2020 Barkley Fall Classic

Training for the BFC can be interesting — you often don’t know if you are in or not until just a few weeks out. The race fills quickly, and there is always a long wait list (which is where I seem to find myself each year). Last year I got the notification from Laz 24 days from race day. This year, with Covid, there was a slight indication the race may happen in late July — for prior finishers only, so I thought that might give me a good chance.

As race date got closer, we found that Laz was able to get permission to host 125 runners, to start in waves of 25, 15 minutes apart. The pool of prior finishers from the US, that wanted in, was in the 110 range, and Laz filled out the remaining spots with other well qualified runners — people who have finished a loop at Big Barkley, or who had finished other long/tough races.

Covid also changed pre-race activities – no packet pick up the day before, no lunch at the Warden’s table studying maps, etc. Instead, we would get maps race morning — roughly 30-45 minutes before our wave was to start! I ended up in the third wave based on my prior finish times.

Kelly and I made our way from NC over to Frozen Head, driving the van, stopping in Black Mountain for pizza, and then heading to the park. We had a spot in Flat Fork, but got word from another racer that her spot in Big Cove would be open as she couldn’t make it, and we opted for that. Parking the van in a relatively flat spot closer to the bathroom was much better than the primitive camp site with port-o-pot at Flat Fork. When we arrived a Frozen Head, we ran into THE Keith Dunn at the ranger station, and we made few purchases from the shop, before going to our site. We relaxed there a bit before heading to the Mexican place for dinner.

(A side note on Covid — we were quite amazed at the differences between NC and TN on mask wearing. At the grocery store in TN, maybe 10-15% of people had on masks. At the foyer of the restaurant, no one did, other than Kelly and I!!)

Anyway, race morning came, and we drove out of the park a couple miles to pick up race packets and the maps. We pulled over so I could review them before heading to the race start. I looked at it all and thought “oh, that looks easy, not anything new that we haven’t seen.” But then, after another minute or two, I noticed the “blue loop.” Hmm, loop, what could that be? It then hit me that the shirt I had just gotten that said “double your pleasure, double your fun, two, two, two rats in one,” and the double mint gum that came in the pack, meant something! Two climbs of rat jaw!

Rat Jaw is literally the hardest mile I have ever done. 2000′ in just over a mile, much of it a bushwhack through saw briers, some of it more like a bear crawl than a hike/walk (there is no running on the Rat). In the past it has taken me around an hour and fifteen minutes to make it to the top. And this year, we’d get to do it twice! Double your fun!

So we drove to the start area, and literally I had 10 or 15 minutes before my wave was set to go. I made my final gear adjustments… Another covid note — this year there would only be water on the course. No food — so you had to carry all your own calories and other gear you thought you might need. I had asked about poles, and the answer was “no, but there are plenty of sticks on the course!” So, my pack had all my food, a fair bit of water which I could top off on the way, a light, and not much else.

I won’t describe the course any further, I’ll just share pictures. I finished in about 10.5 hours, 37th out of the ~110 starters, but 3rd in my new age category of 50+ (which is not an official category, but I did have to check!)

Photos of Kelly and I at the famous yellow gate the day before the race:

Race start:

Testicle Spectacle – the smirk on my face on the 3rd shot is because I had way too much speed on my “butt slide” technique and was about to slide off into the woods!

Summiting Rat the 1st time — I had actually caught the front of the pack — there were about 25-30 of us, with the lead group of 3-4 bushwhacking, so we caught them. I thought about bushwhacking up to help, but figured it was better to save a little energy and wait.

The bottom of Rat just before starting the 2nd climb:

And the 2nd summit of Rat:

I’d note that both Rat Jaw climbs took about an hour this year, roughly 15 minutes faster than in prior years. Most of that had to be the much cooler temps — probably a good 15F cooler!

And finally, the finish:

Another great day at Frozen Head. A lot of suffering, but a lot of smiles too. I love this race, and if I could do just this and Uhwarrie 40 every year, I’d be a pretty happy runner. 🙂

I would say that lack of run volume again caught up with me in the end — runing 10 hours/30 miles/12k’ on 15-20 mpw is not ideal. I was strong on the climbs, due to all the ascending done this year, but my feet and legs were pretty shot coming down Chimney the last few miles.

Gear: Soloman Ultra Sense (or some such), Ruhn compression shorts, icebreaker sleeveless, Stio collared, injinji toe socks, big leather garden gloves, UD pack.

Food: lots of tailwind, some vFuels, part of a bar, and some granola chews. Oh, and sushi! I had the idea to grab a California roll at the grocery store the day before, and carry that in my pack. Ate them 1st before anything else so they would no sit out too long. I would not do this on a hot year, but the cooler temps meant they would keep well.

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