Let’s take this one from the top. The Barkley Marathon’s are the somewhat disputed pinnacle of ultra running achievement, or at the least, badassery. The race takes place each year in Frozen Head State Park (TN), as close to April Fool’s Day as possible. I will not go into too many details as the internet is filled with the lore and legend of the race, made even more epic by the release of the 2015 documentary, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young. In short, runners start at a random time, one hour after the blowing of a conch shell and concurrent with the lighting of a cigarette. The course is only sort of marked with “runners” using a map and compass to guide themselves along a 20ish mile loop to randomly hidden books that serve as way points along the course. Competitors must run the loop in alternating directions for a total five loops (on the last loop, the first one back picks the direction and the remaining runners are distributed clockwise and counterclockwise based on that decision – not that there are too many runners to have to worry at that point). And by the way, you have to cover the 5 loops of nearly 130ish miles, 54,200 feet of elevation, thorns, poisonous snakes, frigid temps, wasps, and white walkers (the last obstacle is a joke – sort of) in 60 hours.
The Barkley Fall Classic (BFC), is NOT the Barkley Marathons. It does have its similarities, particularly that both are the brain child of Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus “Laz” Lake), both take place in Frozen Head State Park, and both cover similarly grueling terrain in the park. The BFC is held in September and participants sign up to complete a 50K . . . sort of. The reality is that at roughly 20 miles into the race, at Laz’s checkpoint, you are given a choice, to head downhill another several miles to a marathon finish (which is actually more like 30ish miles) or keep suffering and continue to the end of the 50K (which is actually more like 40-43ish miles).
[READER’s NOTE: I keep giving miles as an “ish” as GPS is not allowed during the race. You bring your toy, you go home DQ’d. You share the map or try to run portions of the course on private property (outside of race day), you get DQ’d and banned.]
2018 will be the the 5th running of the BFC, which was designed to give runners just a taste of the real Barkley Marathons. And that’s where it all begins. Word has gotten out about this race, in no small part to the documentary and pop culture coverage of the Barkley Marathons. Not surprisingly, when word go out about registration for this race the ultra running (and running) community lost its collective mind. Like Cinderella, the registration opened at precisely midnight central time on Saturday, September 23rd. And literally hundreds of prospective runners crashed the ultrasignup site to snag the coveted 400 or so spots. With seemingly no rhyme or reason, some folks got invited to the dance and others were smashing pumpkins on the wait list. Running partners and couples were separated across wait list lines and experienced streakers with plenty of croix de barques to their name were locked out while newbies on a whim gained admittance.
And then they took to the BFC Facebook page and social media in storm. Newbies claimed streakers were selfish, streakers felt the newbies should have more experience before facing the task, and some even used the vile word, “unfair”. There were demands for a registration lottery or showing a “running resume” to level the playing field. To the credit of Laz, he came forth and “nipped it in the bud” and explained what happened with the website and was completely transparent about the wait list and how some people are specifically jumped to the front of the wait list line to be put into the race (e.g. streakers, some internationals, folks with a real shot to “win” the race, other geographical/logistical reasons) but most will rise and fall with the ebb and flow of drop outs.
And so why do I write this post? Well dear reader, I was one caught in the midnight masses. My husband and I have thought of doing this race for a number of years and it just so happened that the stars aligned that we were able to attempt registration this year. As fate would have it, I registered my husband first and he was one of the lucky (or unlucky ones) who got in and I am wait listed. Laz does not typically release the wait list as it tends to create a lot of fussiness and unrest so I have no idea how far out of the entrants I sit on the list. Laz has conceded however, that there are 600+ persons on the wait list. And I have said very little on social media and have simply watched. And here is what I have learned:
The BFC is a microcosm for pretty much everything in life. Sometimes you come prepared and you still get left out in the cold. Sometimes teams and partners get divided and are forced to tackle a challenge by themselves. Sometimes life is really not fair and those we see as deserving are not allowed to compete while those we see as wanting are given top billing. And as is often the case, everyone thinks they are more justified than the next person. . . and there is epic whining. What I have learned, is that it’s not about the entrants or the wait list or the social media. We can only control our training and our racing.
But perhaps most of what I know is that that just as in life, I do not know the day or the hour (if at all) that I will be called up, so I must be ready. We are already working on Joel’s training plan and I will be right there doing squats, hill repeats, bear crawls, and every other torturous thing along with him so that he is ready . . . and so am I, if I get the chance.