Tag: trailrunning

The Barkley Fall Classic (BFC) – A microcosm for  . . . everything

The Barkley Fall Classic (BFC) – A microcosm for . . . everything

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.

Running Adventures – Sewanee Perimeter Trail

Running Adventures – Sewanee Perimeter Trail

One of the parts I enjoy the most about running is the storytelling.  Our sport is so unique in the fact that we share much of our running lore and knowledge through mentoring and storytelling.  We have all been through grueling races and training runs only to spend hours reminiscing the misery and adventure later.

Last weekend myself and several members of our running group, the Mad Cow Running Company (credit to Tyler our “hype-man” for the videos and water drops), visited the Sewanee Perimeter Trail.  The trail stretches roughly 20 miles along the perimeter of the campus, within the Boundary of the University of the South and follows the bluff line of the Cumberland Plateau.  The trail is mostly single track trail but does cross a few logging roads and runs on a paved portion near the local farmer’s market.  The primary users of the trail are hikers and trail runners but there are some mixed use portions for horses and mountain bikes.

Our herd met at 8 am on Saturday at the Memorial Cross.  We parked at the few spaces afforded by the small gravel lots near the cross and took a moment to check our gear and water, as well as, to take in the view of the cross and the valley which it overlooks below.  The temperatures were already in the 80’s and forecasts called for temps to soar into the 90’s by noon with heat advisories and “real feel” temperatures expected to hit well into the hundreds.  Two of our cows were kind enough to do early morning water drops at 8.4 and 14.2 miles.  With temps as they were, we knew that we would easily go through our multiple liters of water during the 20 miles.

Five little bovines set off on the trail going counter-clockwise away from the Cross.  For most of the first mile we did “power hiking” as the trail winds through some rocky portions that required a bit of finessing and climbing over rocks.  In my opinion, the first mile is the prettiest but doesn’t have the great overlooks of the later portions of the trail.  The sweaty herd alternated a mixture of walk and run intervals with the goal of taking it nice and easy to keep from getting overheated and planned to average about 15 minutes/mile.

The trail was a mixture of more technical portions covered with roots and rocks with more groomed portions that were very runnable.  It goes without saying that there were hills.  Many hills.  The herd made it to the first water drop without major incident.  We did have to make a few minor detours as parts of the trail were “under construction”.  We were all grateful for the water drop as we had all nearly emptied our supplies of water in the first 8 miles.  I won’t share the indecent comments made during the exuberance of having ice cold water.

And then the herd was off again.  After a few miles, the cow in front of me stepped off the trail to let two oncoming runners pass.  Said cow yelped.  Not being the yelping type, I looked up to find said cow flailing and yelping and running away at speed. . . and a nest of yellow jackets.  With no time to spare I changed course and shouted a warning to the runner behind me.  But the damage was done and one of our herd had picked up a half-dozen or more stings.  According to Wikipedia, yellow jackets are a hazard on this trail – nailed it.

After a quick assessment, our wounded cow was still able to continue and did not appear to be majorly allergic to stings.  But, after a few miles our cow had itchy hands, swollen appendages, full body hives, and looked like he just got punched in the mouth.  So as our herd often does in the case of an emergency, we huddled up and problem solved.  Mercifully we were close to our next water drop which was also near a road.  By taking the road, we were only 2ish miles from the cars rather than the 5-6 miles remaining on the trail.  Half the cows ran to get their cars.  One car to gather the wounded cow; one car to grab Benadryl and Zantac.

And this cow, this cow called our herd nurse who wasn’t able to join us but knew exactly what to do.  She provided me with precise dosing instructions of what to take and how often.  Let me just say, a person can consume a lot of Benadryl before they will overdose.  Thanks to the quick work of the cows, we had a happy ending with everyone making it home safely and one cow having one heck of a Benadryl hangover.

The moral of this story is stick together and carry a better first aid kit on the trails.  As for the future, the cows will be out running this trail and many others in the future.  And in time, this story will move into the annals of running lore where 6 stings became 50 stings and yellow jackets become dragons.  And more importantly, where cows become legendary.