Barkley Fall Challenge 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:

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(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.

Tetons Day 6: Paintbrush Canyon

After a warm night in a hotel, we both got in short runs, and then had great breakfast at the Trapper Grill.  We then headed up into Paintbrush Canyon, the canyon we had had permits to camp in the night before.  In the parking lot I saw a couple coming out with all the gear and talked to them about conditions they experienced, and it pretty much rained on them all afternoon, evening, and into the night.  So we felt justified that we had baled on our backpacking plans!

Paintbrush is a beautiful canyon.   It’s hard to pick a favorite, but it would come down to Death or Paintbrush.  They were so different.  Death definitely felt more remote, and the waterfall up was amazing.  Paintbrush had amazing open views of valley lakes.

We hiked up about as far as we could go — large snow field blocked the way.  At that point, looking further into the canyon was like looking at winter, but all you had to do was turn around and see spring.   We hiked back down a bit to an amazing camp site and set up our chairs, and cooked a hot lunch, and spoke to a few other backpackers that would be staying here this night.

When we got back to town we drove to The Bird, a burger joint about 10 minutes south of Jackson, that one of the local backpackers we had met coming out of Open Canyon had recommended.   It had a fun atmosphere and was quite good.

 

A bit of what some of the stream crossings are like:

 

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Haiti – travel day

Well, it’s finally here! All the training is behind me and the experience of Haiti is in front of me. I am so grateful for this opportunity! Thanks again to everyone for all of your support!

I stayed at the Tischer’s to avoid having Kelly have to drive me to the airport at 4 a.m. Jase and I were up and out the door by 4:20. There were no problems with security and the flight to Miami was smooth.

I read the following card from Kelly when we arrived. I am blessed with an amazing wife who loves me, gets me, and is always there for me.

In Miami we met a lot of the runners at the gate for the flight to Cap Haitian:

I was upgraded so had a decent lunch on the flight, and was the first one through immigration. I acted like I knew what I was doing so was outside pretty quickly. Then I was approached by many taxi drivers asking if I needed a ride. After a bit, others started trickling out and we met the RAH crew.

Here’s the bus we took to the hotel. There were also several pick up trucks to carry bags!

Bus selfie:

The bus ride over to the hotel was a little crazy. I was instantly struck by the trash — it’s literally everywhere! 😦

The road was crazy. I struggled to get decent shots, but it was narrow, crowded, rutted and seemed a bit dangerous. But our driver was amazing!

The hotel is literally at the end of the road and is pretty nice.

Some of the gang went for a run. Not me!

Most of us did make a trek to an old fort…

After that we had a team meeting to go over logistics and safety, had dinner, and now it’s almost time for bed. We have a 4 a.m. wake up call and will be running by 5. 34 miles tomorrow finishing with a long climb up a mountain.

2017 East Coast Magical Mystery Tour Day 1

This year we won’t be heading to a national park out west 😦 —  instead have quite the itinerary planned on the east coast with stops in DC, Pittsburg, girls to NYC and boys to DE, etc.

Day 1 had us drive to DC to the National Cathederal and then see U2 with our friends the Martins in seats next to us, and other friends from PBO and Chapel Hill in attendance but not directly with us.

Photos of the day below.

A golden opportunity to mention quantity missed?

The National Cathedral had damage in an earthquake a couple years back that they will be working of for quite some time.

Stained glass depicting NASA’s trip to the moon:

After the Cathedral we got a taste of DC traffic — about an hour to go just 13 miles to get to the hotel!   We had a quick turn around to get a quick bite to eat and to the stadium for the show.  We got an Uber Black but on the way to dinner changed plans and had him drop us off at Chinese, and then walked to the stadium.

After ticket resolution, we finally made it in and got see the Lumineers play a couple songs!

U2 was pretty amazing, as always.

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Ankle update

Saw the Doctor this morning for my 20 day follow-up.   Lot’s to digest so let me just bullet point it:
  • I was worried yesterday about the base of the 5th metatarsal, so that’s where he started.  It was sore and in general the middle of the foot felt tight and inflamed.  And the base of the metatarsal was sore to pressure.  PT’s resonance test on it was fine, so it was unlikely to be a stress fracture, but I wanted the doc to check it out.  He immediately ruled out stress fracture there, and just called it tarsometatarsal joint inflammation.
  • Main cause of that is not wearing the boot long enough, but worse (in his mind), I was wearing my Luna sandals.  And that’s mostly what I’ve worn the past week or more, other than when on the bike trainer and I’ve put on my bike shoes (not clipless, just platform shoes).  That includes all the walking around Carowinds on Friday, Saturday soccer game and errands, etc.  I did have the brace on for the most part until Sunday afternoon when I stopped wearing it.   And I walked barefoot around the house and on the treadmill when not in Luna’s.  He just pointed out that with barefoot or sandals, the load on the tarsals is much higher, and right now, the foot needs less stress, not more.  So he wants me in a shoe for a while.   I’ve got on my bike shoe right now which is pretty stiff and shouldn’t allow much movement.
  • There is still lots of soreness all over – peroneal tendon, peroneal muscle, ATFL, calcaneousfibular ligament, anterior tibialis, etc.  Some of those are likely due to lack of shoe per above above but some of course due to the original injury.
  • He said if it’s really sore, wear the boot.  (It’s not really sore, in my mind.)  He said the brace is really just for aversion and wouldn’t help much with where I am right now.
  • He mostly wants to see inflammation go down and recommends topical and oral NSAIDs, elevation, massage, maybe a bit of ice.
  • He wrote a prescription for Rayos, a delayed release prednisone, that he said I could take at night, to combat the body’s inflammation.  I’m a bit torn, as I really don’t like taking things like steroids or NSAIDs unless I really have to.  I would take this at night, and the delayed release means it limits the body’s inflammation response which is greatest while sleeping.  I’ll have a think on this and read up on it before making a decision.
  • (I have been doing the topical NSAID 2x per day, but have limited oral NSAIDs unless it’s really bothersome.  I have been taking minerva and using collagen in a shake to try to help with inflammation and speed up natural recovery.)
  • He didn’t say anything about when I could run, just listen to your body, and when there’s no pain, then I can do whatever.  As there’s some pain / discomfort now, I’m certain he was implying don’t run yet, and don’t walk too much yet!  At least not without a more supportive shoe.
  • He did say cycling was fine as long as it doesn’t cause additional pain/discomfort.  I rode 85 miles last week and only feel that’s been a good thing, albeit starting to get boring.  (I’ve only ridden on the trainer, not outside!)
I’m still not too concerned with no running since I have no races until late August.  But even then, I am in this for the long game and want to be running when I’m 70+.  So making sure this heals properly now is key.  I’m most concerned with the possibility of having chronic ankle sprains going forward.  In all my many years of trail and off-trail running, while my ankles have rolled many times, they have never sprained!  So ensuring strength and mobility in all the tendons, ligaments, and muscles, is most key to me right now.
Here are some photos over time:
Day 2:
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Day 3:
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2017 ATT Marathon

I added the ATT Marathon to my race calendar pretty late – about a month before the race itself.  I added it as a “training race” (or a ‘C’ race) to prepare for the MST 50k three weeks out.  I’ve been mostly doing single track hilly/mountainous ultras for a while and feel like I’ve lost some speed at a more road like run, and figured I’d be doing a long training run that weekend anyway, so why not?

I met Sarah and David at Lowes in PBO at 5:30, and Sarah’s husband drove us over.   The race states to arrive by 5:30 even if you have a parking pass to guarantee a spot, but we arrived closer to 6.  There were still no issues parking.   It was a bit chilly (42F?) but I opted to leave the vest behind and just run with arm warmers, gloves, and a 200 weight icebreaker tee.  I also had a buff over my ears.  While it was a bit chilly walking to the start and checking in my post race bag, once in the starting corral it wasn’t bad — lots of heat with all the bodies!

My plan was to run out with Mark Manz who was to lead the 3:40 pace group for a mile or two or three, and then speed up and shoot for roughly an 8:00/mile pace avg.   But I didn’t see Mark there so I thought I’d jump in with the 3:35 group.  David was up ahead in the 3:30 group.  About 2 miles in, the 3:35 group was only 10s behind the 3:30 group, so I felt like the pacing was off.  I had come up on David and ran with him for a few.  Once we turned on to the ATT, it’s a slight downhill, and I knew it was time to pick it up.  I passed the 3:35 group and quickly decided to pass the 3:30 group too — I didn’t like being behind a group.

So then I was in no man’s land… I watched the 3:25 group up ahead, but didn’t really close the gap much at all.  Looking at my watch, I figured they were more in the 3:22-3:23 range and was content to just run my race.  There’s not a lot to write about for the middle portion of the race.  It’s like a T, so you go north and turn around, then south and turn around, and then back to the “trunk” of the T and back to the start/finish.  The two turn arounds let me see the various pace groups and other runners a couple times.

I held steady until the south turn around and was really feeling good.  But I recalled from the 2014 race that I imploded from mile 23-25 or so, with the every so slight 1-2% grade really wearing me down.  This time I thought if I could just get over that climb averaging under 8:00 for each of those miles, I’d be pretty happy.  I ended up doing 7:40 or so and it didn’t feel hard at all.

At that point I really picked it up a notch, and finally felt like I was working.  But with just a couple miles to go, now was the time, C race or not.  I knew I’d be under 3:20, and thought briefly I could even go for a PR (3:17).  But alas I had waited too long to have a shot at that!   I finished very strong in 3:18:44 on my watch and had a BQ by 6+ minutes.  I was very pleased with that!

Here’s the pace chart…  So much for 3:40 (8:25) to start!  But it never felt hard.

And the splits for the markers on the course…  Love the negative split and passing 40 runners in the last 10k!

Strava race analysis:

And final results:

Post race photos:

(David ran a 3:31 and was 2nd in the 60-64 age group!)

I’ll update here if I get any other photos from the race photographer…