Barkley Fall Classic – 2019

Last year, I had a difficult time at BFC, with dizziness and cramping for much of the race, though I was still able to rough out a 50k finish.  I knew I wanted to go back for a bit of redemption immediately.  When sign up for 2019 happened, my name was unfortunately not drawn, and I was put on the wait list.  But there is always a tremendous amount of churn for this race, so I hoped I’d get drawn at some point.  Months and months passed, and nothing.  Many names were drawn, but not mine.

And then, on August 26th just 24 days before the race, I got an Ultra Sign-up alert on my watch!  The email had come.  I ran to facebook to see what Laz had written:


And just like Laz said, I pretty much had to accept – even though I was not well trained.  

Here are a few follow-up comments on that FB post:

I made two blog posts here and here, outlining how under prepared I was, so I won’t go into those details again now, other than a quick note that on the drive to TN, I looked at my Strava run profile and saw 222 miles run year to date.  

(I don’t want to downplay training too much — I had done a decent bit of mountain biking, a little swimming, and a little hiking this year.  While run training was ~15% of the year prior (222 miles vs. 16-1700!), overall training volume in terms of time was down 90+ hours. And I did get about 50 of those 222 miles run in the last 3 weeks before the race, including one 11 miler with 3500’ of climb. Plenty, right? 🙂 )

Last year I stayed in hotel about 45 minutes from the park, but this year opted to hitch a ride with Mark and Carey from Holly Springs, and camp in “Camp Brian.”  Brian lives 2 miles from the park and opens up his front yard to campers every year, and we had a great time there.  He and his wife are extremely welcoming and it was fun to hang out with other runners in his yard and on his front porch for a couple of days.  We arrived Thursday evening and set up camp:

Thursday night we went to the local junior high football game, and at half time, the announcers had all the runners walk out onto the field.  There were maybe 30-35 of us.  After the game we ate at one of the few restaurants open after 8 pm in the area, the local Mexican joint El Patron.

Friday morning was chill, and we met at the yellow gate around 11.  Last year I think there were only 5 or 6 of us there, but this year there was quite a crowd, with lots of people running and hiking.  Since I haven’t been running, I opted to just hike a couple miles instead of running like last year.

After that, we went over to packet pick up, where the maps are given out and the course is finally revealed.  BFC is not like most other 50k’s — the course is different every year, and no matter the actual miles, the map always shows 31 exactly.  This year was no different, and later analysis showed this year’s course was more like 36 miles with almost 13,000 of climbing.  And all of the famous out-of-park climbs like Rat Jaw, Testacle Spectacle, and Meth Lab would were of course included. 

We headed to the prison for lunch and map study, where there were many other runners, though perhaps not quite as many as last year.  

The prison also sells moonshine, and has tastings. No tastings for me!

Friday night is the pasta dinner, movie, and football game, but since I can’t eat pasta the night before a race, Jess and I opted to go to the local Mexican restaurant (two nights in a row for me!), where I had fish tacos. I would have liked to see John Fegyveresi speak – he’s one of the few Big Barkley finishers ever! But I needed some food that my body wouldn’t rebel against!

We all went to bed rather early since we had a big day in front of us.  Normally I sleep pretty well the night before a race, but not this time,  With some yapping dogs (or coyotes?), a rooster, etc., it was not the best environment for sound sleep! (Even with my earplugs in.)

We were all up early (around 5:00 a.m.) and I used my jet boil to make coffee and oatmeal, and soon enough we were driving to the start/finish area, which got pretty crowded.  But the race organization is fantastic and somehow they got all the cars parked, runners corralled, and we were fast approaching 7:00.  Laz lit his camel, and we were off!

Last year I was fit, and went pretty hard at the start to use the ~1+ mile road lead in to the single track to get towards the front (which in reality was probably the top 40 or so).  There was still a conga line, but not terrible — everyone in the group I was in had pretty solid power hikes so it was never a problem.

This year, I knew not being fit that I shouldn’t red-line early — and I’d just have to take the climb at the speed that was possible a bit further back in the pack.   So the plan was to go out pretty easy, and not worry about any delays on the 1st climb.   Right away, as we turned out of the parking lot and onto the pavement, I felt tightness in both quads.  This was extremely worrisome in such a long race!  I’m guessing they were still pretty tight from playing soccer for the 1st time in a year exactly one week prior.  Not much to do about it, other than see how the day plays out, so I kept running at my easy pace.  I probably got to the single track right in the middle — around 200 — but it’s really hard to say.   It was all power hiking, but other than the long line that formed at the big down tree, it wasn’t too bad.

I reached the top at 7:51 a.m., and all of us started to run down the single track switch backs.   (Note I didn’t wear a watch, but did ask other racers or volunteers a few times what time it was, and recall those pretty well.) There was a little passing here and there, but mostly a decent run down to the bottom — where you quickly start a second long climb.  (Thats’s pretty much the theme of BFC – long ups, long downs, steep short ups that take a long time, long downs, all day long.)

Anyway, it was here on this second climb where I started passing other runners.  I was still a bit hesitant to push too much / too soon, but I felt good, and took what came.   I would only pass in areas where it didn’t take too much energy.  

Soon enough I reached aid 1, topped off my water supplies, and kept moving.  Next we had a fairly long (3.5 – 4.0 mile) run down a Jeep road, and then pavement to the ranger station.  I had thought the jeep road wouldn’t be very steep, but it was a bit more than I had anticipated.  With the lack of run volume, I was extremely worried about my quads.   And I was still feeling the tightness from soccer!  So I didn’t bomb down like I often would, but kept it in check.  We still had a very long day in front of us, and any hopes of me finishing meant staying conservative as long as possible.

I reached the ranger station, topped off water again, grabbed a handful of potato chips, and left at 3 hrs 1 minute into the race.  That was about 15 minutes faster than what I thought would be needed to have a chance at the 50k finish, so I was pleased with that.  I knew the climb up Chimney top was going to be very rough.  In fact, I had mentally told myself the top was my half way point of the race, and to get through that in tact and I’d be ok.  The 1st 20-30 minutes was really odd.  It was still relatively early in the race, but it seemed we were really spread out.  I passed maybe 3-4 other runners in this area and that was it!  Last year the race seemed much more crowded for a longer time.  I didn’t know if i was further back in the pack and it was spread out, or if perhaps there’s a front pack and then a gap, or what?  I did talk to another runner about it and he agreed it was odd!

Anyway, Chimney is a long steep slog, with several false summits, and it gets crazy steep near the top.  There are no switchbacks here, you just go straight up the mountain.  Near the top, it got more crowded, so that earlier gap must have just been a bit of an anomaly.  I was hiking strong and continued to pass people all the way up.  A couple times I caught a toe, and in catching myself to prevent a superman, felt the R quad really scream. Still not good! Once you get past the big rocks at the top, there’s one more climb, and then there’s some nice single track running, which eventually turns to double track.  I ran all this and was still making good progress through the field.

I reached aid 3, topped up on water, got my bib punched by Laz,  and was off pretty quickly.  This was again some long down hills on Jeep trails, and I was still worried about the quads.  But I was now past my mental “half way” point and was pretty happy with how I was holding together.  We reached Testical and down down down we went, including some sliding sections.  When I was going down there was some two way traffic but it wasn’t terrible, but when I turned to go back up, it seemed like it got really crowded!  I managed the best I could, often climbing on the side of the single wide bushwhacked path to keep on moving rather than wait for the downhillers, most of whom were unable (or unwilling?) to wait for me to climb up.  

At one point on the way up, a gentleman climbed past me quite strongly, but within 20 seconds, he was projectile vomiting on the side of the trail.  I couldn’t really off much aid I so I went by. I should have yelled “puke and rally” which seems to be the common call in this situation at BFC. But then a few minutes later he passed me again!  That’s the best “puke and rally” I have yet to see, but it was short lived.  A minute or two later I passed him again and then didn’t see him the rest of the race.

After TS, it’s down Meth, which has some crazy steep sections — one section you have to slide down what must be 50’ long scree slope at 70%.  This is where the garden gloves come in handy.  I caught up to a group of 8-10 runners and we were making our way down.  We hit the stream bed, which if you follow it, leads you into the woods.  That’s not under the power lines so I turned around, and followed it back up, trying to find a bushwhack path.  I eventually did, and finally made it to the sign that’s points you into the woods where we ran on jeep road until the next sign.

Shortly after that, there’s a split in the road, and lots of people went right.  I didn’t remember that from last year, and it didn’t look correct, so went left and up, and eventually spotted another sign so yelled back to the other runners that I was on the right track.  Here you hit the pavement for a bit, in the heat of the day, on the way to the prison.  Last year was so hot, and the prison aid station had ice!  This year was not quite as hot, but I still could have used ice.  No luck, though. I have seen in other race reports that some other runners did get ice. Oh well.  I topped up water, had a couple sips of coke, and walked up the prison road.  No need to run any of this — though it is runnable.  It was hot, and Rat Jaw was coming very soon.  I needed to conserve every bit of energy as possible for that!

Next it was through the prison yard, up and over the prison wall climbing the ladders.  On the other side, THE Keith Dunn took a photo of me which he later sent:

Then it was through the tunnel…. Though this year it was straight down a bit of a precarious rock wall.  I didn’t remember that from last year!  I made it down after a bit of a scramble and a jump, and then was helping the lady behind me, when another runner came up and said “hey, if you just walk over that way it’s a lot easier!”  I looked over and saw a much easier way down. Oh well.  

Through the tunnel, a bit of a scramble up the bank, a walk along the grass, and then Rat Jaw.  It really is hard to describe, and photos don’t do it justice.  That first pitch is extremely steep — maybe 70% – of loose dirt and gravel.  I did copy this video someone posted to FB of the front runners on the 1st pitch:

And once you are over that, it’s on to the briars and more steep grade. The rough estimates are something like 1800’ in a mile, much of it choked fulled of saw briars!   As we started climbing I asked someone the time – I really wanted to know how long it took.  It was 2:05, but we had already climbed the 1st pitch, so it was probably closer to 2:00 when I started at the bottom.

Like last year there was a lot of carnage here — bodies strewn all up and down the mountain. This year it wasn’t quite so bad, perhaps due to less heat, but there were still lots of people resting here and there, especially at the road half way up where the rangers/EMTs are.  Several folks were lying there in the shade.  

I did sit there for a minute, but not too long.  Just enough for a quick recovery and then I kept going. There are parts of rat where it is literally 15-20 steps, rest for 5 breaths, and continue.  Then there are other parts where you might go a minute or two, and then take some breaths.   And yes, there were a few times I had to sit.  Especially on the cut off telephone pole, which I call the seat of contemplation after reading about so many others who sit there and question their life decisions.

At the big rock cliff where you have to scout to the right, and then climb through a slot to get back to the briars, there was a crowd of 8-10 runners regrouping.  I kept on moving as this was a lot less steep.  But from here and to the top, the briars seemed to double up.  They were definitely much thicker this year!  And last year, the front runners bushwhacked an actual path.  Most of us later runners could hike upright.  But this year, it was a briar tunnel, not a path, so we often had to bear crawl – another great use of the garden gloves.

I got the bib punch on Rat, maybe 200 or 300 meters from the top, and kept bear crawling to the top.  I asked for the time and it was 3:24, so it took about an hour and twenty minutes this year. I had really thought the 2nd time up rat would be better, but it wasn’t.  It was just as difficult. This year wasn’t as hot as last year, though being on the rat from 2-3:30 p.m. when you are totally exposed — it was still very hot.  At least I didn’t have the dizziness and cramping I had last year!

Here are the shots of me coming out of Rat Jaw by Misty Wong and Curtis Baker.

Yeah I had to sit for a minute at the top… (As well as several places on the climb up!)
Not as torn up as I would have thought — but it was the right shin that took the brunt of the damage and I don’t have an image of that!

I climbed the “far tar” (fire tower), got my bib punched, climbed down, and ran to the next aid station — the decision point.  This was also the drop bag location, so after a minute trying to find my bag, I got it, sat in the shade, and quickly changed socks, put a bit of Squirrels Nut Butter on my feet, put on a dry shirt, got my poles, and headed out.  Laz said something about most everyone choosing to go on this year, which was good to hear after I was so shocked last year when a few runners near me opted to take the marathon instead of try for the 50k.  He punched my bib and I was off, down a ~3 mile road section to the final aid station.

I got there and didn’t even bother to top off water. I was still pretty full, so I grabbed a nearly empty jug from one of the volunteers, downed it, grabbed a handful of chips, and was off.   This was the same section we had started the race in many hours earlier, but in reverse, so I knew what to expect on the two big climbs and two big descents.  At this point, the lack of run volume was really catching up to me.  And really just lack of time on feet.  My feet were sore, I could feel the beginnings of those under the footpad blisters starting that knocked me out of Hinson a couple years ago, and I was getting tired.  

In this section, I probably got passed 10-15 times.  I wish I could have run the downs, more than the sorry shuffle that was all I was able to muster!   At the bottom of the last climb I was feeling pretty spent, so I stayed there a good minute or two trying to regroup.  I finally started a very slow hike, with some breaks, barely moving. At some point, I did get a bit of a second wind, and my hike speed increased and I did pass a couple of people who had passed me at the bottom. 

At the top of bird, it was 14 switchbacks down, the mile+ paved road out of the park, and the finish!  I really had no idea what time it was, so didn’t know how I was doing.   Due to my feet hurting so bad, I shuffled down switchbacks, and hit the road.  

I was finally able to manage a slow jog on the pavement, and ran all the way to the finish, crossing the line in 11:59!  

Last year was around 11:45, so not too bad — most runners that finished the 50k last year and this year were about an hour slower this year.  

Results: 84th out of 186 50k finishers… Roughly 40% of the ~450 runners finished the 50k, 20% the marathon, and another 40% DNF’d.

The Croix de Barque, with a star since it’s my 2nd 50k finish:

My feet were pretty shot the rest of the evening.  Shuffling around the finish area to get food, and get my gear to the car, to walk from the car to the shower in Big Cove, etc., was all quite painful.  And the chaffing!  Last year I pretty much went shirtless for much of the race, and wore the same pack I had on this year – almost no chaffing.  This year, I wore a sleeveless shirt, the same pack, and have terrible chaffing on the inside of the biceps, the shoulders, chest, and upper ribs.  Ouch!

Gear:  Rhun long compression short, icebreaker sleeveless top both before and after drop bag (changed into a dry one), injinji toe socks until the drop bog, speed goat socks after, Speedgoat 3 shoes.  The middle size UD pack, my carbon-z poles. Squirrels Nut butter – but I still chaffed terribly on the inside of my biceps.

Nutrition:  4 packs of tail wind, the equivalent of 5 or 6 vfuels, the equivalent of two bars (one paleo/caveman bar, and bites of a cliff bar, and the sweet and salty bars at the aid stations), and two handfuls of potato chips!  Not much — that’s maybe 1600 calories over 12 hours!

I’m already thinking about next year and hope the lottery odds are in my favor! I really want a third shot at BFC — one where I’m well trained AND have a good day!

2019 vs 2018 BFC lead in

This is a follow on to my last post, about getting into the BFC, making the (bad?) decision to go for it, with little training this year. This post just has two images, which show my training from Strava for the weeks prior to BFC from 2018 vs. 2019:

First, 2018:

So that’s a lot of time on my feet! Roughly 8-10 hours per week running, with at least one long run in the 3 hour range. That 6 hour run less than three weeks out was when I ran the Frozen Head Challenge Loop, roughly 20 miles, nearly all of which were on the actual BFC race course. Not a bad lead in. (Though I didn’t have a very good day! — I don’t think that was due to training!)

So, what about this year?

Not much to say… Not a lot of time on my feet. A tiny bit of swimming, a little bit of mountain biking. Since I got the BFC call, at least I got the 3 hour run in (11 miles, 3500′) a few days ago. But I have been suffering ever since with extremely sore quads that lasted a couple days longer than expected, and the two runs since then have been very meh. I hope to turn the corner in the next day or two, and have one more decent run about a week out — maybe 2 hours and 10-12 miles of single track with 1500′ of climb?

(Bad?) Decisions

Not much writing about running recently — all the way since Barkley Fall Classic last year! I didn’t even write my traditional yearly update for 2018, which only included three big runs — the Run Across Haiti (link to just day 8 of the 8 day, 200 mile run), Boston, and BFC.

The reason for that is there hasn’t been much running. 😦

After BFC, I felt like I was finally getting some motivation back, and started hammering on elevation in all my training. But shortly after that, I started having some sacrum discomfort, which really had me worried – sacral stress fracture is enough to send most runners into hiding. I won’t go into all the details here, as that would be several blog posts, but almost a year later and several doctors, MRI’s, etc. later, and I’ve not run a whole lot – roughly 150 miles this year, after a complete five month break from November – May.

(At least a short note on the injury. It’s been diagnosed as athletic pubalgia / sports hernia — basically a tear in the adductor and/or rectus abdominis that is not healing. I recall a slight adductor pull/hamstring strain while coaching middle school soccer last August which was likely the start of it all. Why the sacrum get’s sore, no one knows, but everyone thinks they are related!)

Now, I did shift to other training modalities — mountain biking, swimming, lifting, etc. So I haven’t been completely lazy. But here are a few graphs showing what I’ve done compared to prior years:

First up, run time, which is 180 hours less than last year this time:

Next up, run elevation, which shows me 77,000 feet behind normal:

But then if you look at all sports combined, it’s not quite as bad:

First, time across all sports, and I’m 89 hours short:

Elevation across all sports, and it’s down to 48k difference:

(Swimming and paddle boarding certainly hurt elevation stats! 😉 )

So, what’s the point of this post? I had already started to lose motivation for traditional ultra races last year before the injury, and that only increased as I was unable to run anyway. I’ve been more interested in some run “projects” (self supported LONG runs in cool places, maybe more on that later), or perhaps less traditional races — races like last year’s BFC or Big’s Backyard.

I had not gotten into either of those during the original sign-up/application process, but was waitlisted for both. With the lack of running, I had already decided Big’s wouldn’t be worth attempting (and, last I saw, I was 18th on the wait list for just 70 very coveted spots, several of which go to other last man standing events, and the rest to very qualified runners.)

But BFC is a different matter. Last year was rough — one of my toughest day’s in 20+ years of endurance sports. I want another crack at it. Of course, lack of training would make this year, if I got the call, even harder. But that’s not really the point — we do these things to test our selves, and part of that testing is suffering.

BFC traditionally has many wait listers get in — from the pool of 500+, it seems like 2-3 were getting called per day. With that, I had it in the back of my mind, that I would say yes immediately.

And last week, I got the call.

And last week, I accepted.

Bad decision? Only time will tell. But I wouldn’t have accepted if I didn’t think I had a shot at a 50k finish and a two-star Croix!

I’ll have another post in a day or two which compares my lead in to race date for last year to this, as well as an update on where I am with the injury.

Van Life: Asheville, Hot Springs, Brevard

The kids were off to Camp Booyah Sunday – Friday, so Kelly and I got to take the van out for it’s first real road trip — five nights in the van exploring parts of NC we’ve not been to as much as the Boone area.

We drove to Lake Powhatan Camp Ground just outside of Asheville for our 1st night.

We love Asheville so decided to head into town, park the van (in downtown — it fits in a regular parking spot!), and go to one of our favorite restaurants – Salsa’s.

We had enough time to walk around a little, and came across this old London double decker bus that is now a coffee shop — it had quite the driver:

Lake Powhatan camp site was pretty nice – tons of trails to explore! The next morning, we explored the area by bike, and stumbled across the NC Arboretum, so we spent some time there. They had a pretty amazing bonsai section that we both really enjoyed.

On day 2, we drove from the Asheville area up to Hot Springs NC. We had a camp site right on the French Broad. While this camp site was not quite as nice as the Lake Powhatan one, it was good enough for us. We spent two nights here, chilling by the river, hiking/running, and enjoying the hot springs (which are hot tubs that have the hot spring water pumped in), as well as the local restaurants.

After two nights in Hot Springs, we headed south back through Asheville on the way to Brevard, where we stayed in Davidson River camp site. We restocked groceries in Asheville, and had our 1st lunch in the van in the grocery store parking lot. 🙂 Davidson River Camp Ground was very nice, and we definitely plan to come back and stay longer.

Brevard is known for it’s waterfalls, so we did go in search of a few. I think we hit four in one day, a few much more remote than others! One was right off the road (Looking Glass Falls) and is the most photographed waterfalls anywhere, another was a secluded drive on a forrest road to a mile hike (Log Hollow Falls), and another was a much longer but less secluded forrest road to a 2+ mile out and back hike (Twin Falls). We also rode our bikes into town and ate at Pad Thai on night one, and hit Oscar Blues Brewery on day two.

Brevard has white squirrels — I thought it was an albino, but come to find out, this is their normal color! Amazing we had just seen black squirrels in Niagara the week before!

Van life is definitely for us — can’t wait to get back out there!

Road trip: Niagra

While this road trip was in a van, it was not a #vanlife road trip. We rented a 12 passenger van for Kelly’s dad, sister and her family Loci and the boys, and us. So 9 of us in a 12 passenger van to Canada! At least we broke the drive on the way up by stopping after 4-5 hours, but on the way back it was one straight shot!

Before we got to Niagra, we did stop in Buffalo at the home of the original wing:

Make that 250 million!

We have a lot of photos, but I’ll try to capture just a few things. The 1st evening we just walked around “up top,” and didn’t venture down. The shots from there are not that exciting, so I won’t share them.

The next morning, Kelly and I got up and did an exploratory run, so here are some shots from that:

We found just a few Canadian Geese in Dufferin Island park!

But then we got our 1st views of the powerful falls!

Later we caught up with everyone and walked around more, but also made our 1st (of 3!) ventures up the Skylon tower. (We bought a day and night pass, but then found our tour the next day also included another trip up!)


The tower does some funny photos:

Later we drove to Niagra-on-the-Lake on Lank Ontario which was quite a nice little town, and stopped at a couple wineries on the way back.

The next day we had quite the tour planned! We would meet our guides at 8:30 in the morning, and the first stop was a surprise — back to the Skylon tower! After that, we Journeyed Behind the Falls (well worth it!), drove north along the river, and then got to venture out on the famous Hornblower, which brings you right up to the falls!

Later we ate at the locals’ recommendations (Chucks – reasonable prices compared to most other options) and a few of us ventured into the Myrtle Beach-like section of town:

The next day Kelly and I ran from Canada to NY! We ran the 1.5 miles from the hotel to the pedestrian bridge, and even though we had our passports (required), we did not have the $1 toll! 😦 So we ran back to the hotel, picked up some dollars, and headed back. I’m so glad we got to see the NY side – well worth it! Niagra Falls State Park in NY was really nice, and we got to see the US side of Horseshoe falls, Bridal Veil falls, and the American Falls, all from a different perspective.

We liked it so much, we talked the rest of the gang into going that way 1st, on the long drive back so they could see it too.

Lots of amazing rainbows on the NY side!

Kelly had the ACCS conference in Atlanta, so we dropped her off at Buffalo International, and the remaining 8 of his drove the 11 hours back to NC. It was a long drive, but we survived.

Maiden Voyage

Well, there’s a bit of a back story I’ll expand on some day, but for now, let’s just say we got started on van life a little earlier than anticipated. This new category of posts will cover our van life trips.

For the maiden voyage, we just went one night in our new conversion van (rv) to Cedar Point Campground, near the mouth of the White Oak River, in the Croatan National Forest. The camp ground is relatively small with just 40 sites on two loops, but it was well-equipped and quiet. We had electrical for the van, but the water was a faucet shared between a couple sites and didn’t have a hose connection for us, so we used the water on board. (We thought we had run out of fresh water, but alas, we probably just didn’t know to use the water pump – lesson #1 learned). Other than that, we are starting to get the hang of all the features of the van, but still have a lot to learn!

The camp ground itself wasn’t super exciting, but the Cedar Point Tideland trail was beautiful. Over the evening and morning we were there, we ran, rode, and paddle boarded all around. Here are a few photos:

The next day after we packed up, we went over to Emerald Isle and hung out on the beach and in the rented home of one of Riley’s friends for the day. Emerald Isle is a beautiful beach, and we all got a little too much sun.

Barkley Fall Classic 2018

I have never seen so much carnage in a race as I saw in Frozen Head State Park for the 5th annual Barkley Fall Classic:

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 10.48.54.png

(A compilation of a few shots shared on FB after the race.)

Grown men and women would crawl into briars to sit or lie down to escape the relentless sun and find just a little shade.  Projectile vomiting was seen many times.

But, let me back up.  The Barkley Fall Classic is an attempt to simulate one loop of the infamous Barkley Marathons.  I won’t go into details here of what that race is all about, there are many other sources including two fantastic documentaries (“The Race that Eats its Young” and “Where Dream Go To Die”).  Anyone who has done a loop of the big Barkley will say a single BFC loop is much easer, and that’s hard to fathom, but at the same time, after having suffered one loop of BFC, believable, due to the fact that big Barkley has a lot more navigation required, plus some loops will be at night.

I’ve long been more than just a bit fascinated with Big Barkley, since an article first appeared in Adventure Racing magazine almost 20 years ago, long before it became as notorious as it is today.   And as much as once every month or two, I am asked if I’ve heard about it (or even if I’ve done it!).  Laz, the RD (creative / evil / mastermind), has said the Barkley finds you if you are meant to be there.  And I’ll leave it at that.  🙂

Last year I was on the wait list for BFC, which gave me a small window of opportunity to sign up for the 2018 BFC before it was opened to the masses.  Good thing, as BFC registration typically crushes Ultra-sign up, and I got in (though still had some issues getting through!).

Rewind a bit in 2018 and I’ve only done two big runs:   Run Across Haiti and Boston.   After those two runs, I have to admit, I struggled both physically and mentally.  It didn’t help that some close friends were going through some tough times.   I finally started to pull out of it in late summer, but a bit late to be as prepared for BFC as I would have liked to be.  But then again, how often do we ever feel as prepared as we want to be for our biggest races?

A few days out from BFC, Hurricane Florence started making it’s way towards NC, which altered the plans of many.   But it looked like our home would be relatively safe, so I went for it.  (Kelly and the kids lost power for about 20 hours on Saturday, which meant I had no contact with them from Friday night until Saturday afternoon, but nothing more than that happened.)

On Thursday I drove up to Boone to secure the 7D home, stayed there, and then took off for TN early Friday a.m. to meet some people that wanted to do a shakeout run in the park.  I made it to the yellow gate in time to get a couple of miles in, and then headed over to packet pick up where we picked up the map.  (The course is different every year, so the course reveal at packet pickup is exciting!)  I totally missed Laz, who had flown in on a red-eye the night before, literally a day after he finished his lazcon, a walk across the entire country!  (Makes the Run Across Haiti seem a bit trifle in comparison!)  I also missed Jared Campbell, the only 3 time finisher of the Big Barkley.

Several of us headed over to Brushy Mountain for lunch and to study the maps:

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They sure like their moonshine in TN:

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I opted to skip the pre-race dinner, movie viewing, and football game, mostly because I can’t eat pasta without serious GI issues, but would have loved to spend more time with everyone.  I was able to get to bed at a decent time, slept fairly well, and woke up around 4 a.m., about 30 minutes before my alarm was to go off.  I had brought my jet boil to my hotel room, so I could make (good) coffee and heat up some oatmeal.

Game face on / Time to Earn It!  — this was taken about 5 a.m. before I drove the 35 minutes to Frozen Head State Park.  This shirt has got to go for hot humid races — for some reason it does not do so well in those conditions!  I pulled it off at Salvation Road and went shirtless.

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I arrived at the parking area with plenty of time to spare, and just relaxed waiting for the seven a.m. start, speaking to a few other runners, but not doing much else.

The race has a history of long conga lines on the first climbs, until the field spreads out, and this year the course would be on the roads for nearly 1.5 miles before hitting the single track.  So the question is always do you go out a bit hard to not get too far behind said conga lines, and risk red-lining too early and blowing up, or do you take it easy, knowing you have a 10, 11, or 12+ our day in front of you?  I opted for a decent pace that I thought was conservative and felt fine to the single track, with at least 50 people getting there in front of me.  And yes, there were lines, but who am I kidding.  It’s not like I was going to run up the mountain anyway.  A good strong power hike was all I would do, and the line I was in was content with that too.  A few people made passes, and we passed a few.

We reached the top and started a strong descent.  I was bit worried about how that would go – if everyone would be good or bad on technical descents, but it wasn’t too bad.   I left the group I was with, but soon caught a group in front, but it’s not like we were going very slow.

About 5-10 minutes into the second monster climb is when something went drastically wrong.  I got light headed, and had to step aside.  I watched 20, 40, 60, maybe 100 or more people pass on this climb, as I had to step off for 30 seconds to a minute at least 5 or six times.  I’ve never gotten light headed / dizzy like this in 20+ years of racing.  It would stop within those 30-60s of rest, and I’d go on, so I wasn’t too concerned about overall health.  I never felt like I was going to pass out.  But it would soon come back.

The next thing to go wrong was that about 3 hours in, my toes started cramping.   That would stick with me for the rest of the race, but the cramps worked their way up from my toes, to my calves, to my quads, to muscles I didn’t know I had above the quads.   About 10 hours in, my middle finger on my right hand cramped!  And then post race at dinner, both hands were cramping trying to eat chips and salsa and tacos.

Thankfully I have a few photos from photographers on the course:

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We finally left the single track climbs and started a long gravel road section down, with some pretty steep descents at places, as well as monster mud puddles that you could try to skirt, but risk falling in.  I slid into at least two of them.  I ran almost all of this strongly — the toes only cramped on technical sections with rocks and roots, and the rest of me felt good.  No light headedness on the descents.  I probably passed 25-30 (or more?) people in this section.  I reached the 1st aid station about 4.5 hours in, and was so hot I pulled off my shirt and raced w/o, even though I knew the pack would chafe without a shirt.  I refilled water and was quickly out, now ready to tackle some of the famous sections of the Big Barkley.

A view of Testicle and one of the lines forming in front of me…

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Me coming out of testicle:

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And about to drop down Meth:

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Meth had some 70% grades (drops) on loose gravel and rocks, and at one point we saw a swarming bees nest to the side, so we literally slide 30-40 feet as fast as we could hoping to not get stung.  I used my garden gloves and shoes to keep my butt off the ground.  Much of this was exposed, and the sun was really starting to beat down.

After Meth we had a bit of road to run (and walk) to get to the prison, all in the sun.  Thank goodness the aid station here had ice.  I took some and put it in my hat, as well as filled one bottle with it.  We ran up to the prison, through the prison yard, and then had to “escape” on these ladders:

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My toes cramped at the top and going down the back side, so I didn’t realize Jared Campbell himself was punching bibs there (and cheering us on from the top! see photo).

After the prison escape, we went through the tunnel, which is much longer that I ever thought after watching the documentaries.

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After the tunnel is Rat Jaw.  I really have no words to describe the hell that was rat jaw! But I will try.  First, you come out of the tunnel from the prison, climb a bit of a gully, and turn to see the 1st pitch:

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It’s loose dirt and gravel, with not many roots to hang on to.   You make it over that, and it’s nearly a mile at an average grade of 40% (you climb close to 2000 feet in that < mile), with some sections like the one shown above.   And much of it is covered in briars, as seen here:

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And this year, the sun was beating down on us.  It had to be over 90F in the sun, and there is little shade to be found.  Unless you crawl into the briars to sit and lie down.  Which many did.  As did I.

It was by far the hardest mile of my life.

Finally, after well over an hour (probably close to 90 minutes), I came out at the top – thanks to Misty Wong for these fabulous photos.

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I’d like to say that after that last one, I yelled out something like “I conquered Rat Jaw!”  Instead, I found a bit of shade on the road, and sat down for a few minutes.  There were may of us there with a look of shock and bewilderment.  EMTs were treating one runner, with a pulse oximeter on his finger.  Maybe lack of oxygen would explain my light headedness, but I didn’t stick around to have mine measured!

I did eventually get up, climb the “far tar” (fire tower), and run down the half mile or so on the gravel road to the next aid station.  There I stayed a bit longer than normal, trying to get some calories and water down.   I had gone much of rat jaw with no food, it was just so hot.  I was still struggling with cramping, as well as the light headedness on the big climbs, and knew this was the chance to try to refuel and rehydrate.

We had about a 4-5 mile run on single track, mostly down, to Laz, and the decision point. I was able to run all of this pretty well, and passed something like 8-10 people.   It’s here at Laz that if you make it before the 9.5 hour cut off, you get to decide if you want to go and get the 50k, or be relegated to a marathon finish as a consolation.  There was never any question in my mind, even though I had suffered today like no other day in my racing career, that I was going to give it a shot.  But I was surprised how many other runners in my general vicinity opted to stop!   We had reached Laz more than an hour before the cut off, but still some didn’t go on.

I took my poles from my drop bag, grabbed some food, changed socks, and grabbed a dry shirt, and headed out for the last 9 miles of the race.  The hike to the top of Chimney Top was long and slow, and there are some super steep sections near the top.  I was still having to pull over and stop to wait out the light headedness, yet at the same time I was still passing other runners.

A group of us reached the last aid station, and then 3 of us took off, again passing 8-10 runners before we reached the road at the bottom.  I have to give thanks to the guy that ran in front of me to the road, as I would not have run that much without him, but when he reached the road he had to pull over as he was close to vomiting.

I did make the finish, but man was I spent.  I quickly found some shade in the grass and sat down for a while.  Thanks to the other runner who brought me a few cups of water!

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Here are my split times:

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This year, of the 400+ starters, there were 203 50k finishers,  127 marathon finishers, and 123 DNFs, one of the highest finishing rates in the race’s history.  (Which likely means next year will be harder!)

Someone on FB posted split analysis, which shows me as 146, 91, 104, 81, and 82 for each leg.  That 1st one was rough, when at least 100 runners passed me on the 2nd climb as I really struggled.  But after that I was much more consistent…  What’s most interesting to me is that for Prison to Shelter C, I was only 5 minutes slower than the eventual winner.  That shows how hard Rat Jaw would be if you were the one that has to bushwhack the briars, creating the eventual path later runners follow (including me!).

The Croix de Barque, the hardest medal I have ever earned, given to 50k finishers.  For multiple 50k finishes, you get multiple stars:

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I was pretty disappointed with my day at BFC, but after looking at my ultra signup rank, maybe I shouldn’t be.  The USR rank is your time divided by the winning time, and my BFC ranking of 76 lines up with my historical ranking of 74%.   However, knowing how bad the cramping was and the strange light headedness that stuck with me most of the day, I 1st have to be proud of the fact that I was able to finish, and 2nd know that I can do better.  I sure hope I can get in again next year to give it a another shot!

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The shoes stayed in TN.  They did have over 600 miles and were starting to tear.  I figured the BFC was a good way to end this shoe’s career.

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Gear:  Hoka speedgoat 2’s, Ruhn compression shorts (the longer ones), injinji toe socks, inkburn shirt to start, shirtless for most of the race, then light icebreaker sleeveless for the last few hours, UD vest (the big one of the 3 I own). UD bottles and 70oz bladder.

Nutrition:  Mostly tailwind (4 or 5 packs), vFuel (equiv of 7 gels), and a few date rolls;  a couple of chips and granola at one of the aid stations.  Total was pretty low on calories — maybe 2000 for nearly 12 hours and 301+ (++?) miles, but that is going to be the case in that kind of heat!  I took in more salt in the form of Endurolytes than I have ever taken, but maybe Endorolytes are a bit low in sodium after all.  (Per some recent podcasts I’ve listened to, though those guys are far lower on the LCHF spectrum than I am.)   Also took in BCAAs like normal.