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.
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!