worse.

It got into the upper 80s with about 85% humidity so the conditions were tough. I definitely went into the hole on the hydration side. Scary at the end because I couldn’t get back on top of it. Urinating blood was a sobering feeling.  I just couldn’t drink enough. Was in good shape about an hour afterward however. It was weird that I never felt like it impacted me though it must have on some level.

You didn't need a lot of imagination
Getting to run through brushy mountain prison was really cool. It was purely for show and it was totally worth it. The prison has been closed for years but still feels creepy. It must have been hellishly hot in the summer and brutally cold/damp in the winter. This is where james earl ray was imprisoned. A prisoner escaped from here and in 55 hours only covered about 18 miles. This is the genesis story for The Barkley

I’d go back for this. I really did enjoy the experience. One thing that it also did, unequivocally, is to take away any desire to do the full barkley. They almost never go on trails and have more climbs and descents. In the dark. I’m just not tough enough for that. This 50k gave me all I need.

As always, thanks to becca for accepting (understanding may be going too far as I’m not sure I always understand why I love ultras) my commitment and giving me the space/time to do it. Sometimes at a real cost. I only hope it is one of the things that’s kept me sane enough to be her partner in so many other parts of life for more than 20 years.

(Photos by will jorgenson and brandon yorke)