2011 Race Report
By Brett Maune
Prior to Barkley, my only real ‘ultra’ experience to speak of was my breaking of the JohnMuir Trail (JMT) speed record in 2009—a record that had been broken repeatedly inrecent years by people calling themselves “ultra runners”. This is how I was introduced tothe world of ultra running. After the JMT run, I investigated the backgrounds of the ultrarunners associated with the earlier JMT records and devoured all information I could findon the internet about things called “ultra marathons”. I was shocked to learn that peoplewere running in organized 100 mile events and that I could live on this planet for so longand not be aware of this sport. I had been doing ultra-length hikes and mountaineeringadventures ever since moving out to California for school. In some ways I lived in aparallel universe to the world of ultra running but somehow there had never been anintersection.
I proceeded to investigate the various 100 milers to see if any in particular piqued myinterest. The two that towered among all others were the “hardest” ones: Hardrock andBarkley. I applied for Barkley’s entry in 2010, which Laz promptly rejected. I appliedagain in 2011—with nothing on my thin “ultra resume” but the original JMT run—andwas very thankful to be accepted and given the opportunity to attempt the run. Upongetting the acceptance “condolences” from Laz I responded:
Laz,My deepest thanks! It is ON!
…and it was ON! I had been anticipating acceptance and had already begun trainingmonths prior.
The mission was to complete 5 loops. There would be no compromises in this. Period.Beyond the usual difficulties encountered by people trying to achieve this, as a virgincourse navigation would be a major additional obstacle. I knew I would need help from aveteran to learn as much about the course as I could. To facilitate this I tried constructinga list of veterans who had 5 loop aspirations. Unfortunately Laz was not cooperative inthis endeavor and as a rule does not divulge the participant list. He leaves that choice upto the participants themselves. By race day I only had two prospects: Carl Laniac andBlake Wood. A mutual friend had suggested Carl and we exchanged numerous emailsconcerning run strategy before the race. In the end, Carl became the source of most of mysecond-hand Barkley knowledge and I am incredibly indebted to him for this.
My dependence on following a veteran influenced various strategy elements. Essentially,during a loop there could be nothing that I did that was slower than a veteran because thatwould create the possibility of losing contact with him, which would severely jeopardizea successful run. Therefore, for instance, I could not use a hydration bladder since whenever it needed filling, doing so would take longer than someone simply filling bottles. Another goal I had by necessity was to be more fit than any veteran so that I could not be dropped (not that veterans have been known to drop virgins or anything!). Furthermore, I wanted to be sufficiently fit such that I would not struggle to maintain the usual loop 1 race pace so I could concentrate on learning course navigation to the greatest extent possible.
Blowing of the Conch
“F*%#, I’m not completing the Barkley.” I thought to myself. There was no mistakingthe first blast of conch shell. Gary had done exactly what some had suggested and blew itshortly after midnight. Ever since arriving at Frozen Head I had been getting horriblesleep. Two nights before I even slept in a motel to try and get a decent night’s rest butstill failed. Friday night I tried sleeping early but tossed and turned with eyes wide openwhen the conch blew. I had gotten zero sleep and would be starting the Barkley sleepdeprived and knew the ominous implications of this for a successful completion. Myinability to sleep had occurred the night before my planned 2009 JMT run as well, whichI subsequently delayed a day for this reason. Of course here I did not have the luxury ofchoosing a starting time and had to face the consequences. My restlessness before suchevents stems from their significance—between work, family, and insufficient sleep,Barkley training consumed ~100% of my ‘free time’ for months and created an enormousamount of personal stress, which culminated with a bout of exhaustion just three weeksbefore the race. How could I be relaxed on the eve of the race? This was a huge deal!Regarding whether the early start was advantageous or not, if one’s goal were 5 loopsthen the early start meant finishing before the peak heat on Monday, but I believe thiswas far outweighed by the 4 words: solitary nighttime loop 5. The majority of loop 5would need to be done in darkness, alone, when one is most tired and likely to screw upnavigation—which I did—multiple times.
Loop 1: Initiation
As T0 approached I vacillated over which pack to take. It was cold at the time and Icouldn’t decide whether to be conservative and take a larger pack to store more coldweather gear or risk a smaller one. I mentioned my dilemma to Carl and he recommendedthe smaller one as we would soon be warm when ascending Bird. I eventually concurredwith a couple minutes to spare and used the small pack for the entire race.
Everything happened so fast when I ran to the gate. Before I knew it, the cigarette was litand the 2011 Barkley Marathons officially had begun! Most started power walking uptowards Bird with only a few running. Being the scared virgin I was, I tried staying closeto Carl. Soon though Blake started pulling ahead and I decided to follow. Before the race,I always envisioned Carl, Blake, and I—all with 5 loop intentions—to run together for alarge chunk of the race so I didn’t think much of the early split from Carl. Besides, thefirst several miles were on good trails so I would never really lose contact with Carl.Early in the descent down from Bird, Blake suggested I pass as he would likely be slowon the descent. I said I didn’t mind but he insisted and so I went. Now I was in front ofboth the veterans, which was definitely not part of the plan. Apparently Blake then dropped a trekking pole and fell further behind. The next and only time I would ever see him again would be when Alan and I were descending Big Hell on loop 3 as he wascoming up during loop 2. This was unfortunate as I was looking forward to talking withsuch an experienced Barkley/Hardrock runner. In any case, when I arrived at the PhillipsCreek book I waited a couple minutes and then proceeded slowly up towards Jury Ridgeuntil Carl caught me.
A group of ~5 of us runners made good time to the Garden Spot all the while the distantrumble of thunder steadily approached. When we got to Fyke’s Peak the intensethunderstorm was upon us, which proceeded to pound us with a downpour of pea-sizedhail. There were numerous lightning bolts that struck very close with no discernible delaybetween the flash and the bang. After only about five minutes the storm left as quickly asit had arrived and we again had a nice cloudless starry sky.
I was now part of the lead group which I believe consisted of Alan, Byron, Henry, withCarl masterfully guiding us down the south side of Stallion in darkness. We soon were atthe book at the base of Testicle Spectacle. After everyone got their page the groupdecided to take a short food/water break before attacking the first briar infested climb. Ichose to go ahead so I would have some extra time to deal with my first briar patch incase I needed it. I started up the power line cut carefully pushing each briar out of mypath and making slow progress. The group quickly caught me about halfway up and rightabout the time I chose a poor path through the briars and found myself retreating througha nasty patch. During this retreat, my right thigh got multiple simultaneous deep slashesfrom a single bloodthirsty briar. After a string of curses I yelled (mostly) in jest “More!More! I want more!” to the delight of the others. This was my initiation into the truenature of the Barkley.
The briars continued causing me problems for the remainder of the loop. DescendingLower Rat Jaw, where they were particularly bad, I again started falling behind theothers. This wasn’t in the plan. Fortunately, my learning curve for traveling through briarpatches was quick and I drastically improved my technique and efficiency by the end. AtTesticle Spectacle I was grabbing individual briars to move them out of the way, whichwas exceedingly slow. By the end I was outright ignoring many of the small briars andjust walked through them and endured the pain and cuts. My original leg armor (spandexlegs) also had some deficiencies which included the annoying habit of regularly slippingdown and exposing my thighs and knees to the briars. After loop 1 I told JB that “myarmor sucks” and he graciously offered some of his protective pants, which worked muchbetter when I needed to wear them.
The rest of loop 1 was uneventful and I was happy when we reached the last book atChimney Top. I didn’t feel that stressed after loop 1 and while jogging back to camp Icommented to Carl that I could see 5 loops being “doable”.
While in camp during the pit stop I immediately saw the value of having good support.“What do you want to eat? Take off your shoes. What do you want in your bottles?” firedoff JB. Had I not been the target of this rapid fire questioning and needing to considerresponses, I would have stared back slack-jawed in amazement. Between him and Elise, I was in good hands. These two knew what they were doing.
Loop 2: Growing Confidence
Carl, Alan, and I arrived at camp together after loop 1 and agreed to leave for loop 2 inabout 20 min. When the time arrived Carl was still not ready and he told Alan and I to goahead and he would catch up to us. Alan and I held back our pace while ascending Birdand we could see Carl several switchbacks below us, but he never caught us for the restof the race. I was now dependent on Alan for navigation, which was not part of “theplan” but I wasn’t concerned. During loop 1 Carl and Alan frequently consulted eachother on navigational issues and I got the impression Alan was an extremely competentnavigator who knew the course quite well, with the exception of Stallion. As we walkedtowards Stallion from the Garden Spot he informed me of this and I told him I knew theway down pretty well (Carl had given me a tour of Stallion before the race). I admit I felta sense of pride at this point taking charge—albeit briefly—of navigation with a veteran.I was very excited when I nailed the descent from Stallion, but this would not be the caselater in the race.
The rest of loop 2 was pretty uneventful and I took every opportunity I could to ask Alanabout the tricky navigational points in the course as we encountered them and to absorbas much of his knowledge as possible. Loop 2 was more enjoyable than the first. I wasgetting closer to becoming independent, which I knew must happen at some point for a 5loop completion.
Loop 3: Loyalty
Thanks to the early blowing of the conch, the first reverse loop (3) started in darkness. Iknew at the beginning of the race that I would need to stick with a veteran through atleast the first half of loop 3. I thought going solo before this point would be unnecessarilyrisky. This requirement could have created a problem though if I followed someone whocouldn’t maintain a 5 loop pace. Fortunately, this hadn’t been an issue for the first 2loops, but this was soon to change.
Loop 3 started with one of the toughest navigational challenges—descending Big Hell indarkness. Alan totally nailed this despite my interference. After doing much of thedescent, he realized we had missed the usual turning point for the final approach to theBeech tree. He compensated for this and calculated the new bearing, which ended upbeing spot on. Of course all this took time and I began suggesting we should just headstraight down and then backtrack upon reaching the stream. He eventually convinced methat he was confident with his calculations and moments after we headed in the newdirection we encountered a group climbing from the direction of the Beech tree on theirloop 2, which confirmed Alan was right.We then steadily made progress up Zipline, Rat Jaw, and then Meth Lab Hill. I believe Ifirst noticed Alan begin to struggle during the Upper Rat Jaw ascent, which became muchmore pronounced on Meth Lab Hill. At this point I became really concerned with ourpace and knew unless Alan experienced a miraculous recovery I would need to leave him.
I knew the slow pace we were making would eventually jeopardize a 5 loop finishbut even before that it would prevent me from breaking Brian’s course record—asecondary goal which had started to emerge in my mind during loop 2.
Regarding the Barkley record, given how the Barkley course routinely is made moredifficult (not to mention the massive variance in race conditions from year to year), onecould argue the value and relevance of even having a record for such an event. When Ifirst became interested in running the Barkley (and was clueless about its nature), myoriginal goals were to both complete it and to break the record on the first attempt. I knewachieving both would be highly improbable, but they were the initial goals nonetheless.Reading Frozen Ed’s book about the history of the race though convinced me thatpursuing the record was far beyond “impractical” and so the record faded into the back ofmy mind…until loop 2. I was surprised at how good I was feeling after the second loopand began thinking I had a shot to break Brian’s record. I knew loop 3 would be a criticaltest of this pursuit.
So we were at the top of Testicle Spectacle and I knew I needed to pull ahead, but I didn’tknow when I should do it. I was incredibly appreciative of Alan (and earlier Carl) forsuccessfully navigating the course and teaching me all they knew. I would have had nochance of completing 5 loops without their earlier help and therefore owed them anenormous debt. Since Alan was sketchy on navigating Stallion (especially at night) Idecided that regardless of the time penalty I would get him safely up Stallion. At thatpoint he could follow trails all the way back to camp.
The ascent of Stallion was painfully slow and I incessantly looked at the clock. To top itoff, I botched the ascent too. At the time I didn’t recognize a lot of the terrain and didn’tknow exactly where we were but in hindsight I don’t think we were ever far from theoptimal route. The darkness and sleep deprivation just made it harder to see terrainfeatures and realize that we were fine. Eventually we got to the summit and I ripped outour pages.
After delivering Alan safely to Stallion and achieving my objective, I immediately startedhammering towards Garden Spot and sought to salvage as much time as possible for theloop. I ran every downhill all the way back to camp and was shocked to make it back acouple minutes shy of 12:00 running time. Given all that happened on the loop and thefact it was the first reverse and nighttime loop, breaking Brian’s record—and notcompleting 5 loops—became my top goal. I waited another loop before I divulged this toanyone.
Loop 4: Going Solo
Being a virgin, I was forced to follow veterans around the course until I felt sufficientlycomfortable with navigation. The early conch blowing meant the first reverse loop (3)would be at night, which virtually meant I had to stick with veterans at least through thetricky navigation parts of that loop—which is essentially what happened. Fortunatelywhen the time came to break out on my own I felt comfortable doing so.Upon preparing to leave I told JB that I was going to do loop 4 in 10 hours. He seemed a bit surprised at this. I assured him I still felt really good and that I didn’t think I wasslowing down anymore. I wanted loop 4 done in 10 hours because that would give me 12hours, including rest time between loops, to break Brian’s record. Given all that happenedon loop 3 and the fact it still took only 12 hours, I felt I would have no trouble breakingthe record if given 12 hours to do so on loop 5.
And so I was off. I pushed hard up the Chimney Top trail. Navigation down Big Hellwent very well given it was the first time I had done it alone. I zigzagged somewhatduring the descent to help verify I was on the correct ridge and had to bushwhack a bit asI approached the book, but in the end I nailed the book and did not have to backtrack. Forthe ascent up Zipline I initially started going far to the right but soon realized the mistakeand contoured to the left and eventually got to the ridge within 50 ft of the book. I hadminor navigation hiccups on Lower Rat Jaw but then flew up Upper Rat Jaw and arrivedat the tower 4:15 from camp. I was feeling very good at this point and thought that mycamp-to-tower time corresponded to about a 9 hour loop pace. Given the improvedterrain for the last third of the loop, I thought if I could still hammer I might be able to doloop 4 in 8:30. Needless to say, I was pumped.
I flew down Rat Jaw, Pig Head Creek, and up Meth Lab Hill. Ascending Meth Lab Hillwas a solar oven. The afternoon sun shown directly on the steep power line cut and it washot—by far the hottest yet for the 2011 Barkley. I was dripping sweat from my arms andhat bill and the sweat was causing the briar cuts to sting. I probably should have sloweddown due to the heat but it was hard for me to go slower than I thought I could sustain. Ithink I was pretty dehydrated by the end of the race and the dehydration likely started onloop 4. In the previous three loops I drank entirely from the two water drops and carriedat most ~52 ounces with me. On loop 4 I filled at least a 20 ounce bottle at everyreasonably clean stream crossing and probably drank as much during loop 4 than theprevious 3 loops combined.
The heat combined with the relentless pushing finally took their toll during the ascent upStallion and my stomach rebelled. I dramatically slowed to prevent throwing up andalternated between walking at a slow and moderate pace most of the way back to camp.Even so, I finished in 10 hours—somehow right on target.
Loop 5: Paranoia
As instructed JB “woke” me after a 30 minute rest (I was too jacked up to sleep and wasstill wide awake) and then I let the secret of my intentions out. “What is Brian’s record?”I thought it was 55:42 but felt I should confirm that just to be sure. Amidst packing thenews of the fire on Fodderstack was divulged to me and that Laz was currently discussingwhat to do about it with the ranger. The original plan was for me to take a cell phone andto call the ranger from Stallion. At that point I would learn what I could or could not do.As I was preparing to leave it sounded like the course change decision would be madesoon and I decided to wait a few minutes. Losing a few minutes was well worth thecertainty of knowing what the new course would become.Laz came by the van and proceeded to tell me the decision. After descending Stallion tothe New River, I would get the book at the base of Testicle Spectacle but then retrace mysteps to highway 116, which I would follow to Armes Gap. Then I would head up thejeep road into the park and descend to Pig Head Creek. At that point the regular courseresumed. I did not like it and immediately saw the implications. The straight lines ofTesticle Spectacle and Meth Lab Hill were replaced by a curvy highway and a curvy jeeproad, followed by the descent to Pig Head Creek, which was orthogonal to both roads. Iknew this would take considerably longer than the original course and that I was probablyfacing the end of my pursuit of the record. Laz knew I was not happy (which I’m suremade him happy). I knew everyone was doing the best they could under tough andrapidly changing circumstances and felt my pursuit of the record had no place in thediscussion. I wanted Laz to do what he thought was best to maintain the integrity of theBarkley.
As I approached the gate to leave on loop 5 Carl arrived from what I thought was asuccessful loop 4. I was so focused on getting my number and starting loop 5 though thatI failed to confirm this and to discuss his intentions for rest etc. I realized this only after Ibegan walking away from the gate and knew of the “no aid” policy once one startswalking. I didn’t know what, if anything was permitted under this policy so I decided tokeep going rather than face disqualification by returning to the gate and asking for infoabout Carl. This lack of info about Carl turned out to be significant. When I got mynumber from Gary I declared I was choosing to run CW and he commented that due tothe fire and course change I did not have a choice. At the time I did not see why thecourse change prohibited a CCW loop but since it didn’t matter I didn’t ask forclarification. As a result I thought Carl would also be doing a CW loop. In other words,we could do the loop together like Wood and Horton many years prior—something thatwas no longer supposed to be possible. I got really excited about this possibility as Iascended Bird. Physically I still felt pretty good and I was confident about my ability tocomplete the loop (sleep deprivation was my most serious concern). Therefore, I sloweddown and walked at a moderate pace up Bird and the NBT. I reasoned Carl would wantto have a quick turnaround in camp to catch me so we could do the loop together. Ithought even if he didn’t catch me I would still see his light at times and would then waitfor him if necessary. I got to the Coal Ponds and never saw a light. I ascended to the roadbelow Garden Spot and looked again for any sign of light below and still saw nothing. Iwaited for a couple minutes and eventually was forced to turn around and resume theloop. I could not spend more time waiting given I didn’t even know for sure whether Carlwas doing loop 5.
I looked at my watch and immediately became paranoid that I just squandered too muchtime and that my loop 5 was now in jeopardy. Completion of a loop is not something thatcan ever be taken for granted at the Barkley. This is especially true for a nighttime loop 5.For the remainder of the loop I experienced massive paranoia that I was either notmoving fast enough or that I would experience some calamity that would prevent mycompletion under 60 hours. As a result, a proverbial fire was lit under my ass. I ran fromGarden Spot to Stallion. Where I couldn’t run I power walked as fast as I could. Ibombed the descent down from Stallion. And then the calamity struck.As I descended the last part of Stallion I noticed the terrain was not nearly as steep as it should have been. I knew I was off course but figured I would quickly resolve it once Igot to the New River. When I finally got to flat ground near the river I was shocked atwhat I saw. Large tree trunks and brush piled in a tangled mess as far as my headlampwould illuminate. I guess this was the accumulated product of many years of floods of theNew River. I eventually navigated through the mess and got to the river but saw nothingto indicate where I was. I had no idea where I was. The paranoia I was experiencing tooka quantum leap at this point. I did not want to have the dubious distinction of being theperson to blow a loop 5 with the most time in the bank, and now that possibility justbecame much more likely.
I felt like a caged animal amidst all the debris and then promptly started acting like one. Iaggressively hopped over the low trunks, ducked under the high ones, and plowedstraight through the brush. I first went about 100 yards downstream and passed a cliff onthe far side of the bank and still had no indication as to where I was. I then headed awayfrom the river to try and intercept the jeep road—if it were even there at this point alongthe river. I never came across one and headed back to the river. I then headed severalhundred yards along the river upstream but the surroundings still gave no indication as tomy location. As desperation began to sink in I pulled out the map—the first time I neededto consult it all race for navigation purposes. I checked the map to see if highway 116was always on the far side of the New River. That appeared to be the case unless Ihappened to be really far of course downstream. My plan was to cross the river and thenclimb until I met the highway, which seemed at the time guaranteed to work. I had tosearch for an easy place to cross the river and was relieved once I was finally on the otherside. I then proceeded to climb up a steep hill 50 ft, then 100 ft with still no sign of theroad. At 150 ft I thought there was no possibility that the road could have been anyhigher. Fortunately I kept going a little further and soon came upon the road about 200 ftabove the river. Had I turned around before meeting the highway I was going to be forcedto implement the “nuclear option”—reclimb Stallion until a known point was reached andthen try the descent again. All of this exertion and excitement was exhausting. I wassoaked with sweat and the briar cuts on my limbs were now burning from theperspiration.
Now that I reached the highway I wasn’t entirely sure which way I needed to go. Therewas enough uncertainty in the altimeter to not make the decision obvious. I was probablyabove where I needed to be and so I began running downhill. After rounding a few bendsI saw a couple of headlamps up ahead, which I took to be a good sign. They belonged toJB and Travis. What a relief it was to see them! Gary sent them to inform me that I wasnow supposed to pick up a bandanna on the Pig skull marking the creek to replace thebypassed Raw Dog Falls book. I grabbed the book at the base of Testicle Spectacle,returned to the highway, and power walked as fast as I could towards Armes Gap.Although the highway was definitely easier “terrain”, this ascent took much longer thanTesticle as expected due to the increased length. The jeep road into the park that followedwas of similar grade to the highway—much less than the typical Barkley grade. All of the time spent on these super “candy ass” trails caused my legs and knees to stiffen and they strongly protested once I resumed the regular steep Barkley course.Eventually after some doubt I finally encountered the old jeep road junction where Ibegan the descent towards Pig Head Creek. This descent somehow never caused anyproblems in loops 3 and 4 but it was a nightmare this time around. I don’t know why butthere must be at least 10 old jeep roads in that area constantly diverging, merging, andspontaneously ending. I would descend one road for awhile only to have it disappear. I’dbacktrack and try again and the same would happen. I had no idea which road to take andnot even a way to determine it other than explicitly trying all of them. Keeping track ofthis maze and which roads I tried was quite a challenge with the mounting sleepdeprivation. After the third or fourth attempt I had had enough and yelled something tothe effect, “This is bullshit! I’m not even supposed to be doing this!” It was bullshit too.Avoiding this descent was one of the reasons why I wanted to do the 5th loop CW in thefirst place. Although I was doing the loop CW I needed to do this descent to backtrackand get the bandanna from the pig’s skull. Eventually I found the right road and quicklymade the descent to the highway and got the bandanna. JB and Travis were waiting toconfirm this and let out the most motivational bout of redneck hollering that I have everheard as I turned to resume my ascent towards Rat Jaw.
The ascent of Rat Jaw was uneventful but the Bad Thing turned out to be really bad. Theextreme sleep deprivation (1 hour of sleep in about ~68 hours) had made staying awakevery difficult. I did most of the ascent towards Indian Knob with my eyes closed and hadsuch difficulty staying on my feet that I thought I was going to collapse and sleep throughthe 60 hour cut-off. I began thinking about my custom license plate I had made for theentry, which in part was “BM X”. “BM” for either my initials or Barkley Marathons. “X”either for failure or the 10th finisher. At the time I decided to get the plate I thoughthaving it on my car would not bother me if the “X” stood for failure. Now I wasdefinitely regretting it. To fail so close to the end in this manner and to be constantlyreminded of it every time I walked toward my car would have really sucked.I popped caffeine pills but they had no effect. Slowly but surely I ascended the Bad Thingand eventually arrived at the capstones. Something was wrong though. There was earthon top of all the capstones whereas the capstone that had the book (The Eye of theNeedle) was exposed. “Here we go again…” I thought. The mishaps earlier in the loopcombined with the sleep deprivation left me completely mentally exhausted by this point.The loop had become an emotional roller coaster and I felt I was about to snap. I exploredthe area a little but knew it was futile given there weren’t any exposed capstones. Due tothe sleep deprivation I felt I lacked the mental capacity to do anything more sophisticatedand certainly didn’t want to do anything stupid that would jeopardize the entire run. So Idecided to ascend to the top of the ridge and wait for the morning twilight which wasnow just a few minutes away. I sat on the ridge facing the wind so when I inevitably fellasleep I figured the frequent wind gusts would awaken me. I was horrified at the thoughtof going to sleep since I could easily burn through all of my time without even knowing itbut I had little choice. I sat there on the ground for 10-15 min and got several bouts ofmicro sleep before there was sufficient light to try and determine my location. Once there was enough light I whipped out my compass for the first time (I had been heavily relying upon veterans and my altimeter the entire race) and map and proceeded to try andtriangulate my position based on the prison water tower that I could barely see far belowon one side of the hill and a peak on the other side. This handiwork implied I was on thepeak to the northwest of where the book was located, but this did not agree with what Iwas seeing. The one time I used the compass I screwed it up. I’ll blame the sleepdeprivation…I then walked along the ridge for about a hundred yards and could see whatI thought were exposed capstones in the distance to the north. Jackpot! Within a fewminutes I was at the book and started my descent down Zipline.
At the beginning of the descent I ate my ~20th Clif bar or so, but immediately gagged.Fortunately I was able to keep the precious calories down but my stomach had nowcompletely revolted and refused all food for the remainder of the race. The descent downZipline was uneventful and I nailed the fork perfectly. I then slowly but steadily ascendedBig Hell and was relieved to reach the last book. I savored the moment of ripping the lastpage out of a book and just sat for a couple minutes. There was now no rush. I had manyhours to hike out the last few mostly downhill miles on trail. Coincidentally I noticed thepassage of Brian’s record time occurred while I was at the Chimney Top book. I thenleisurely hiked all the way back to the yellow gate.
On the flight back to California I had time to reflect on my Barkley experience. Goinginto the race I felt that I was sufficiently fit such that I could theoretically do 5 loops butthat the margin of error was small and that I would likely fail due to problems andinefficiencies associated with my virginity. In reality, my fitness gave me a larger thanexpected margin of error and I was even able to contend Brian’s record. In other words,my results exceeded my wildest expectations (the near perfect weather certainly helped).Even so, I couldn’t help but feel that I had partly blown the run. I could have broken therecord and yet I didn’t. Many things happened in the run—both voluntary andinvoluntary—that I could arbitrarily assign as the reason for this failure. If I had theopportunity to do it all over again though, I wouldn’t change a thing. For example:Getting totally lost Out There after descending Stallion on loop 5 was truly priceless. Igot to experience firsthand the horror of being lost on the course at night and thecorresponding elation when “found”. This is the canonical Barkley experience!I wouldn’t even change the last minute course modification. Yeah it sucked and Idefinitely did not like it at the time, but now I view it as one final last-minute challengethrown in my way that needed to be overcome. Having this unplanned obstacle wasconsistent with the spirit of the Barkley.
Participating in the Barkley has definitely been one of the most enjoyable and fulfillingexperiences of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed the race and actually had fun on the first 4loops (the 5th was total hell). I never expected to consider doing the Barkley loops andcharging through briars as “fun” but it definitely was for me. In the beginning I wassimply relieved to be able to hang with Carl and Alan and to survive the first loop. As the2nd and 3rd loops unfolded I was increasingly energized as I felt the transformation fromscared virgin to someone who could confidently run the course solo become complete.The solo loop 4 was the emotional culmination of this transformation and really was purejoy. Lastly, what made Barkley really special was meeting many wonderful people duringthe event and in camp. The ultra community is quite a diverse and exceptionallysupportive group of people. Although I discovered the sport and community “relativelylate”, I am forever grateful that I did. Being part of this community has made my lifericher and I treasure the numerous friendships that I have already made within it.