On Saturday morning, I toed the line of the Barkley Marathons. Fifteen hours later, I got tapped out. What happened was both humbling and uplifting. I met some incredible athletes and courageous spirits. I got to witness early spring in the legendary Brushy Mountains while climbing somewhere around 15,000’ in the first 25 miles.
During my brief visit, Barkley taught me things no other race has. I learned that I’m laps behind my ambition, but there is still time to get there. What follows is a brief summary of my weekend:
I woke up early Friday morning puking. Whether it was a virus, grease overload from dinner out, residual nausea from post-dinner screening of Food Inc., or just pre-race nervousness, I don’t know. Whatever it was, it couldn’t have come at worse time. My body was weak and depleted as I rode out with Byron to TN later that morning.
Many thanks to Adam for hooking me up with a homemade kale, banana, blueberry, hempseed, seaweed (and whatever else) smoothie! I also got a chance to pick up a 46 oz. bottle of V8. This liquid nutrition sat well, but Barkley is not an event you want to arrive to feeling queasy about solid food. My original plan of eating as much as possible Friday and at least 3000 calories per loop over the weekend was in jeopardy.
Early Friday afternoon, Byron and I joined Carl at a campsite in Frozen Head. When Gary handed me my packet and number, he looked at me and said something like: “Now at this point you’re running. But if something comes up and you can’t, there are people here that will buy that number off you for a good price in a New York minute…”
Like every other lost soul, I transcribed the new route from Gary’s map and then went away to hide from the drizzle in my tent. I faded into and out of consciousness. I slept for hours and did not eat. At 4 PM, I sluggishly got up. My body felt weak. I selfishly thought: I’m here, I’m going for it. I started packing my gear and planned to carry my full pack even on loop 1, not knowing what to expect.
Scott, Liz and Carl’s dad joined us in camp. They provided great moral support. I forced down half a subway sandwich, some mac and cheese and then hung out for a bit with the Greats. I retired to my tent around 9 PM. I slept well; the sound of the conch echoing in the darkness signaled an hour till the start. I looked at my watch, it was 6:10 AM.
Outside my tent, the camp was coming to life. Scott had coffee going, I heated water for oatmeal and forced four packets down. It was reassuring to get those calories. With only minutes left, I scrambled to dress my feet. There was not enough time to pre-tape, so I lubed and laced up and trotted over to the yellow gate. The Greats were there, I slinked in beside them. Unlike any other race, this one started with the lighting of a cigarette and everyone walking.
It was frosty at the start, but the day promised to be sunny. I eventually fell in behind Mike Dobies. I enjoyed his company and tried to soak up some of his wisdom about the course. Meanwhile, I attempted to keep up with hydration and fueling, but was running a deficit that really sunk in by the time we got to Rat Jaw. At the summit of Frozen Head, we regrouped with water and food and prepared to descend directly to the prison. The new route goes through a tunnel underneath the old prison.
Simply put, the last half of the course, the part I’d never seen before, is the stuff of nightmares. It’s rugged and it’s relentless. I loved it, but doubted my resolve to repeat it all again at night. Mike, Scott and Liz convinced me to go back out. Scott and Liz took great care of me in camp. Although my body was in good shape, my head wasn’t in the game.
I didn’t like the idea of relying on someone else (or worse still, Gary’s novelette) to find my way. I also didn’t like what I had for calories. I was parched and everything I had seemed so dry: the dried fruit, nuts, even the subs. Nothing seemed appealing. The times when I’ve been successful on adventures, I could eat and drink with ease.
At Book 1, I decided to bail. I still had a couple hours of night hiking to get back to camp. The full moon was out, and the wind was blowing hard. All in all, it was a beautiful night and I thought of the amazing people moving ahead of me. My thoughts turned to future aspirations. I passed Mike. We didn’t speak about the inevitable, and left each other to our own wildness.
Barkley is awesome. The people of Barkley are awesome. Everything I experienced in my defeat was awesome. Big props to JB and the others who are laps ahead. I think the biggest prize from this weekend other than meeting great people and exploring some beautiful places is this: I’m less afraid to fail than I was before.
My body is hardly trashed, I’ve learned some things that will be applied to future adventures. The training continues today.
1 day ago