A Barkley Fall Classic race report
- 340 starters
- 119 50K Finishers
- 37% finisher rate
“I know you’re hurtin’, bro, but just get to Laz,” I told the young kid as he stumbled down the flip-side of Testicle Spectacle.
“He’s at mile 22.1, right?” his eyes hopeful for an early exit from this land of lacerations.
“Well, kinda, but yea, man, get there and at least get your marathon finish, don’t quit.” I said with a sort of elder matter-of-factness.
“Marathon? But a marathon is…” and you could see his head spinning, trying to make sense of how a 22.1 mile aid station could be a 26.2 marathon finish. I didn’t have the heart to tell him what would happen if he somehow made it before the cut-off and attempted to complete the entire 50K, …which isn’t really a 50K. I mean, Laz calls it a 50K, but Laz also refers to real Barkley as, “two miles an hour is all you need, how hard can it be?”
I really don’t advise trying to find out. …but most of you will want to anyway.
Before the kid popped a blood vessel, I blurted out, “Dude, it’s Laz. It’s Barkley. Nothing makes sense. Enjoy the day, eat, drink, talk to people and find ways to fight off the funk.”
And off I ran.
I knew what was coming up – Rat Jaw – and I didn’t dare try to explain that to him.
I’ve heard the race described in a number of ways, “Baby Barkley,” being one. “Trail Barkley” being another. “A taste of Barkley” being yet another.
But having run both, I don’t think any of these descriptions fit.
- 100 miles (more like 120)
- Significant stretches of bushwhacking
- No markings at all, nothing
- Lots of night running
- Most runners are alone for hours
- Multiple directions
Barkley Fall Classic
- 35-40 miles (depending who you ask)
- Almost all on blazed trails
- No markings, but directional signs at major turns
- No night running
- Lots of runners
- Only one direction
But there are similarities
- some of the hardest climbs of your life
- some of the longest climbs of your life
- some of the steepest climbs of your life
- some of the slowest times of your life
- you will bleed from briars. 100% of time
- you will fall. Probably a lot. Probably really hard
- you will cuss a lot. You may cry.
- you’ll give up running at least 3 times along the way
- you will swear off this race, and laugh off real Barkley
- you’ll swear off running completely. Might consider bowling
- you will hurt more than ever, smell worse than ever…
…and you might just find yourself finishing the race in your underwear. Ok, maybe that was just me, and judging by the look on Laz’s face, a dehydrated, swollen, shirtless runner rollin’ into his aid station in too-tight compression skivvies ain’t very pretty.
How does that happen? Do I really need to say it? It’s “Barkley.”
A Beautiful Beatdown
But we are ultrarunners. The above is ultraporn, and we love it. Give it to us nasty, …but give it to us beautiful.
For the same reasons Laz and race director, Steve Durbin, won’t allow runners to race with GPS, I will refrain from a course blow by blow. You need to register and tow the line yourself for the true experience, but I promise you, if you do, you will experience a magical journey through mountain trails that might be a little haunted, definitely a little crazy, and chock full of some of the hardest terrain you have ever experienced, let alone raced on.
You will meet ultrarunners from all over the country, and I guarantee you will make at least one new friend, but most likely many more. No, not the friend that happens to remember your name and sends you a Facebook friend request and you never speak again – but people with whom you connect with through mutual suffering. Right, Chad? Right, Tyler? Right, Michelle?
Another Dose of Humility
I remember the first year I got into real Barkley. Maybe 6 years ago.
“I’m going to finish.”
“I’ll never quit.”
“Here is my strategy, everybody…”
…and the elders laughed. Of course I was the sacrificial virgin that year. It was too perfect. Big mouth, idiot, overgrown kid who has run a few ultras and thought he was Barkley-ready.
I made it one loop.
My last words to Laz, “There is no way in Hell I am going back out there.”
And I slithered away from Frozenhead allowing the REAL athletes to slug it out for 50 more hours without the fat kid in the way.
Did I learn?
I’m fit right now. Fittest I’ve been in a very, very long time (Thank you, Lindsay), and I was convinced I could go sub-10, and break the top 10 of overall finishers.
I went 11:42. I came in the 40th finisher.
Good? yea, ok. It’s good in comparison. 40th out of 340 is respectable, and especially when only 37% of starters actually completed the 50K race; but it was yet another reminder that “fit don’t mean shit” at Barkley.
The race that eats it’s young.