Last weekend, I had what I considered the girls trip of a lifetime. Sophie Speidel and myself drove up to Frozen head State park to help crew, spectate, camp, run and geek out at the Barkley Marathons.
This race is it's own entity. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced before. It was created based upon a now half flooded prison located on the race course. James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr, escaped into the surrounding mtns. He ran for 55 hrs but only made it 9 miles away. The race director thought to himself " I could at least go 100." so thus the barkley marathon was born. "100" 60,000++ elevation on unmarked trails. One must navigate the loops with a map and compass and hit 11 controls ( books you tear out pages-- you much have 11 pages when you return from each loop to start again) with a 60 hr cut off. And as of 2013, 14 finishers. Entering barkely --it's a well guarded secret. common knowledge it costs 1.60 and a license plate, but the only way to enter is to ask a veteran barkley racer, and 99% of the time they will lead you down a rabbit hole.
This race becomes an obsession for many racers. It's been my observation that Barkley Virgins usually have a tough time. but they come back.. they almost always come back the years later to improve where to get credit for the fun run ( 3 loops) or to get closer to being a finisher.
The list of finishers is a compilation of what I consider athletic excellence a tier above mere ultrarunning. Here are some finishers that I have the honor of knowing: David Horton: won hard rock 100 several times, transamercia twice, former AT speed record, PCT speed record-- THE godfather of east coast ultrarunning. Andrew Thompson: former AT speed record holder 47 days, "do or die" style record setting, and his barkley race reports are THE BEST imo- and he has an extensive knowledge of wildflowers! When I mislabel flower pictures on FB, he is the first to help me out:P -- Jon Basham-- 9th barkley finisher, former Colorado trail speed record holder, Long trail record holder, many many ultrarunning accomplishments und and helluva nice guy. ( he and his wife hilary has THE BEST aidstation at Grindstone 100-- best breakfast burrito and muffins i've had in my life!) Travis Wildeboer: adventure racer, AT through hiker, long trail record holder and now 14th Barkley finisher.
Sophie and I were full of excitement as we drove to the park, hoping for an early start so maybe we could see 2 loops. We get to the park and go to the gift shop for some goodies and trail maps. Excitedly get to the camp ground and find the group of VHTRC runners who were running. Gary Knipling, sophie and I almost immediately decide to go for an 11 mile trail run in the rain, so we can see some of the course terrain, quitters roads, and trails of the park.
Quick stop to pose infront of the iconic yellow gate that is the start line/finish line
We had so much fun exploring! and learning!!! that was a very fun run in the rain and fog. We get back to camp and clean up, and begin to socialize during the chicken dinner! I was lucky enough to get a piece of Laz's famous chicken. THANK YOU!! It was so cool to meet so many characters that have been associated with this event over the past 15 years. I just tried to really meet as many people as I could and wrap my noggin around the culture of this race, and the people that are all apart of it.
here are some pictures of camp:
That night sophie and I went to bed at 9:47 ( early) because we were anticipating the conch to blow ( after it blows, the racers have exactly one hour before start time) any time that night.. well, the night came and went and we both were up at 4 and 5AM wondering when is the race going to start?! you could cut the anticipation of the camp with a knife it was so palpable. Finally, at 8:04 the conch sounds
Keith and Mike ready to roll!
here are some start line pics:
after the start, we cleaned up camp, and got our running clothes together so we could run to RatJaw to see the runners ( namely, the VHTRC runners keith, mike and eva) come through. Barkley has very strict rules that the race is self supported, you cant take anything from the runners, you can't give the runners anything, you can't TOUCH a runner while they are on the course, or they may get DQed.
I get to the top of the mtn, and froze for couple hours with GUY and RUDY!!!
the view from the top of the climb up Rat Jaw.. this is SOOO much steeper than it looks
Rudy is freezing so bad his teeth are chattering!
Keith and mike Reach Rat Jaw
myself, Sophie and alyssa at the top of rat jaw. alyssa's husband Travis is the 14th barkley finisher.
Then after our runners when through, we went back down the mtn ran back to camp, and stayed until Eva came through, she had a snafu with missing pages and had to go back out. Then unfortunately, sophie and I had to cut our barkley experience short because of family obligations and it being easter the next day. I would of LOVED to have stayed there the entire race and seen nick and travis finish. However, in my heart, I know I did the right thing by being there with my kiddos Easter morning.
post barkley impressions: WOW. anyone who finishes is not only super smart and mentally strong and can stay full on engaged for 3 days running in the woods, they are SUPER STRONG athlete. This is NOT like mindlessly following streamers in the woods. barkley is the next level of something practically unobtainable. I can easily see how people can get so fixated and obsessed with this race.
I will definitely be back next year in some capacity, whether crewing or......... maybe try to run a loop or two?? maybe?? probably crew and try to learn more about it. :)
ALL IN ALL it was THE BEST girls weekend I think I could ever have. Thank you sophie for being you-- I'm so happy I can share super fun memories like this with you, and we can be dorks about ultrarunning when it's just us, and its ALL GOOD:) ((HUG)) xoxo..