My First DNF: The 2018 Barkley Marathons




Photo: Leon Lutz



I am not liking the trend in titles on my blog lately; words like "fall" and "DNF".  Had I been able to put "pen to paper" on my Run Rabbit Run 100 experience I am sure the words "Epic $h!% Show" could have been a suitable designation for a blog entry.  They say we learn more from our failures than our successes so shouldn't I be an ultrarunning Yoda by now?

I struggled with what to write here. I will choose my words carefully. Everything about Barkley is steeped in mystery yet paradoxically common knowledge (I am not even sure that made sense, it just sounded fitting). The line between what is taboo and what is acceptable to be mentioned is somewhat blurry. I will stick to my experience here.



My Experience

Pre-Race

On March 22, I arrived to Frozen Head State Park along with my boyfriend Ryan, dog Titus, and good friend Leon Lutz (who had crewed for Heather Anderson and Jamil Coury in past years).  We had driven from PA in a rented Dodge Caravan.  Amelia Boone had already staked our claim to campsite 16.  Greg Armstrong, my good friend and former 24 Hour USA Teammate, had just got off the "weightlist" yesterday and was to share our site as well.  Three Barkley virgins all eager to start.

We got style. No one can argue that. Photo: Leon Lutz

My nerves were off the charts. I was OK until we pulled into the park and set up.  The gravity of the endeavor I was about to embark on hit me. My emotions had swung back and forth for months but in doing my research and training I was kept busy. The combination of taper and being in the park finally resulted in me being a ball of nerves.

After a tumultuous 4 hours between receiving 7 pages of written directions at check in and finally copying the book locations, noting my bearings, and making notes onto two copies of maps, to say I felt overwhelmed was an understatement.  Perhaps John Kelly sensed that or perhaps he just came over to see if he could offer any last minute insight but his calm demeanor and slow methodical way of breaking down each location was somewhat calming.  It was dark now though and the information overload was causing my brain to swim. I was absorbing nothing and I was mentally drained.  I decided it was time to lay down.

Map club! Photo: Leon Lutz

Ryan wants to know if it's time to go home yet. Photo: Leon Lutz
So does Titus.


John Kelly offers some last minute advice. Photo: Leon Lutz

Surprisingly sleepy, I tossed and turned for a bit. The soothing sound of rain drops began to fall on our tent. When I finally convinced myself that the conch was not going to be blown at any minute (even though it very well could be) I drifted off to sleep.  Although I have had anxious dreams before, I don't think I have ever experienced something quite so vivid. Waking dream after waking dream of missing the start. A level of inception I have never experienced. Twice I woke up relieved I did not actually miss the start only to still be in a dream and miss the start. When I finally woke up for real to the sounds of people moving about outside I was naturally skeptical that it was real. But too many earthly details were apparent. The dog had taken over most of my sleeping mat, therefore my back hurt and it was chilly. Yeah, I was in the real world. So naturally panic sets in, because in the real world I was to start this race called the Barkley.  My chest tightens. Why so much movement outside my tent!?! Was a conch blown? Leon assures me people are awake just because it's past 7AM and it is dawn.  We had slept through the night!


I got up and got dressed. I went to the bathrooms to put in my contacts and brush my teeth. It was still sort of dark out and on my way back to the tent I went to squeeze past Amelia's car and a tree and stepped right on the wet, slippery wood borders of the camp site. I fell very hard and squarely on my left butt cheek. I sat motionless leaned up against Amelia's car tire. She was inside studying the course directions unaware of what had just happened. I scamper back to my tent as shooting pains radiated through my glute. No!  I aint going out like that! After 10 minutes, I come to the conclusion that I will survive.

Approximately an hour and a half later, a conch is blown. It is 8:33am.  The race will start in one hour. I am mostly ready so this hour is surprisingly less hectic than I had envisioned it. I was a bit relieved to have a daylight start. With rain overnight and more rain forecast-ed for later I had a thin waterproof jacket in my pack as well as a lot of other Barkley necessities which I will list at the end.

Loop 1

Despite all the months of research, being armed with the directions, a map and my new found navigation skills (thanks Jim Demsko!) I knew following a Barkley veteran was my best bet.  I had also been told that the first 2 books would be pure chaos.  I stuck with a group of trusted veterans on the way up the Bird Mountain switch backs. The pace was surprisingly relaxed.  I knew it would not stay that way. Once we hit the turn onto the Cumberland Trail its a full on sprint towards the first book.  I arrived at book 1 already to a group of at least 10 runners.  I waited my turn to pull my page for what felt like an eternity. Amelia and Greg were already long gone by the time I pulled my page out. I hear Mike Wardian come in just behind me and congratulate me on getting my first Barkley book! Even in this chaos Mike took the time to offer these words of encouragement and it made me smile. Speaks volumes to what kind of competitor he is. I sprinted off in the direction that everyone before me had gone.  That was the last I would see Mike.

Two nights before the race in Knoxville. 

Part way down this first insanely steep decline (to be an incline on loop 2!), I took my only pause.  Under layers of decaying leaves, at least 15 other runners before me had uncovered a little black snake with bright green stripes. Probably terrified, it lay motionless (the temperature was only 50 degrees).  I am not proud to admit but I  have an irrational fear of snakes. I am mortified!. I had no choice but to bomb down hill past this snake. I was already in a sliding frenzy anyway. I was able to slightly alter my direction to the right of it (I had been on course to slide directly into). Even writing this I am getting the shivers thinking  what could have potentially been me and this tiny 12 inch snake tangled up in my shoes as I slide uncontrollably downhill. <shudder>  I held my breathe and slid downhill past the snake pushing downhill harder than ever picturing the snake frantically slithering after me. No time for silly snake phobias at the Barkley.

After this downhill I found myself on pace with Johann Steene.  After the climb up from Book 2, I lost Johann and I found myself alone.  I had already dry heaved a couple times trying to put down nutrition. How could I already be nauseous?!?  Was it nerves?  Every 100 I had done in 2017 had started with nausea in the first third of the race and it never got better from there.  I took an S-cap and just climbed. I was on my own but felt like I knew enough to get myself to each book. Just keep grinding and take it book by book.

Greg Armstrong, Grant Maughan and Johann Steene. 

After reaching the top and hitting "candy ass trail" I see Greg Armstrong waiting for me. I think it should be noted that Greg had just gotten back from a trip to Uganda building wells for the people there.  He had spent the prior week laid up in bed sick with some type of flu after his return.  I don't believe he had shaken whatever it was that knocked him out after his trip. His legs would cramps and get worse throughout the day.  He had only found out the day prior that he even had a spot in the Barkley but up until Uganda he had trained his butt off. Greg is an amazing human being and friend and I would need an entire blog to tell you Greg stories.  Instead, I recommend this East Coast Trail and Ultra Podcast with Greg and when you inevitably become a Greg Armstrong fan please consider a checking out his charity Run4Water. He also RD's a great 24 hour race end of February in Tennessee along with Steve Durbin appropriately called Run4Water.

So onward with Armstrong, we make it fairly smoothly to book  3 & 4 with out too much time wasted other than some second guessing as to which route to take from time to time.  We make it to the first water drop just in time because I was thirsty! Also here is where our group began to grow from just Greg and I to about 7 people. I can't remember exactly when I realized there were 7 of us but it happened. It was helpful to have that many eyes but there are also a lot of opinions to second guess each other and that is good for preventing mistakes but also a time suck. John Kelly had told me to trust my instincts and in hindsight I backed down too many times. We made it to Book 5 fairly quickly but spent about 20 minutes looking for it once we got there. Everyone was running all over the place.  We found it as another group was coming down to look as well. 



On to Book 6, no problem with some teamwork.  Our group ran ahead and I realized Greg was beginning to struggle.  He had been responsible for navigating that last section really well. I didn't want to lose him in the group. After grabbing our page from Book 6 we start running,  after choosing a more precarious route down a hill I see Greg sprint down a jeep road with another guy.  I go after him.  With me is a group of 4 or 5. We go after Greg but I lose him. Then the discussions start on where to drop down. This next section is a huge time suck.  I saw Anatolly describe it as a relatively short waste of time. I beg to differ. We lost at least 40 minutes to figure out where to drop down, where on the New River we where once we got down, even which way to follow the power lines which in hindset was the most clear instructions on the directions (and you don't get many of those).  I was so frustrated. I know it was 40 minutes because when we finally got to Book 7, I see Greg. He had felt bad he lost me in the confusion and had waited there 40 minutes. He said he was feeling really rough and welcomed the break.

A large group of us begin the next climb, I feel fresh which is good because Testicle Spectacle is a complete mess. It's a total mudslide. I do the only thing you can do. Dig my poles in and dig your feet in. Then repeat. At the top my two thin jackets prove too be too much. I am super sweaty. I wrestled to take the  red waterproof layer off but the yellow Patagonia Houdini jacket wants to come off too.  I had also failed to unzipper both jackets and they get stuck over my head as I attempt to  pull them over my head while zipped.  This is no big deal. Just some time wasted and a few witnesses: media folks at the top of the hill where all this was going down. God, I hope they don't captured this on camera I thought. I can see the photo caption now. "Woman at Barkley can't even find her way out of her jacket. What little hope does she have of navigating the course?"

Before I got lost in my jackets. pc: Howie Stern
Back in a larger group but careful to check my own bearings we found our way to book 8 fairly quickly and began to make our way to up the Prison Mine Trail which would link us up to Rat Jaw.  I started the climb with Liz and Eoin but part way up got so cold as the fog had rolled in, the wind had picked up and some sort of cold precipitation was falling from the sky. I wrestled my Houdini jacket back on and again had to tie my right shoe for the 13th time. I had tore my gaiter on the first decent which had also been functioning to keep my shoe lace tied (at least on one shoe). I then lost Liz and Eoin in the fog.  I trudged my way up Rat Jaw feeling pretty good. My legs felt strong all day other than a bit of shin cramping from time to time from sliding on the mud downhill. I had finally realized a better method to go down was turn side to side like a skier and ski down.

Photo: Leon Lutz


By the time I had reached the top of Rat Jaw, Liz and Eoin were headed down. I was greeted at the top by a cheery Leon and a few other hardy spectators, despite the horrible conditions. I couldn't imagine how bad it was to stand around in that. They acted like they didn't notice. I filled my bladder, grabbed my page and got the heck out of there.  Towards the bottom of Rat Jaw when it gets really steep I gave up trying to stay on my feet. I resorted to buttsliding. I had thought it would become painful to slide down on my ass due to the pre-race "slip and fall" but surprisingly nothing hurt.

Fog on Rat Jaw. Photo: Leon Lutz

Worse fog. Photo: Leon Lutz

I am on my own now and I get to wade through the prison on my own. It is just that. Some ankle deep water under the very dark prison tunnel. I grab the book and head up to the next one. I still feel good and climb as fast as I can. Maybe I have some momentum going.  I reach some capstones but know those are not the ones. I keep going.  I read my notes on my map looking for the tell tale landmarks. I replay what advice John Kelly gave me. It all makes sense except now that I am standing here nothing makes sense. I run into Remy who had separated from Liz and Eoin and could not find them or the book. We comb the capstones making sweeps back and forth. I call Liz's name because I hear shouting but can't tell where it is coming from.  Finally, I hear Nicki and her gang coming up again. She says, "Its over here. I will show you." We all grab our pages.  I notice Liz's page is gone so I don't bother to yell for her now. She must be one her way down to Book 12.

This next book was one I was most worried about, Book 12.  I ask Nicki if can just hang with her. She says yeah I just need extra eyes and to pay attention.  She tells me the tricks she typically uses to get down to this book, what features she looks for and follows.  Boom! Nicki nails this one. We end up standing straight in front of it.  We had even picked up Liz and Eoin again who had been standing near the creek looking at the map.  I thank Nicki and tell her I am going haul.

The sun sets enough that the headlamps are now on. It must be close to 8pm. I had hardly thought about the actual time of day all day. It was only a shade of grey and clouds.  I knew we were pushing a 12 hour lap and it made my heart sink.  I was hanging on to the hope that I knew this loop now and a fun run was still within possibility.  Physically I was fine. Great actually. If i could just maintain and not slow down, it was possible.

Four of us take off to the next book, I shoot a bearing and so does Eoin. I pick up a path up the hill choosing the steepest way possible. I can see mudslides leading the way.  People had already been up and down here already. Our navigation took us directly to the spot.  And what luck, we see a headlamp at the top. They are grabbing their page.  It is Jamil!! We pass some words of encouragement. He heads down and we head through the capstone to the candy ass trail on Chimney Top. It is insanely foggy now and the weather had deteriorated badly.  Liz does a great job of finding the green blazes and we find the trail. I check the direction we are heading and consult with Eoin. I don't want to make the mistake so many have made in the spot before and head int the wrong direction.  We are on the right track. Liz leads the way as the expert blaze finder. The trail itself is hard to see in the fog.


Finally, we make it to the switchbacks. It pouring rain now and we see the first flash of light in the sky. Its hard to hear each other because we all have our hoods up.  Who is going back out I say? This is followed by a purposeful, "I Am!" from Eoin. Good. How long in camp? Eoin says, "as quick as possible." I say under 10 minutes? He says perfect. And just like that I have my buddy to continue with on Loop 2. I knew I was going on with or without anyone as long as I had time to continue but it was nice to know I had such a strong runner and navigator to tackle this next loop with.

Lighting flashes and the entire forest is revealed.  Eoin's headlamps had gone out so I was running close behind him and Liz in front. Or maybe it was Remy. I don't remember and I could hardly see or tell who anyone is at this point. We see Johann coming up, as well as another pair soon after that.  And then Jodi soon after that. I assume Jamil was in the lead since I didn't see anyone else on counter clockwise and wonder how Gary is doing.  You can read about what happened with Gary here. The rain falls harder.  Thunder crashes. Lightning illuminates the sky.

We reach the turn off and head towards the old trail section.  Liz again is excellent at finding the old blazes and we make our way to the creek which we can hear raging now.  Onto the pathway and towards the lights in the parking lot. This time we see Amelia and John Burton heading back out. We exchange words and Eoin, Liz and I head towards the walking trail on our way back to camp.  I start running faster so I can get a jump on getting changed. I don't want to hold up Eoin and he sounded like he was going to be quick in and out. The rain is really coming down now.

I tag the yellow gate in just over 12 hours.


Loops 2

After 20ish minutes, I am back at the gate. Laz hands me bib number 117.  I begin to head toward Bird Mountain. Nope! Wrong way. "That's not a good sign," I tell Laz. Evil laughter from Laz. I turn around and begin to walk down the road backs towards Chimney Top. Eoin is grabbing his bib number.

Heading back up to Chimney Top now,  the trail is now a stream of water rushing down it.  We run/hike up and visibility is crap.   Finally nearing the top, we see headlamps coming back down.  It is Amelia!!! What!? (Read about her story here.)  She tells us her and John have been searching for the book this entire time. My heart sinks. That's a long time.

Working together we quickly locate the book. We head down to the next one. On our way down we see two guys who I believe were Tomo and another guy, (maybe Byron?) that had been with Wardian. They were determined to find all the books. Eoin navigates and we locate the book fairly quickly despite the conditions. Wasn't a home run like on the clockwise loop with Nicki though.  So far nothing is faster.  Tomo and  Byron (?) head up to Chimney Top.  We continue on and realize we have a problem. After debating on which way to go and cross what was now a raging river, we finally just choose a spot.  Much time is wasted.  Things are not looking up for this lap.  Using our poles to test the deepness of the creek we find a spot to cross and do so slowly. Falling and being submerged would mean certain hypothermia and the end of anyone's Barkley. I should also note that areas of the woods no longer looked the same. There were huge creeks were only hours before there had just been ditches or ravines.

Eoin leads the way up to Indian Knob.  We climb and climb until I see a faint light in the distance. It's a person!  Upon reaching the top we find Jamil! He has been lost in the fog and caught in the worst of the storm up there. He has soaked and cold and had taken shelter under a rock. All the while unable to locate the book.  We join forces and the Fab 5 is formed. I finally recognize a feature Nicki showed me and I know we are on the right track! We are getting close to it. Amelia announces she will now take a pee break and puts her poles down next to a rock outcrop and shouts, "the book!"  Boom! Team work.. or Pee Work! Either one who cares. We could finally move on.

Down to the Prison in what seems like an eternity. The light of Petros taunt us.  The ascent had been so straight forward but descending is always a different story.  Eventually, we come out near the prison and make our way to the book. Hope is basically diminishing for making up any time on this lap.  We know the prison water was going to be insane.  Johnny volunteers to go down and check it out. He says if you hug the side it should be fine. I climb down last.  The water is frigid. My feet go numb within seconds. And Jamil got it all on video. 

After we exit the prison tunnel we are standing below the ominous climb, Buttslide 3.0 and  Rat Jaw. All muddy as hell and steep as can be. I have no idea how long this climb takes. Seems like an eternity.  We all climb together carefully choosing a route. We use cables, briers and rocks to pull ourselves up. We are covered in mud from head to toe.  About where Rat Jaw cliffs out and you need to head to the right into the trees to climb around I notice my headlamp is about to go out. It feels like forever to find my back up headlight. I don't feel like changing the batteries plus its foggy and bright light won't help. I find the smaller light and jam the big one bag in my pack. Finally, I reach the top. It is cold and miserable on Frozen Head. Its eerily silent. Nothing like the first ascent.  Everyone grabs their pages. Fills their water, eats something and we begin the descent.

Many times I can't help but think we are on a hobbit journey.


And Jamil is Gandalf. An all knowing wizard, who disappears and reappears at the tops of hills. Photo: Leon Lutz

Part way down where Rat Jaw flattens for a bit right before the cliff section, I decide I need to pee for only the second time today (well third) if you count just before leaving camp between loops. I see Amelia and Johns headlamps faintly in the distance. As I am wrestling my tights back on I look at my surroundings and within seconds I can't see anything. I am enveloped in fog.  I can no longer make out any of the 4 headlamps before me. I can't even make out anything farther than a foot in front of me. I thought it was foggy before. This IS FOG!   I know the cliff section is coming so stick my LEKI pole out in front of me as a guide.  Luckily, I see two headlamps to my left and know that I need to head off  to the left of Rat Jaw around the cliffs. I do that and rejoin the power line. I start walking forward and realize NOPE. Still cliffs. Didn't go far enough. I turn around and head back into the trees. I try to follow the mud trail to the correct exit point. This time I am good.  I begin back down Rat Jaw but see no headlamps. I descend faster terrified to lose my group and worried about what might happen when we are not on a power line or some easy to follow jeep road.

A picture of fog from a training run on the Conestoga Trail.
Eventually, I catch up.  Using two methods, skiing and butt-sliding, I make it back to the group.  Amelia evidently chooses one method to get down; butt-sliding. She is at home in the mud and it is apparent. It makes me laugh and she also finds it hilarious.   Despite the grim reality that we are not going to make it in under cutoff at  this point, we are wet, cold and it is super foggy; we are still having fun. This isn't turning out to be the solitary, serious grind I had come for but this was the next best thing. If we all had to go down without an official 2 loop finish I guess this was the way to go. At no point during our trek did anyone even entertain the idea of NOT getting all our pages.  Guillaume, Amelia and I were all asked to be on Ginger Runner the week after Barkley. Ethan asked us what did we find as the biggest misconception of Barkley and I struggled with the answer at the time. But Guillaume's answer was perfect and he wasn't even with us! It was Fun. The Barkley can actually be fun at times.

I won't do a play by play for the next 8 books. The sun eventually rose sometime when we were on or near Stallion. We went down Leonard's Buttslide in the dawn hours and climbing back up were treated to an amazing view; a glowing ball rising in the sky to the East. This signaled better weather and made the remaining hours Out There very enjoyable. We didn't rush. We made our way around finding each book fairly quickly with Jamil's guidance. We took short breaks at the top of climbs and ate snacks.

Meanwhile back at camp. Photo Leon Lutz


 I forget where we were exactly when I looked at my watch and announced 26:40.  We had timed out officially. At the pace we were going we were about 4 hours from finishing. Meanwhile back at camp, Leon and Ryan  were faithfully waiting at the gate with a fresh pack all ready to hand me if I came tearing through in a rush to get back out. At 26:41 one in, Ryan took a bite of the hummus and avocado pita he made me.

At the second to last book, the temps were warming. We strip all our layers. I couldn't believe how many layers I fit in my VaporKrar 12L. Everything is caked in mud. We smell terrible.  We have two more climbs. The last one is huge!  We grind away.  After locating the last book we make our way back to the Cumberland Trail and onto the Bird Mountain trail. Jamil said there is no way he is running down. We all agree there is no need and we enjoy the hike down enjoying that last hour of each others company.

Famous pic by Leon Lutz. 



TAPS

Upon reaching the last switchback we tell each other this is it.  Our two loops come to an end. If it has to end this way I couldn't have chose 4 better people to end it with.  We begin to jog to the gate.  People are cheering us in. Finally, something is happening at camp.  A mass "Taps" concert is about to begin.  Amelia counts down to 1 and we all tap the gate. Tapped out at 30ish hours. Laz asks the questions, "Are you finishing with all your pages?" Yes we are, Laz! He doesn't count our 5 sets of pages though.  He tells us, "That it is for here," and touches his red "Geezer" toboggan (that's for you, John Kelly) "and for here" and touches his heart.

The end of a an unforgettable 30 hours. Photo: Leon Lutz

I am happy to be done but a part of me wants to crawl under a rock and scream in frustration.  After years of obsessing over this race and months of preparation none of it mattered. I was  happy with all that I had learned but disappointed in myself and how I executed it.  I made tons of mistakes. The weather didn't help but not trusting my instincts many times before the weather turned packed on time I didn't have. When I did strike out on my own I spent tons of timing finding an exact hiding spot. So who knows what was right? Maybe that was the best I could have done on that day.  My climbing felt strong but my overall speed had to improve. I have a laundry list of things I know I need to work on. The more I reflect the longer it grows. It easy for my current self to tell my past self  what I could have done differently. It seems even easier for those who watched from afar and those who have never been here to know exactly where I went wrong. Please, I'm all ears. However, only a few of those voices really matter. The ones who have been Out There.  I am now armed with a huge piece of the puzzle though;  a "vague knowledge of the course". At the very least I got a taste of all types of the Barkley loop; day, clockwise, night, fog, rain, counterclockwise.  Sure pieces are hazy but I have more to build on and learn from now than I did just 12 days ago.

SO WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

WARNING: LONG REFLECTIVE PART

Will I go back and try again? That is not for me to answer. Will I apply? Yes. That was never a question in my mind. Whether I want it to be or not (and sometimes believe me it would be nice to be able to walk away from something and just let it go), I am in all or nothing person.  When I ran Barkley Fall Classic in 2015, I wanted to win the entry. I got lost a ton but I loved every minute. I didn't win. And in the end, though I doubted my ability to do multiple loops at Barkley. Despite having the entry info, I refrained from applying for two years.  But it kept calling to me, as dramatic and hokey as it sounds. I just couldn't get it out of my head. When I finally applied this year I knew this would most likely be a multi-year endeavor. I would not have applied had I only wanted a taste of the Barkley. That is what the BFC is for.  Am I convinced I can be the first woman to finish? Heck no. That is the scariest, craziest part. I have no idea if I can EVER EVEN FINISH this race!  But oddly enough that sentiment hasn't changed. I didn't know for sure before and I don't know now.  Its challenge for a reason. So many factors, so much heart break, so much soul searching, soul sucking. One Barkley loop is a total roller coaster of hope and hopelessness.  So many emotions all experienced in only 1/5 of the race. But would I try again if I didn't think it was possible? What would be the point. As long as there is a glimmer of possibility I will go for it.

What I was ultimately searching for were my limits. Were they pushed? Absolutely. But did I reach the edge? Not even close. To reach that edge is a privilege.  Only a few have even come close and even fewer have surpassed the edge and met with utter disappointment or the ultimate victory.  In 2016, Leon Lutz took a picture of John Kelly that still haunts my brain to this day. It was just before he left on his 5th loop. He was so sleep deprived and moments later lay down off the trail and napped. Got back up and continued on only to wander back hours later. He came back again the next year, his third attempt.. and he finished. John Kelly found the edge. Peered over it and found a way across.


John Kelly peers over the edge. Photo: Leon Lutz


The Barkley is more than a means to an end for me. It's a journey. My winter training for Barkley made me fall in love with running again.  All of 2017, seemed lackluster for me. Training was hard and I couldn't get out of my slump. Running felt like a chore.  That all changed this winter.  I enjoyed the solitary, frigid hours climbing and descending. I explored new trails and places.  I enjoyed the time spent learning a new skill (land nav!) with a new friend, Jim Demsko.  I enjoyed hours and hours of following Jim Blandford up and down his beloved hills of Hamburg and Port Clinton. Facing much less adversity during the hours spent on my NordicTrack x11i incline trainer, I logged countless vertical feet. Hours upon hours. It was amazing to hop on and get over 3000 feet of gain in just an hour.  It was one of the biggest, game changing, advantages I had.  Thanks to Jam Jam's Mountain Outpost, Ginger Runner and countless Barkley videos I was kept occupied.

I can't end with out mentioning all the guidance I got from my coach, Michele Yates of Rugged Running. She crafted the most perfect training plan for me. I am excited to tackle the rest of the year with her and see what she comes up with for me next winter if I am given another crack at the Barkley. Super proud to rep as a Rugged Running Ambassador.

Thank you, Laz for giving me the opportunity. And everyone who has set foot on the course before us. We learn from  your mistakes and triumphs. To the Johns, Fegy and Kelly, I can't thank you enough for putting up with my questions. You guys are super human to me. You each have your own unique story.  I have begun to create mine and you are both a huge part.  Jamil, thanks for your insight as well, both pre-race and on course.

Leon and Ryan, what would  you guys have done with out each other? Haha  Just kidding. I'm sorry I was a crazy person between loop 1 and 2.  At least we all survived.  Thank you for helping me through it all. And hey! Everyone was actually pretty impressed with our transition time all things considered! What did y'all learn? "Barkley is the ultimate challenge." Now you know.

Also thanks for the support from the following:
NATHAN
Kahtoola
Trail Toes
Drymax
Endurance Tap
Oofos


If you are not Barkley-ed out yet here are two more podcasts for your Barkley fix.

East Coast Trail and Ultra Podcast with Ryan Ploeckelman 
Obstacle Racing Media Podcast with Matt B. Davis


Peering over a literal edge. (Training Run at Pulpit Rock) Photo: Jim Blandford


FOR THE GEAR JUNKIES

What I used:

  • NATHAN VaporKrar 12L
    • I crammed a ridiculous amount into this pack
  • LEKI Micro Trail Pro (trekking poles)
    • I have not managed to snap these despite being heavily used for 4 months. I have yet to hear of anyone being able to snap a LEKI pole.  Love the hand straps too!
  • Drymax Knee high Hiking Socks 
    • My new favs. I will probably just wear these as my regular trail running socks now. Maybe not the knee highs though.  They have crew and quarter too.
  • Kahtoola MicroSpikes
    • I used these on most training runs this winter. It was one of the messiest, coldest winters I remember in my life. They saved me from countless more hours that would have otherwise been spent on the incline trainer. 
  • Trail Toes and Trail Tape
    • No one single blister! in 30 hours. I used the Trail Tape preventatively for the first time and change socks and reapplied after loop 1. Winning combo.
  • Endurance Tap
    • So convenient and easy to carry. It's maple syrup with just salt and ginger. You can't go wrong.  It has saved my butt so many times.
  • Various Rugged Running Swag
    • Had my shirt and buffs. Multiple buffs always!
  • Altra Timps
    • In the mud they were the only choice. It was between those and the Lone Peaks. They served me well in the conditions.
  • Altra Wasatch Jacket
    • Kept the water out and the stink in.  But seriously, this was my go-to jacket for training and a necessity in the pouring rain on Loop 2. I like that it is longer too and gives your lower half some extra coverage as well. 
  • Patagonia Houdini Jacket and Pants
    • Both items pack up super small and actually keep you warm.  Although they are not waterproof they do trap heat and give you added warmth.  They also dry out super fast. I basically had the Houdini Jacket for every run this winter.
  • Muir Energy
    • For slow burning fuel, I used the cashew vanilla and cacao almond varieties. Some have mate for that extra boost.
  • Uncrustables
    • Pre-made PB&J sammiches with no crust!!?!? Duh!
  • Perfect Bars
    • Made from nut butters and over 300 calories a bar.
  • Dirt Girl Gaiters
    • Loop 2. Held up great!
  • OOfos Sport Slide
    • Post race necessity; except I lost one during the car ride home and I am dying without them. I live in these things! 
  • Gloves
    • Lots of gloves.  There were necessary for all the sliding around on the ground we did. Not so much for briers.
  • Black Diamond Icon
    • Big headlamp
  • Black Diamond Storm
    • Back-up headlamp
  • Suunto Orienteering compass (2 of them)
    • Don't ask me which model
  • Back Country Edge


Comments

  1. Awesome post! Way to capture an incredible experience. I am just starting the process of trying to uncover the Barkley secret. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thank you Maggie for your beautiful, thoughtful and detailed race report. I'm sorry your run didn't go as planned, and I'm awed by your all-in type spirit and determination. I wish you all the best in your future adventures.

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  3. You see, I could never do Barkley because I am not smart enough to string together these words in a sentence: paradoxically common knowledge. Yet, you were able to do so in the 2nd paragraph after wandering for hours in the Tennessee mountains with other lost souls.

    P.S. I loved every word of your report.

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    Replies
    1. I dunno. This whole paragraph you just wrote made me LOL. And I have no idea where that phrase came from. The Barkley demands a certain unequivocal and idiosyncratic language in order to accurately describe it.

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  4. This was eye opening. Especially the part about being in the group but conflicted about following your own instincts. I hope you go back and find your limit!!! You are a brave soul!

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  5. Enjoyed it, thanks for a great report!

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  6. LOVE this! What a raw experience! Thank you for sharing it with so much honesty and humor.

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