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Curiosity

Punishing Race Is an Enticing Lost Cause

By Eli Saslow

WARTBURG, Tenn.

Alone, running and hiking in the mountains for almost 50 hours, Brian Robinson's mind had slowly unraveled. He had run through two sleepless nights, through fog and sideways rain, through thornbushes and over rattlesnake dens. Now, with 80 miles finished and 20 left in the world's toughest footrace, Robinson no longer could differentiate between real and imaginary. Around each corner, he thought he heard picnickers laughing at him. At midnight. In the remote woodlands of Tennessee.

Robinson stumbled into the Barkley Marathons' final aid station at 8 a.m., with black hollows surrounding his eyes. His hands trembled, a result of the five caffeine pills he had swallowed. Dozens of scratches covered his arms and legs. His dry-fit shirt was dingy and frayed. The slightest gust of wind knocked Robinson from side to side, so he leaned against a tree.

A half-dozen friends and fellow runners -- all of whom had quit long ago -- rushed to prepare Robinson for the final section of the race. Two people changed his shoes. One person sponged his forehead. His friend, Wendell Doman, started cooking six eggs as Robinson eyed his watch.

"I need to get back out there now," Robinson said. "I don't think we're going to be able to cook those, Wendell."

"I know," Doman said. "But you need the protein."

"Just put them in a bowl," Robinson said. "I'll drink them raw."

Only six runners ever have finished the Barkley Marathons since its inception in 1986, and the race teased and tortured Robinson and 34 other runners during the first weekend in April. Some of the best endurance athletes in the world traveled to Tennessee to test themselves against the hardest course in ultramarathon running: a cumulative elevation almost equal to two climbs up Mount Everest; trails too deteriorated to follow without a compass; temperatures that, in a single weekend, threaten both heatstroke and hypothermia.

[Audio Gallery]

Even if Robinson, 45, could force down runny eggs and drag his wrecked body 20 more miles within the race's 60-hour time limit, he would fly home to California without prize money, fame or significant recognition. Like every other runner, he had come to Tennessee seeking a more personal result. Mainly, he was curious about how well he could compete. How hard could he push himself? How much could he endure before his mind and body surrendered to the woods?

* * *

Gary Cantrell conceived the Barkley Marathons in the late 1970s, after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s convicted assassin escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary near Wartburg. James Earl Ray ran for 55 hours before guards found him eight miles from the prison fence. Cantrell, a local ultrarunner and accountant, followed the story and thought: That's pathetic. I could have gone at least 100 miles in that much time.

Cantrell spent the next several years scouting the area for a race, and eventually he designed a 20-mile loop on rugged hills and overgrown mining trails. The path forces runners to hurdle hundreds of fallen oak trees and wade through raging creeks. Runners must complete that same loop five times to finish the race, or three times to finish the 60-mile "fun run." To prove he had completed the remote course, a runner this year had to tear a page from 10 books placed along the loop. Cantrell provides detailed directions to each book, and he counts a runner's pages at the end of each loop before allowing him to continue.

[Map]

The Barkley has become a phenomenon among ultramarathon runners. More than 600 athletes have come to Frozen Head State Park to run 100 miles. Many arrive in Tennessee with unabashed bravado: One hundred miles in 60 hours? A pace of less than 2 mph? What elite ultrarunner couldn't manage that?

But more than half of all Barkley entrants quit before the 21st mile. Less than 15 percent finish the fun run. All six men who finished the 100 miles consider that feat their greatest running achievement.

Cantrell, a heavyset man with runner's legs, competed unsuccessfully in the race during its early years before injuries forced him to stop. Now he looks forward to the Barkley as his annual, sadistic joke. When he arrived at a campground near the start-and-finish line on the last Friday in March, he looked more like a woodsman than a runner. He wore a dark overcoat, and a long-brimmed fedora covered his bald head. With a cigarette dangling under his scraggly mustache, he charged $25 for official Barkley T-shirts that depicted a picture of a rattlesnake and the slogan: "The best thing about the Barkley Marathons is the petting zoo." Cantrell told runners that they should get used to seeing rattlesnakes; this year, he said, he had placed one of the 10 books in the mouth of a rattlesnake hole.

Most of the 35 runners pulled pickup trucks and RVs into the campground Friday and set up their tents. For a group feast, Cantrell cooked 20 pounds of chicken -- the race is named for the Cantrell friend who provides the chickens. Runners sat together near a campfire and studied a course map, then scattered to organize their supplies.

Early Friday evening, Robinson sat at a picnic table in front of his tent and laid out his trail food. Five years earlier, Robinson had quit his Internet job to focus exclusively on exploring his physical limitations and competing against himself. Instead of spending 40 hours a week in front of a computer, he searched for physical fulfillment. Could he run a marathon? Could he finish an ultramarathon? Could he speed-hike for 300 days in one year? Intent on completing all five loops at the Barkley, he had brought two dozen eggs, a dozen protein drinks, a bottle of salt pills, enough turkey for 10 loaded sandwiches and 54 Snickers Marathon bars, at 220 calories each.

Robinson then turned over his suitcase and dumped out an entire wardrobe. He had brought three pairs of shoes, four shirts, two jackets and three pairs of pants. Last year, in his first trip to the Barkley, Robinson struggled through freezing rain and missed the 40-hour cutoff for the fun run by 7 1/2 minutes. This year, he was prepared for rain, hail and even snow.

"What, did you pack for a month-long vacation?" Cantrell said, walking past as Robinson sorted his gear.

"Feels like it," Robinson said.

"After lugging all that stuff across the country," Cantrell said, "you'll at least have motivation to finish more than one loop."

Cantrell's sarcastic humor is wove deep into the character of the Barkley. He plays taps on a bugle for each runner who withdraws. To register for the race, athletes must e-mail Cantrell at a time he announces, giving only a few days' warning. This year, he asked interested runners to e-mail him at 1 a.m. on Dec. 26. He filled 35 slots within a few hours and then compiled a 20-person wait list.

[Photo]
Andrew Thompson, runner. (Post Photo)
[Photo]
Gary Cantrell, race organizer. (Post Photo)
[Photo]
Mike Dobies, runner. (Post Photo)

The race starts whenever Cantrell feels like it. He awoke this year on a warm Saturday morning, smoked a cigarette and then blew a conch shell to signal that the race would commence in an hour. At precisely 8:08 a.m., 35 runners left the campground for a 1,600-foot climb up a mountain trail so steep it requires 16 switchbacks -- by consensus, the easiest mile of the day.

It took 40 minutes for Balazs Koranyi to reach his limit. An 800-meter runner for Hungary in the 2000 Olympics and an All-Met runner for Walter Johnson High in 1991, Koranyi had trained for six months and traveled for three days in preparation for the Barkley. Tired from the initial climb, he tripped over a fallen tree about a mile into the course. Koranyi fell onto a protruding branch and punctured his knee to the bone. He hobbled back down the hill, saw Cantrell reclining in a chair near a campfire and asked the race director if he had a first-aid kit. Cantrell laughed.

"We've got duct tape and Vaseline," he said. "That's the only first aid we know at the Barkley."

Koranyi withdrew from the race, walked to his car and drove 45 minutes to the nearest emergency room. He returned with two stitches in his knee before anybody finished the first loop.

* * *
[Info]

The cruelest trick of the Barkley recurs every 20 miles, when runners steer back into the campground. That means that after each loop, a runner has to decide: Back into the forest for another 12, 13 hours of suffering? Or a hot meal and a beer by the campfire, with a shower and a sleeping bag nearby?

Runner David Horton finished the first loop in just less than nine hours and dropped into a folding chair near his tent. Perhaps the most accomplished ultrarunner ever from the United States, Horton completed the 2001 Barkley in 58 hours 21 minutes. He had returned this year to cruise through a quick fun run before driving back to Lynchburg, Va., in time to teach his exercise physiology classes at Liberty University on Monday morning. In one loop around the course, that goal went from modest to unimaginable.

After trekking through the thorny briars, Horton's legs looked as if they had been through a paper shredder. His socks, still packaged in plastic a day earlier, already had worn holes. Horton had stopped three times on the course to dunk his head in streams and escape the 75-degree heat. Now, sitting in his chair, he poured cold water over his head and ate an ice cream sundae. One of his crew members massaged his legs.

"I can't go back out there," Horton said. "It's worse than I've ever seen it."

"Come on, Horty," friend Jonathan Basham said. "You can't give up yet. It's a Saturday. You're here. You might as well try."

"Might as well?" Horton said. "That's the worst reason I've ever heard. Going is stupid. It's like taking the worst beating of your life, then deciding to leave again knowing the next beating is going to be even worse."

Unwilling to compete through another 20-mile loop of pain, Horton quit, and he spent the next two days sitting near a fire and watching the rest of the field gradually join him. Twenty of the 35 starters quit during the first loop or before the second. Nine more quit after the second. With only six runners left on the course during the third loop, the rest of the runners sat in the campground and shared stories about Barkley-inflicted suffering from years past.

[Photo]
Competitors make their way down a section of the course nicknamed "Testicle Spectacle" on their way to "Butt Slide". (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)

Milan Milanovich from Sweden: During the second loop one year, he took a wrong turn and ran into the fence of the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. Suspicious prison guards, alarmed to spot a hiker in such a remote spot, forced Milanovich to the ground at gunpoint. With his limited English, Milanovich tried to explain the concept of the Barkley. This reinforced what the guards already believed: Milanovich was crazy but harmless, they thought. Three hours later, they let him go.

Jim Nelson from Utah: On his final loop in 2004, Nelson saw boat docks, chairs and houses in the woods. He persevered and finished the fifth loop before the time limit expired. When he returned to camp after 57 hours 28 minutes in the woods, Nelson learned that he'd lost the race to Mike Tilden, another 100-mile finisher, by slightly more than three minutes.

Dan Baglione from California: Then 75 years old, he made it to the first book in 2006 before losing his way in the woods for the rest of the night. His compass broke and his flashlight died, so he slept under a tree. In the morning, he remembered the release all Barkley runners must sign. If I fail to return to camp within two hours of any time limit, I agree to pay, in full, for any search and rescue efforts. Baglione walked until he found a road, and then he hitchhiked back to camp just before Cantrell organized a search party. Baglione returned with a new course record for futility: two miles in 32 hours.

"Now I'm officially banned from the Barkley for life," said Baglione, who came to watch the race this year. "How lucky is that?"

[Info]

The Barkley inflicts unique misery, runners said, because it's almost impossible to arrive prepared. Most runners chose from three training strategies: climbing stairs, running or hiking. None of those three -- even in combination -- proves effective.

What would work? Try running up the longest, steepest hill in a nearby mountain range. And make sure it's covered with thorny plants that tear through clothing and skin. And it's muddy. And there's rarely a path. And it's pitch dark. And it's pouring rain. And you're sleep-deprived and exhausted after 40 hours of continuous exercise.

In daylight, the Barkley course is a gorgeous maze through a green-and-purple rainbow of oak and poplar trees. Thirteen peaks in Frozen Head State Park tower more than 3,000 feet, and the course forces runners to ascend almost all of them. It's impossible to run about half of the 20-mile loop. The most difficult sections require runners to pull themselves up 80 percent gradients with climbing poles and leather gloves.

The loop, which takes as little as seven or eight hours for the best runners to complete, requires almost twice as long at night. Cold winds whip over the mountains and create temperatures so cold that, in some years, the most dedicated runners urinate on their hands to regain enough dexterity to tear book pages. Most runners try to navigate through the dark with headlamps and flashlights. But during each Barkley, a few runners get so lost in the darkness that they choose to sit under a tree and wait until dawn. It's better to waste time, those runners reason, than to stumble off a cliff.

* * *

After finishing the fun run, Greg Eason and Mike Dobies turned back to camp early in their fourth loop. Eason, a physical therapist from Arkansas, was seeing treehouses and machine-gun bunkers in the woods. Dobies, an 11-time Barkley runner from Michigan, had feet so swollen they had outgrown his shoes. Both men hobbled back to camp, glossy-eyed, at 1 a.m. on Monday. That left Robinson alone on the course, navigating his way through a dense fog.

[Photo]
The feet of Mike Dobies shows the strain the runners go through as he cleans up after his third loop before heading out for the fourth. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)

Robinson took 16 hours to finish the fourth loop, and he left camp for the final 20 miles with feet that looked as if they belonged to a cadaver. After 80 miles on muddy, slanted hillsides, Robinson's heels were white and crinkled. He had at least a dozen blisters, including one on the outside of his left foot that had grown to almost the size of a golf ball. When Robinson jogged downhill, his wet feet stuck to the bottom of his shoes, even as momentum pulled them forward. With each step, he half expected the soles of his feet to rip off.

Robinson jogged out of camp for the fifth time wearing a backpack filled with food and 100 ounces of water. Mud, sweat and blood matted down his dark brown hair. On his way out of the campground, Robinson tried to settle into a comfortable pace. When he sped up, he ran out of energy. When he slowed, he almost fell asleep. Twice in the first two miles, he stopped for 15-minute naps that he hoped would refresh him. Within seconds of waking up, he felt exhausted again.

As his chance to finish within the 60-hour time limit dwindled, so too did Robinson's focus. While navigating a difficult section of the course, he couldn't stop reciting a meaningless nursery rhyme. He thought he saw trail signs in sections of the woods where no trails existed. He stopped at a creek, sat down on a rock and scanned his surroundings. After what felt like a few seconds, Robinson looked at his watch. Thirty minutes had passed.

Fifty-three hours and 85 miles into the Barkley, Robinson became the last man to succumb. Just to quit, he had to hike three hours back to camp. Once he finally made it, he collapsed in a chair, inhaled two turkey sandwiches and pulled a sleeping bag over his legs. Six runners and Cantrell, the race director, sat around Robinson.

"Well, Gary," Robinson said, "it looks like you win again. I just lost it out there."

"That's the thing about the Barkley," Cantrell said. "It's what separates the men from their cookies, isn't it?"

Robinson nodded. He had daydreamed about a shower for the last 40 hours, but now, finally back at camp, he couldn't gather the energy to lift himself. He slurred his speech. Blood covered his legs and arms. Yet slumped in his chair, Robinson talked to other runners for three hours. He described all five of his loops and rehashed his mistakes. Somebody asked Robinson if he felt devastated because he had quit so close to finishing.

"You know, I thought I would," Robinson said. "But I'm actually proud of a loss like this. Until you push yourself right to the edge, you haven't really pushed yourself. I have absolutely nothing left right now. That's really what I came here for."

Transcript: Monday, April 30
» Eli Saslow, the writer for this series, was online to discuss the project.

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Comments

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That is an amazing article. I know the feeling: pushing yourself to the edge. Top stuff!

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 02:10 AM

This is very silly American bravado at its most pointlessness. No wonder the American psyche needs to go to war all the time - to prove its manhood.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 03:05 AM

An amazing article about amazing people. The kind of personal strenght it takes to put your body through something like that is stunning!

And in response to the last post: Very insightful. Individual people who choose to test their will to the limit have everything to do with America and war???

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 03:54 AM

Ultra-distance events are a closet-sport in America, almost totally ignored by the Media. In the 19th Century we had 6-Day Events, in 1928, and from 1992-95 we had Trans-Continental running events. I'm not sure it's possible to understand a 100 mile run unless you have pushed yourself in some activity all the way to your limits and tried to go past. But if you do, you will never demean something like the Barclay, you will respect and admire every contestant. And claiming these events are bravado is ridiculous. It is a deep committment to self-discovery and personal growth and accomplishment. Bravado can't fuel a mile run, much less 100. Good for ya, Eli. Now how about covering the Bunion Derby and the Moonbat?

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 07:20 AM

Where do I sign up?

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 07:34 AM

The silent personal challenge.That river of self knowledge an inner perserverance is our highest strength as an individual and when it's applied dailey,is what makes our country great.
Wonderful article.

Posted by: Sharon Balenger | April 29, 2007 08:13 AM

That part about passing the camp-ground at the end of each loop? Thats really cruel!

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 08:15 AM

"The worst beating of your life": A telling title for this article. Masochism and alienation has many manifestations.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 08:31 AM

a wonderful article. Thank you very much. Such a race is beyond me now but I would have tried it fifty years ago.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 08:42 AM

The most amusing thing I have read in a long time. Thanks!

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 09:08 AM

"Masochism" "alienation" "American bravado". It's always easy to criticism things you don't understand. I'm a Zen monk (ordained in South Korea), vegetarian, and work as a hospital chaplain. I like to think I don't fit those harsh adjectives. I entered the Barkley a few years ago. I completed 8 miles on the course, which I am quite proud of. The Barkley was harder than my black belt exam, and a mere 8 miles on the Barkley was harder than any other athletic event I have done. It is an incredible event, the best part of the Barkley is actually the people, and I would love to do it again. David Zuniga

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 09:10 AM

Has anyone else made a simmingly obvious observation, "Cantrell is a sadist and these runners are masochists."

Posted by: old athlete and psychologist | April 29, 2007 09:30 AM

Having served as "race director" for a number of by-invitation-only ultramarathon and ironman events organized by Bob Smith in South Texas in the late '70s I have seen first hand who subjects himself to this kind of abuse and have wondered why. Was there a common denominator that linked the silent, ascetic East African competing for UT El Paso and the profane, Spatenbrau-chugging ex-Marine, both trying to see how far they could carry themselves in 24 hours? I have the answer in my own experience. At the 25 mile point of the Dallas-Whiterock Marathon one year there was a piper in full Highland regalia. As my group, all of whom were just about to miss finishing in under three hours drew near, every one of us burst into howls of agony and rage upon hearing the wailing of the pipes. Bagpipes after 25 miles are a primal human scream. Each of us reacted the same way: our glycogen-starved brains clicked onto the Savage Animal Channel. We were at the point where humanness gives way to savagery. Strip away the superego and mankind is revealed as a Bad Monkey with a very nasty temper. Some of us need to get in touch with the Bad Monkey every once in a while. P J Tramdack

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 09:31 AM

Thanks for the inspiring article! The next time I feel like quitting on my treadmill or on the track, I will think about this story to inspire me to keep going! These ultrarunners who push themselves to the limit are truly amazing!

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 09:47 AM

I liked this article very much. Thank you, Eli.

The unnamed person who talked about "American bravado" was clearly well off the mark. Very brave of you to post your comment anonymously...

What is interesting is how far people in some Western societies push themselves to get a thrill or "find themselves". Some people have become so comfortable in life that they intentionally put themselves in very dangerous situations just to see if they can make it. This article will come across as very bizarre to people in other countries where day-to-day life itself is a real struggle.

Posted by: Brett Young | April 29, 2007 09:59 AM

As a test of personal endurance, the Barkley is far better than Everest the climbers of which endanger others when they get into trouble. THAT is hubris; this is just a little bit crazy. The temptation to try flickered in my chest and then died.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 10:25 AM

These people are idiots.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 10:28 AM

why not a contest on who can drink the most beers in a 20 hour period? that would also tests the physical iimits of the contestants in an extreme way.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 10:40 AM

This is more dangerous to the health than perhaps all other sports: the danger is two-fold: (1) immediate danger (dying of freezing and over-heating; breaking one's leg or injuring other sensitive bodily parts and not getting immediate medical help; sleep-deprvation induced maladies; etc.) and (2) long term injury accumulation to the feet, joints, skin, etc.

Posted by: herlao | April 29, 2007 10:45 AM

I agree with the last post. Sport is about challenge, to take on nature to find 'oneself,' to climb Mt Everest or swim the English Channel but it seems that since those have been done, our culture have to invent new ones just to be different. But to take inspiration from an assassin's attempted escape from prison as the basis of your invented sport? This is only serving to recall a shameful part of American history.

Posted by: Monty Haynes | April 29, 2007 10:50 AM

Gary is pretty much a nutcase but his inspiration had nothing to do with the guy's legal history, Monty. That was incidental and irrelevant. He was mildly impressed by the fellow's ability to cover 55 miles of Tn wilderness. And yes, now that you mention it, it's important to remember the shameful parts of our history. Of which we're accumulating quite a bit of under this administration.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 11:28 AM

herlao, you take more risks everyday when you drive.

monty, I've attempted barkley quite a few times to push my limits, I can pay the fee for the barkley with change, everest cost starts at what, 65 grand? You pay my fee I'll gladly attempt everest.
If you think I or anyone else attempts something like barkley because everest has already been climbed you might just be dumb enough to attempt barkley yourself.
...

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 11:29 AM

I, or anyone, after reading this article wouldn't feel both awed and respect toward these people!

It is the American spirit - we challenge the our limit constantly, whether it is the deep space, or the inner shells of atoms, or the 5 loop run in this race!


Posted by: | April 29, 2007 11:47 AM

and to the last poster, as an American soldier I can assure you that our military is doing nothing to be ashamed of, nor is our country.
If you're ashamed personally so be it, but don't speak for everyone else, especially not those who serve.

Someone above wrote

"What is interesting is how far people in some Western societies push themselves to get a thrill or "find themselves". Some people have become so comfortable in life that they intentionally put themselves in very dangerous situations just to see if they can make it. This article will come across as very bizarre to people in other countries where day-to-day life itself is a real struggle."

He's absolutely 100% correct. America is a great place. People here have opportunity, food, jobs, houses and clothing, and places such as the Barkley to play at. Yet so many are ashamed and full of complaints.
Don't become so spolied at your favorite playgrounds that you forget that none of this ever has been or ever will be free.
If you're so ashamed of what America stands for and has then I encourage you to move to a country you approve of.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 11:50 AM

last poster, as in 11:28 a.m.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 11:51 AM

Hero worshipers block roadways jogging and biking to the oldies. When they're done they climb into their blazing blue Escalades and Benz on their way to Wal-Mart to cash a check. What a joke middle age has become.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 11:57 AM

I think I'll just read about it while drinking a beer.

Posted by: Doug0 | April 29, 2007 12:01 PM

I'm proud of America, soldier. I'm just ashamed of George Bush and the bunch of corrupt Republicans that are being uncovered almost daily. George Bushs administration and America are not the same thing--they barely overlap. Don't confuse the real America--which voted recently--and the corrupt corporate-controlled warmonger that manipulated his way into the [no longer]White House. My apologies for temporarily turning this into a political thread. I just get annoyed when somebody confuses George Bush with America.

Posted by: Arcadian | April 29, 2007 12:02 PM

I think the political connection to this article is somewhat absurd (I mean really!) but I can't help but to point out that the article mentions a Hungarian and a Swede participating.

I believe, without judging the athletes who choose to participate, the question of what motivates them is fascinating. As an athlete in an endurance sport, I find this story very much compelling.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 12:40 PM

I find it funny that some people react to an article about a small group of people (including international participants no less) physically pushing themselves to the limit by bashing Bush and the Republicans. You people are truly deranged. I can't believe that your blind hatred can be triggered by an innocuous article about inspiration and pushing oneself.

Notice that I am not defending Bush or the Republicans, I am simply making an observation.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 01:16 PM

Now this is a real sport....Not a bunch of overpaid ballplayers playing a kids game. This one is for adults only.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 01:28 PM

editor - I can't find a place to share these (facebook, Digg, etc.) like other Post articles. Is there a reason for this?

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 01:36 PM

Cannot agree with the caption on the front page:
I have not climbed Mt Everest, however, I have read about the 1996 disaster, and have seen the Discovery channel show - and last time I checked, at 3000 feet, there is plenty of oxygen - at 28,000 feet this is not the case; also, no snow, no storms, etc. But the oxygen thing, that's a show stopper. I'm not saying that this race is not difficult beyond most peoples imagination, however, to compare it to climbing Everest, where every year, someone dies, is not fair to the mountaineers who do make that tough and dangerous climb.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 01:47 PM

2nd poster:

Come on now, its a bloody sport. At least post cynical American quips in a appropriate article. Drawing inferences about a prominently overweight America from marathon runners is a stretch, eh?

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 02:07 PM

Maybe we should also have a fun run to remember John Wilkes Booth mad dash out of the Ford Theater as well.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 02:31 PM

as an American living overseas and avid runner, I can relate to the comment about America losing its prestige over the war in Iraq, but also can acknowledge that these ultrarunners are some tough dudes ...

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 02:55 PM

It's really not a race. It's a test of you against you. I have sailed single handed over
thousands of miles of ocean. It's you alone against the ocean for day after day. I have discovered one thing on these voyages..... myself. I respect and honor those who choose
to find their limits and test their wills.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 03:07 PM

Yeah, an event with 35 guys running over hills explains American foreign policy. Right.

This event doesn't even explain these guys.

At least this event seems to be done on the cheap by participants unlike the efforts of people who try to balloon solo around the world or pogo-stick up K2.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 03:38 PM

I have noticed in life there are participants and spectators. Spectators have all the answers and willingly tell the participants what they are doing wrong. I have tried "sports" and found them lacking. Ultramarathon running tests only the participant and offers the spectators no platform on which to express their pronouncements. Let them get off their backsides and try it....if you dare.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 03:42 PM

For those of you who have never pushed the limits of your own physical and mental endurance, you cannot begin to understand the appeal of a race like the one described in this article. Crazy to some, masochistic to others, but for a select few, participation represents a personal milestone. Don't judge it till you've tried it.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 03:54 PM

Great article. I know that some people must love this sort of adventure race but personally I find it hard to understand wanting to endure not just the physical exertion and fatigue but the logistical nightmare up in those mountains. I guess it adds to the challenge and the potential sense of accomplishment.

Posted by: Seth Gillihan | April 29, 2007 04:14 PM

perhaps the right answer to the above debates is to round up the bushies and make them do the barkley.....at least one lap!

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 04:15 PM

Cantrell sounds like a horse's behind. Maybe, and only maybe, and if I lost all my self-respect, I'd go compete in a race where you're at the mercy and cheap humor of some crotchety old fart who never even managed to win a race of his own design.

Posted by: Raoul | April 29, 2007 04:47 PM

There are always some who carry the undying spirits of human curiosity and challenge. Some may be engaged in exploration of Mars, some in walking to the North Pole, some, like these racers, in the Barkley Marathon.

There are different ways to express our curiosity and the spirit of exploration. This is all about who we are as American. Let's celebrate it and cherish it.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 04:48 PM

I would have loved a race like this in my teenage years since i spent most of my time running in the Mountains of Northern KY!

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 04:52 PM

1) I had Horton as a prof. in college, that's a crazy dude! All he ever did was run, seriously. Great guy though, I was proud of him to get some recognition.

2) The guy who went on some diatribe about Bush...what the heck? I don't like the guy myself, but seriously, get a grip. I like how you ever so cleverly pointed to the result of the 06 election...as if republicans didn't dominate the last 4 or 5 before that...

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 04:55 PM

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 05:04 PM

that is very amazing how you could run even 1 lap.some people run over 5!


-a strange old man

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 06:09 PM

I started running at age 43 with the goal to get in shape, lose a little fat and to finish a marathon in 2 years.

Seems accomplishment of a goal often leads to a more challenging goal. The man who ran the marathon distance (26.2 miles) 200 times in the year 2000 - Jerry Dunn - said "don't limit your challenges, rather challenge your limits". I truly beleive that is the way life should be lived.

It took me 20 marathons to finally run fast enough to first qualify to run the Boston Marathon and 14 years later, I'm now 2 states away from running a marathon or beyond in every state with 5 Boston finishes. I've finished over 20 races of 100 or more miles each including the tough and venerable Western States, Massanutten, Cascade Crest and Superior Trail Races. But my first two attempts (2006 and 2007) of the Barkley have taken me well over the time limit for completing a single 20 mile loop of that race.

Last year's Barkley shirt said "meaningless suffering without a point". As some other article respondents have already said, there is no point to attempting to finish 5 Barkley loops in light of the worlds "real" problems, a point well recognized by both the Barkley Race Director and Barkley participants. None the less, to those of us who gain daily inspiration and recommitment from our running addiction, I find the siren's call of the Barkley irresistable and I consider my two 1 loop 16 hour Barkley completions my greatest running accomplishments and Barkley Race Director willing, I will be back again next year, both wiser and better prepared.

Eli, you wrote a great article on a great athletic challenge of which I feel honored to have been a part. The Barkley - no pay, no public adoration, only personal satisfaction - pure sport.

Allan Holtz
allan.r.holtz@seagate.com

Posted by: Allan Holtz | April 29, 2007 06:25 PM


old athlete and psychologist wrote:
'Has anyone else made a simmingly obvious observation, "Cantrell is a sadist and these runners are masochists." '

Of all the chatter on this article, the old guy has nearly hit it right on the head. Cantrell puts something out there that will test you to your limit (and beyond). How many people will take the challenge knowing that they WILL fail..... but doing it anyway?

herlao wrote:
"This is more dangerous to the health than perhaps all other sports: the danger is two-fold: (1) immediate danger (dying of freezing and over-heating; breaking one's leg or injuring other sensitive bodily parts and not getting immediate medical help; sleep-deprvation induced maladies; etc.) and (2) long term injury accumulation to the feet, joints, skin, etc."

Actually, if you prepare, the Barkley is easier on your BODY than running a hard ROAD marathon. However, mentally, it takes its toll!

a fun run finisher (a 3 looper, good but not great) ..... a sometimes masochist

The Barkley is the only thing that matters.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 06:30 PM

I am not sure where the political comparisons are coming from, or why a political debate is breaking out within the comment section of this article, but becasue it has, I will say the following:

The type of people who do events such as these are not full of "American bravado." I think you might be confusing these people with overweight "couldabeens" drinking beers at ESPN Zone. Most of these types are rather reserved people who would never even discuss the race at the office the following week.

Ultra-running is a very different type of beast. It is not a ego-charged burst of energy. There is no explosiveness involved. That being said, it is more painful and primal than many would believe.

Just something to chew on...

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 06:46 PM

bravo! I salute the folks who press themselves this hard. You have my deepest respect.

-Matt Kolenda

Posted by: matt Kolenda | April 29, 2007 07:05 PM

That is amazing. After eight miles through the woods I am about to collaspe. I can't even imagine finishing that.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 07:13 PM

I understand the compulsion to push oneself in this manner. This sounds like a very brutal race, but also a lot of fun too. Not quite my thing, but having done a ton of distance hiking there is a lot about it I can relate to. Especially the floundering around in the dark, cold, and rain with a dodgey flashlight. That is always a good time. But that is the time when you want to be able to know how to read the map and use the compass or GPS too.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 07:20 PM

hey no harm to anyone, and no real big deal. Just bored spoiled white guys acting out.
Maybe they ought to help out in a third world country to prove their mettle... or if they are really tough, teach in an inner city school..

naw, that would take balls.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 07:54 PM

wow! this is the stupidest thing ever!!! That Gary cantrell guy is a nut! i´m a runner and is 16 years old....i believe in challenging myself....but this is just crazy!!competing agains yourself???? what rubish!!!! NO MONEY! NO TROPHEY! NO NOTHING! IT¨S OK! Gary....u r a big man....do it yourself!

Posted by: kettou | April 29, 2007 08:18 PM

Interesting that Cantrell is a smoker...

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 08:40 PM

If you run for trophies-they gather dust and don't mean anything after a few years. You end up giving them away. The feeling of accomplishing the impossible lasts forever.

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 08:43 PM

"i´m a runner and is 16 years old.."


IS?

Go back to school and learn some grammer!

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 08:48 PM

I've dreamed about competing at Barkley for years. Great article!

Posted by: | April 29, 2007 08:49 PM

For those making the "obvious" pronouncement of the masochistic or sadistic tendencies involved here, I suggest you consider the idea that one can gain a tremendous amount of insight and a kind of power from the occasional and deliberate practice of giving yourself over to something other than and perhaps larger than your own wellbeing or self interest. Contrary to some of the comments, American are softer, fleshier and more self interested than ever. It is events like this that help to combat that trend.

Posted by: Christopher Flaesch | April 29, 2007 08:55 PM

I am a 60 years old guy who was going down hill in my health. I started regular training 2 years ago. I look and feel completely different now. What I am doing during my training sessions would look like a school math for a Fields medal winner (I hope you know what it is) for people who are discussed in this article. But, untill you realize that it is really a self-discovery process you can not change yourself.
Only those who are still young inside and want to change and test themselves can understand these people. And this story is about these kind of people who still want to know who they are.
There is one more dimension here. Now it is a time of a very lovely existence. People are alone all the time, families are breaking apart (more than 50% of american families end up in divorce). So, to function well being alone you need to test and know yourself-you are the only person whom you can really trust.And here the self-discovery is very helpfull.
I am doing now 9 miles running and will attempt half-marathon in couple years. If I were fit enoigh I would attempt this thing myself. Bravo to all those souls who still have enough fire inside to do these things.

Posted by: Boris T. borist@pacbell.net | April 29, 2007 10:41 PM

Awesome men, awesome event. How could anyone suggest these athletes be anything other than spectacular?

I hope the entrants don't read most of the misguided and jealous people who have posted a comment. The runners aren't saving the world, but creating awe and I salute them for it.

I'd love to have a crack at a loop one day, and shake all of your hands.

Posted by: Mick Fallon | April 30, 2007 01:59 AM

I'm an ultrarunner, who on my very best day is a mid pack runner at a more pedestrian event. I think I would have no chance at finishing a loop at the Barkley. For those of you who are dismissive of our hobby, please stay away. We already have celebrities in the sport and now unwanted national media attention. Hollywood and poseurs can't be far behind. For those of you interested in meeting the most generous and supportive people in sport, please come to a local ultra and meet everyone. It is a very small community. I have sat down at breakfast the day after a run with the man who is arguably the best ultra runner of his generation and shared a story or two. As David Horton, who is cited in the article, once said, ultrarunners are ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things.

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 08:02 AM

Until one has enjoyed the bliss of cruising along after running 20 or more miles in the dark and/or finished multiple marathons or ultramarathons (or the equivalent in triathalons, cycling or another endurance sport), he will not truly understand this.

All the bunk about societly, politics, etc. is just that - bunk.

At this level, a man (or woman) runs for himself, the very basic enjoyment of the run and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with it. It's personal.

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 09:15 AM

These athletes are truly amazing and take the cake. I thought I was tough by doing a 40 mile hike in one day. Regardless of what their motivation is for trying this event, the spirit to overcome physical and mental fatigue is courageous!!

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 10:57 AM

Quote: "Has anyone else made a simmingly obvious observation, "Cantrell is a sadist and these runners are masochists."


Spot on

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 12:16 PM

I got totally worn out just by reading about it...

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 12:24 PM

To the 'American Bravado' comment. There are usually international competitors in all events of this type, including this one, and one of the most difficult races in the world, the Marathon-de-Sables multi day event, in the Sahara Desert, has far more non-American competitors than American. People are people, and some like to challenge themselves. It has always been that way.

To the 'Booth Fun Run' comment, this race did not come about to 'honor' James Earl Ray, but the idea was simply born from the fact that he escaped from the local prison, and over a FIFTY-FIVE hour timeframe, was only 8 miles away! Gary thought he could go 100 miles in that timeframe, and in some places he could, but not here.

Some of the personal comments, don't dignify a response when the writer has no idea of the person they speak.

Most of these runners are not seeking the approval or publicity that most others in the sports world seek. This is a very personal quest. There are no crowds of cheering spectators, no medal at the end and no aid stations or crew along the way to provide assistance. It is you against the course, the clock and the other competitors. What could be more pure, no outside assistance, no coaching, no spectators, no money. Sport for the sake of sport.

Whether running your first local 5k race, or competing in an Ironman triathlon or a 100 plus mile ultra event, and yes, even climbing Mount Everest, many of the feelings of accomplishment, of facing a challenge and overcoming it are the same. It really just comes down to the desire to go farther that you ever could have possibly imagined. To get to the point where you think you have given all you have to give, but then do more.

As honorable and inspiring, or as distatefull and unappealing as it may be to you, when it comes right down to it, it's just a group of people pursuing a recreational activity that they love to do. Each for their own personal reasons.

http://www.daveharper.com/Barkley/

David Harper

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 12:29 PM

People think I'm crazy because I've run countless 100-milers. But no way would I do Barclay. That's nuts! But I admire the people who try.

Good think the race isn't local to me. Then I would have to enter. It would be for the t-shirt.

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 02:00 PM

My deepest respect to all runners who ever started at Barkley. It must be very difficult just to show up and start running knowing what lies ahead of them.

I'm a ultrarunner myself and I've ran 50 and 100 mile races. Barkley is and most probably always will remain a dream event for me since I am nowhere strong enough to attempt it.

One major point, which makes ultrarunning so different to other sports, is that the runners are extremely friendly and helpful to each other.

A example I experienced explains it all: David Horton, one of the only 6 Barkley finisher, emailed me and wished me good luck at my attempt to run my first 50 miler; the JFK50. I was so humbled by that gesture and I will never forget that.

Posted by: Jakob | April 30, 2007 02:09 PM

I'm the Brian Robinson who "won" this year's Barkley. Below is a first-person account of my experiences, written before I read Eli's account. Thank you, Eli, for your excellent article. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I did.
------------------

Barkley 2007: More than a fun run
by Flyin' Brian Robinson

As I write the first draft of this report, it's been more than 24 hours since I returned to camp after bailing out of loop 5 of the 2007 Barkley and I'm still trying to clear the fog in my mind. I'd been running so well. What went wrong? It's hard to remember through the fog of total mental and physical exhaustion. But through the fog, I remember ... fog. It was real fog, I think, but that's jumping ahead.

Like last year, I tried to come well prepared. One of the less obvious challenges of running well at Barkley is the training. You either train all winter or ramp up very quickly after the holidays like I did this year. In early January, I logged just 11 flat miles as my wife Sophia and I moved into a new home in Monterey , California . Eight weeks later I logged 79 miles with 45,000 feet of elevation change.

Mental preparation is just as important for an "impossible" run like Barkley . In 2006, I hadn't been allowed to scout the course. Getting lost cost me any chance of finishing, so just after the race, I wrote down every detail I could remember. I reviewed those notes as I trained, hoping to avoid the navigational mistakes that cost so much time.

Scouting the course was permitted this year, so Wendell Doman and I arrived Wednesday night with plans to scout the next two days. When the first hike took over 7 hours, we both worried that we might be wearing ourselves out, so the next day we scouted just one mile of trail to find the location of the newly placed Book 6.

Saturday morning I awoke at 3:30am , ate breakfast and went back to sleep. When the conch shell sounded at 7:11 , signaling one hour to the start, I had one less thing to do getting ready. That really helped keep me calm when Washington Post reporters started taking pictures and asking questions.

At 8:11am Gary lit the starting cigarette, and we were off with a whoop. David Horton and I planned to "run" together, but our running turned to walking in less than ¼ mile. The Bird Mountain Trail, one of the easiest on the course, is too steep to run, rising 1,300 feet in just over 1 mile.

I was a little surprised that no one challenged me for the early lead. This year's field was particularly strong. David Horton , Jim Nelson , Andrew Thompson , Andras Low , Mike Dobies , Greg Eason and a host of others were content to stay back a bit. More surprising was how much of the field was keeping near the front. I counted at least 20 of the 35 entrants each time the trail switched back. Going down Bird Mountain the pace sped up, the field spread out but, Jim Nelson was right on my tail. We arrived at Book 1 together, got our first pages and crossed Phillips Creek. Jim stopped for water, so I got ahead, but not for long.

The rumors that the Park Service had flagged the North Boundary Trail were true. So at least in daylight, navigation was easy. Even so, I lost confidence between ribbons, and Jim , who knows the trail better than I, got ahead. Andrew , David and some others were right behind as we all followed Jim .

The course changed dramatically in 2006 and the new sections start just after Book 2. So I expected a group of frontrunners to follow Jim and me closely through the new sections. But as I left Book 2, only Jim was in sight, still coming up from the Coal Ponds, and he appeared to be alone. So as I headed up Stallion Mountain , I figured only Jim had any chance of keeping up with me. He and I'd lost a lot of time together as we traversed the new sections for the first time in 2006. The other potential frontrunners would have to pay that penalty this year, or wait for the next person familiar with the course, presumably Mike Dobies .

Because I'd gotten lost here, this was the first place I'd come to scout with Wendell before the race. The preparation really paid off. I ran at full speed with complete confidence from Book 3 on Stallion Mountain to Book 4 on Fyke's Peak. It felt good to be making up so much time over last year.

The route down from Fyke's is a string of animal trails, but the right route is fairly obvious to me. I pretty much stay on the ridge, but make sure to follow the animal trails through the rock ledges, avoiding the cliffs. I also remember precisely where to leave the Park boundary and head down a draw to cross the New River . I came out exactly where I hoped, right where it's easy to cross with dry feet.

I then crossed Highway 116 and headed up Testicle Spectacle, a steep power-line scramble. Unless my memory of misery is faulty, the saw briers were bigger, greener, healthier and thicker this year than last. But the trail through the middle is fairly obvious and I made good time. It was hot, though, and my skin paid the price in blood for wearing shorts. Hopefully it made a good photo. The Washington Post photographers were waiting near the top. As a photographer clicked off a couple shots at ankle level, I said, "Did you know this was going to be a blood sport?"

Book 5 at the top took me a moment to locate as the photographer snapped a few more shots. I'm sure he knew where it was, but he did a good job of not tipping me off. But I found it, ripped out my page as the camera clicked and was on my way down the Meth Lab Trail. It's another power line with more saw briers and more blood. But I worried about the Neo Butt slide at the bottom. I remember the slide emptying out into saw briers last year, but I guess one year of use ripped out the worst of the buggers. The slide was perilously steep, but mostly free of briers. Whew. I turned right and headed into the woods.

Because I'd scouted the new location of Book 6, near Raw Dog Falls , I knew there was a jeep road between me and the bottom of the ravine. I didn't bother taking a compass bearing, I just contoured slightly downhill until I hit the road. Book 5 was just uphill to the right.

By comparing notes with other runners after the race, I think I bypassed Danger Dave's Climbing Wall by going downstream too far before crossing over and traversing side-hill to lower Pig Head Creek. My route is longer, so I think it cost some time. Lower Pig Head Creek is literally a dump. It lies just below a turn out on Highway 116 so we walked through everything from old tires and a computer monitor to miscellaneous household trash. There was even a rotting carcass of some small animal, covered in maggots. Yuck!

Crossing Highway 116 brought me to upper Pig Head Creek and the start of Rat Jaw Junior. It's a very slow climb following the creek bottom up to where an old road crosses. I believe I wasted some time here as well. The instructions say it's okay to jump out of the creek bottom sooner and pick up the parallel road high on the ridge to the left. At the very least, this would have avoided a lot of poison ivy.

The climb up Rat Jaw Senior returned us to a Barkley route that's been in use for several years, so I knew my route-finding advantage was over for loop 1. However, I hadn't seen anyone behind me since I topped out on the Testicle, so I hoped to maintain my lead for a while. I didn't remember exactly which animal trails to take up this power line cut, so I worried about hitting a dead end in a saw brier patch and paying the proverbial pound of flesh. Fortunately, I remembered where to cross from side to side, but my confidence was low. Finding Book 7 was easy though.

Topping out on Frozen Head is fun. After the endless climb up Rat Jaw, a cheering group greets us runners as we go by. I felt like a conquering hero. I filled the hydration bladder in my GoLite 24 pack at the water cache and was off. The next two miles follow easy jeep road and improved trail. It's a good place to eat a meal without worrying about tripping. I made the most of the opportunity and ran as best I could while wolfing down a couple turkey sandwiches.

The Barkley course gets back to the craziness that passes for normal after Book 8 on Indian Knob. The route down Zip Line is completely off-trail, very steep (1,600 feet in ¾ mile) with not even a power line to help guide the way. I just headed straight downhill hoping to recognize the creek at the bottom. Soon I was at the confluence of two creeks and found Book 9.

From there the last big climb goes straight up the other side. It's called Big Hell for good reason. 1,600 feet up in ¾ mile, a perfect reversal of Zip Line, except this climb follows a ridge. Navigation is easy; just keep following the ridge straight up. My hill training was good this year; I made it to the top without pause. Since I was still in the lead, I had to unpeel about 10 yards of duct tape holding Book 10 to the side of a tree, a task that took about 5 minutes.

It's supposed to be easy from there, but that's where I took my first wrong turn. Instead of crossing over the saddle between the first and second Chimney Top rocks, I stayed right of both and ended up on a trail back toward Mart Fields. But I didn't go far. I backtracked and picked up the correct route. I lost at least 10 minutes though and wasn't sure if anyone had passed me until I arrived back in camp in first place. Gary counted my pages and congratulated me on finishing Loop 1 in 8 hours 17 minutes. Yes!

I shared a crew with David Horton , and they were amazing. They had a chair waiting with all my stuff arrayed around it. They scrambled six eggs as I washed my feet and changed into fresh shoes and socks. As I ate, they restocked my pack with two turkey sandwiches, 100oz Gu2O, Ensure, my flashlights and other nighttime gear. I was off again in just 13 minutes! I was surprised that no one else arrived before I left.

Because I made such good time, I started Loop 2 at 4:41pm with lots of daylight left. It didn't get dark until after Book 2 at the Garden Spot. Because I know the route around Fyke's so well, I didn't even really notice exactly when it got dark. I was just motoring. I do remember having some uncertainty going through the saw briers on the Testicle, but no real problems. Pig Head Creek was slower in the dark, but I kept seeing familiar landmarks. Rat Jaw was the first real puzzle, as I still wasn't confident of the route, but a general compass bearing let me know I was piecing the trails together correctly and I had no trouble finding Book 7 at the Keyhole. Even Zip Line and Big Hell were routine. I completed Loop 2 in just under 10 hours and felt great! The evening air was warm and dry. It was 2:26am and I wasn't even tired. I was feeling confident.

I spent longer with my crew this time. David Horton had ended his race after one loop, and he was a big help. He warned me to be careful navigating. I had a good run going and he didn't want me to blow it by getting lost. They were leaving in the morning so I asked them to pass my crew notes to Wendell Doman if he was ready, or someone else if he was going for a fun run finish. Wendell took charge after he finished two laps, so I was in good hands.

It's been said that loop 4 is the hardest. Like loop 3, it's run in the reverse direction, but it's run mostly in the dark. Amazingly, I was starting loop 3 before 3am , so I'd face a big chunk of that problem on this loop. I pondered how far I'd get before dawn and hoped this meant I'd have to do less of loop 4 in the dark.

As I headed up the Chimney Top Trail for the first time, I really had no idea who I'd see first, or how far back they were, although I expected to see Jim Nelson since he was the last person I'd seen on loop 1. For a while I thought I might make it all the way to Chimney Top before I saw a headlamp, but then I saw three! It was Mike Dobies , Greg Eason and Andras Low . Rain was just starting, but they were in good spirits. Not far behind them were Jim Nelson and Andrew Thompson , both a little tired and discouraged. After that encounter, it started raining hard and I didn't see any lights on Chimney Top or down Big Hell where they might have helped me navigate the dark ridge. But I still came out very near Book 9 at the bottom. When I saw the creek, I knew I was upstream from the book, and then I saw another light! It was Wendell Doman . He found Book 9 first and yelled, making my search easy. We were both soaked, but still having fun.

The climb up Zip Line was tough. In the dark, I wanted to stay as close to the creek as possible. But it's full of rocks and I had to backtrack a bit when I hit a small ledge too steep to climb. But following the creek exactly, enabled me to start exactly on track when the draw flattened out and the route headed straight uphill. Taking advice from David Horton , I angled slightly left and hit the trail coming from Mart Fields after cresting the ridge. Soon I had my page from Book 8.

Dawn 's first light helped me avoid the mud puddles on the road to Frozen Head. Wind was blowing rain across the ridge and for the first time I was cold. I got out my balaclava, covered my wet head and cinched the hood on my rain jacket.

I don't recall exactly when the rain stopped. The weather was cool enough that I left my rain gear on which helped protect me from saw briers, although I had to unhook my jacket quite a few times for fear of ripping a huge hole in it. What I do remember is my blistered feet. Even coated in Hydropel, which helped some, my feet pruned up and blistered, and the pain slowed me down. Hard rain also produced mud and slippery footing that required using the edges of my shoes for traction, further straining already tired feet. Still I ran when I could and made the best of it.

I finished loop 3 about 3:30pm . As I turned in 10 more pages, Gary asked how I was feeling and I said, "Good, but my feet are hammered!" My Fun Run time was 31:21, almost 9 hours faster than last year! That perked up my spirits, bad feet or no. Wendell had all my crew supplies laid out and scrambled six eggs while I assessed the damage to my feet. They were not as bad as I feared.

I never considered taking a nap. It was broad daylight and I wanted to get as far as I could before nightfall. Backwards navigation at night is what makes loop 4 so hard. I assumed I'd finish loop 4 before dawn, so the more miles I could do before nightfall, the less backwards night navigating I'd have to do. If I was fast enough, I could sleep before the start of loop 5.

Many people in camp were cheering. No one has much energy left after the Fun Run, so anyone setting out on loop 4 is really trying for 5 loops. Quite a crowd was wishing me well, letting me know I had ample time. If only my feet didn't hurt so much. At the last minute, Leonard Martin lent me a pair of trekking poles. I left hoping they would help keep my feet from coming apart.

The first half mile is downhill on pavement. If you can't run here, you can't run anywhere. My spirits soared as my feet settled in without complaint. Yes! I can run! Wearing dry shoes and socks, I had hope for the first time in hours that my foot problems might be behind me.

I sailed up Chimney Top in fog left by the receding storm and cruised down Big Hell. It was daylight and the track of previous runners was obvious in the wet leaves. I didn't need my compass, but I checked it anyway. David Horton 's advice to be careful and make no mistakes stayed with me. Heading up Zip Line I was very optimistic. In the daylight, I could take an easier route slightly upslope, keeping the creek in sight. After following the creek's right bend, I powered hard up the ridge using the trekking poles. Just as on loop 3, I angled slightly left, hoping to hit the trail to Mart Fields just beyond the ridge. Near the top, I hit an old trail angling upwards to the left that I now believe would have led me directly to Indian Knob. But I thought Indian Knob was to my right, so I ignored it, reaching the ridge soon after. I had only a few minutes of daylight left to help me find Indian Knob in the fog. Nothing looked familiar, but maybe it was just the fog. So I
hopped over the ridge, looking for the Mart Fields Trail. Nothing. I went way downhill hoping it was just out of sight in the fog. No luck. I retraced my steps back to the ridge. I followed the ridge looking for capstones and found one. Then another and another, but no book 8. Then I checked the compass. Whoa! I thought I was searching south, but I'm heading east! This is not good. I feel completely lost and twilight is fading. My gut tells me the compass is wrong, but I know better. I tell myself, "Trust the compass. Figure out where you are." There was only one possibility, I was southeast of Indian Knob. Angling upslope northwest, a capstone appeared out of the twilight in the fog. It was Indian Knob. I'd just lost ½ an hour.

The trail from Indian Knob to Frozen Head is very runnable, even in the fog. But my headlamp was worse than useless. Its bright beam scattered so much light that I could barely see the trail in front of me. I could see much better when I turned it off. My waist lamp lit up the ground without blinding me. But it's not very bright, so I took off my head lamp and put it around my waist. That worked much better, but I couldn't aim the beam. I took it off again and carried it in my hand. That worked, but with trekking poles and a flashlight, I had three items in two hands. I could no longer use the trekking poles to take any significant load off my feet. That had been working really well to ease the pain in my feet. Now in order to see, I had to walk in pain. Eating on the move was impossible.

When I reached the water drop at Frozen Head there were empty bottles down the road. At first I thought they'd blown there, but then I realized it's a much warmer place to refill, out of the wind. I grabbed a full bottle and headed back. Then I discovered how disorienting fog can be. I accidentally walked toward the lookout tower, almost 90 degrees off-course! Whoa, I had better watch the compass more closely.

The next challenge was Rat Jaw, downhill at night in thick fog. Ugh. With the new book placement, I decided not to just charge downhill and sort things out when I got out of the fog. I had bad memories of getting lost on Fyke's Peak last year. I was afraid getting lost would leave me wandering aimlessly until sunrise. Book 7 is just 400 vertical feet down the hill, and I really wanted to follow tracks or trail at least that far. My blistered feet also vote against rash action; I couldn't charge downhill without both hands on my trekking poles. So I crept downhill trying to follow footprints and animal trails which I could only see about 10 feet in any direction. I was trying to be smart and not get lost, but it was late and I was tired. Progress is terribly slow. I kept stopping to check the compass and look around for signs of the power line. Eventually I lost all sign of tracks or trail and had to just follow a compass bearing and hope for the best. I still stopped every
20 feet and checked my bearing.

The fog was so thick that I didn't realize what was happening when I stepped near the edge of a cliff. It just seemed that the fog was thicker and I couldn't make out the ground in front of me. But I rejoiced when I realized it was a rock at about same altitude as book 7! I worked my way to the base and could just barely see another rock adjacent. I walked from rock to rock, as they got larger and connected into a more or less continuous face. I carefully followed the indentations of that face, hoping to recognize the keyhole. The fog was so thick that I had to climb in and out of every cleft to get a good look. Suddenly I saw footprints coming out of a promising cleft. Book 7 was right in front of me. What a relief! That book had taken much too long to find.

I still couldn't charge downhill, because I might miss the turn in the power line. But the fog was thinning and I could see the power line when I was standing close to it. After the turn, the animal trails were easier to follow and I stopped less often to check the compass. But my feet had gotten used to a slower pace and even as the fog in the air lifted, the fog of sleepiness in my head thickened. When I reached the penultimate road near the bottom of Rat Jaw, I followed it until I realized it wasn't the right one. My mind just wasn't working so well anymore.

On the right road, I forced myself to run despite the complaints coming from my feet and I started moving well for the first time in hours. However, Pig Head Creek slowed me down. The fog was completely gone, so I was wearing my headlamp again, freeing up both hands for trekking poles. Even so, the rocks in the creek bed were killing my feet.

The smell of the carcass in lower Pig Head hit me before I even crossed the road. I stepped very carefully through the garbage dump. It's so easy to slip and fall when tired. But I perked up as I approached book 6 at Raw Dog Falls . The fire road was easier on my feet and I knew exactly where I was. Even the scary scramble up the Neo Butt Slide was a bit of relief. Adrenaline kept me awake for a few minutes as I worked my way up the muddy slope on hands and knees, using the tips of my trekking poles like ice climbing tools for handholds between tufts of saw briers. After that, the rest of Meth Lab Hill was easy. The top was wind-blown and cold, shrouded once again in fog. I got my page and figured would be a good place for a nap. I certainly couldn't oversleep; the cold would wake me up in about 15 minutes. It did. Sleeping in the cold wasn't very refreshing though.

My feet complained again going down Testicle Spectacle. Slippery mud threatened to send me sliding through the high saw briers, but I managed to hold fast. Or should I say slow? Slow certainly better described my pace. Sleep may have done my brain some good. I thought about the slow pace and checked my watch. It was 2:30am . I didn't remember what time I left camp or when I expected to return, but I remembered that it should still be dark. 2:30am ? There wasn't enough night left! I had to hustle.

The bottom half of the Testicle is less steep and slippery, so I ran to the road and down to the New River . Even though the rain had stopped hours ago, the New River was much higher than before. It was nothing like the torrent that Blake Woods reported on loop 5 in 1996, but it was more than enough to get my sore feet wet. So be it. I couldn't afford to lose any more time.

Once again I had no trouble finding my way up Fyke's Peak. The last wisps of fog blew across the ridge as I picked up my page from Book 4. The stars were bright. It promised a beautiful, clear, warm sunny day for loop 5. I thought about the time again. I doubted that I'd make it back to camp before sunrise. Then it occurred to me. 8:11am would be the 48-hour mark of the race. If I didn't get back before then, there wouldn't BE a loop 5. I'd been taking caffeine pills, but I couldn't remember exactly when, so I took some more.

Clarity of purpose help focus even the tired mind. I ran from Book 4 to Book 3 and on to Book 2 at the Garden Spot. My feet complained, and my legs were tired, but they held together. The flag markers on the North Boundary Trail were of little help at night. I focused on landmarks and found my way down through the Coal Ponds, across SOB Ditch and over Bald Knob. The newly maintained stretch of trail was a reprieve. I ran as fast as I could through that section. Close attention to route finding was required again after Jury Ridge, and to find Book 1. I was doing the best I could, but it was getting light. Somehow I had to move faster.

As I crested the top of Bird Mountain , the sun rose. I had hoped to greet that third sunrise with more joy, but I only had ½ an hour left to finish the loop. I was going to make it, but there would be no time for sleep. I ran downhill, trying not to destroy me feet. I started thinking about loop 5. I was going to need those feet for another 12 hours. I walked short stretches, but there was so little time!

I arrived at the Yellow Gate almost exactly at 8:00am , thinking I had 11 minutes to spare. Gary reminded me I had to LEAVE on loop 5 before those 11 minutes were up. I thought, "Oh my God! How am I going to get ready?" But it was morning, and everyone was up waiting for me to arrive. Everyone worked together as my crew! As I tended my feet, eggs are burned - err cooked, sandwiches made, bladder refilled; everything was taken care of. My feet were ugly. There was a blister the side of my whole thumb on the left side of my left heel and several smaller ones scattered around. My feet needed a lot of work, but I didn't even have time to drain the big blister. I just shoved my feet in dry socks and put my shoes back on. If the blister didn't pop itself, I could stop later, but I had to check out of camp NOW . I choked down the last of my scrambled eggs, handed the pan back to Wendell and checked out with 7 seconds to spare.

Peace of mind slowly returned as I walked back up Bird Mountain . I found a banana in my left pocket, but it was too late to drop the peel. I'd have to carry it the whole way. I thought about that as I climbed. "The whole way. One more loop. Not many people get to start loop 5, but most of those who do, finish," I told myself. If they are fast enough to complete loop 4 backwards in the dark, 12 hours is enough time for a daylight loop.

More thoughts came back to me from those hectic 11 minutes in camp. Someone told me I'd taken 16 hours on loop 4. "16 hours! That's almost twice as long as I took on loop 1," I told myself. "What took me so long?" I didn't remember much about the loop 4. Jumbled memories filled my mind. Had it raining last night, or was that the night before? I was so tired, but I needed to make good time on the North Boundary Trail. My feet wouldn't carry me very fast over the rough sections later. "Oh God, what if I don't make it? I'm so tired." I took another caffeine pill, but they just weren't working anymore.

By sheer force of will I crested Bird Mountain and descended to Book 1. The routine was automatic now. Take out my race number. Read it. Don't relay on memory. Pull out the right page. Look at the number and compare it to my race number. Look at the shape. Just make sure it's the right number and put it away. Make sure the zipper is closed. The job's not done until the page is securely put away.

Up Jury Ridge, I really struggled. It was broad daylight, but I couldn't stay awake. I stopped for a 15 minute nap. I set my watch alarm and fell unconscious in seconds. It was a warm morning and the sleep felt so good. But when the alarm went off, I got up and started moving. I just didn't feel any better. I crested Jury Ridge and tried to run downhill on the newly maintained trail. It's good footing, but I just couldn't move fast. I stumbled with sleepiness. At the bottom I stopped for another nap. This time I didn't even set the watch. It had taken me three hours to get to Rayder Creek. On loop 1, I had made it to the Garden Spot in three hours. I was going barely half that pace. I calculated that at that rate, it would be another 16 hour loop. I couldn't afford the time to sleep, but I couldn't go on without it. My race was over. I slept.

A naked fact about Barkley is you can't just drop out. You have to get back to camp. The easiest way home from Rayder Creek is to continue on the Barkley course to Bald Knob, hop over the ridge and take the fire road back. So I continued forward for another hour, still technically in the race. But I was barely putting one foot in front of the other. I wanted to stop and sleep some more, but each time I stopped, my feet hurt so badly I regretted stopping. When I got to Bald Knob, I didn't even consider continuing. I just wanted to get back to camp as soon as possible and sleep.

It took another 3 hours to get back. Some were surprised to see me; some were not. But I'd given it everything I had. That, and four official laps, was enough to be proud of. It wasn't the result I hoped for, but it was enough for everyone else there. In time it would be okay with me too. It was actually easier to go down while still out on the trail trying. Last year I'd missed a cut-off when I still had some fight left and wasn't allowed to continue. This year I had the chance to give it my all.

My first inkling of that acceptance came in camp. I'd staggered three hours thinking of nothing but sleep. When I arrived to heartfelt cheers and knowing condolences, I forgot about sleep. I sat down and traded war stories with my friends. I wanted to know how everyone else's day had gone and they wanted to know about mine. The Washington Post reporters were there too, and recorded our conversations. I hope the confused musings of my very tired mind make sense when put down in print and read by others more rested.

brian_a_robinson@yahoo.com

Posted by: Flyin' Brian Robinson | April 30, 2007 02:24 PM

the article is a little slanted towards the insane side of ultra running. all runner train to run and fuel over a distance. the runner trains to address difficulties as needed. if all goes well, the runner overcomes those difficulties and finishes/places depending on the goals he/she sets.

this formula is the same for a 5-miler as it is for for a 50-miler - though over such distances there are more considerations and of course mental toughness becomes huge.

i do not seek to discount the accomplishment of finishing/placing in an ultra; i have never been so proud in athletics as i was when i finished a 34-miler over the winter. i just think it is worth a note:

most are normal people, mothers, fathers or college students just looking to go further than before.

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 03:32 PM

Hi Eli,
Well, you definitely captured the grueling aspect of the race. What a challenge. The rewards are so personal! I can't imagine where one finds the strength to endure such a pysical and psychological test. Great piece.
Colorado friend,
Lisa O

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 03:53 PM

My, My, MY, Amazing how much fun can be had with a little real estate tucked away in the mountains. I too have run a few ultramarathons, every year, for over 28 years (over 400 total). I have raised a family, taught school for 31 years, and met some of the nicest, intelligent people in the world during my travels through this sport. I have even used ultra skills to help my son in his auto racing by pursuits doing overnight/transit driving for One Lap of America. www.onelapofamerica.com
I was at a 24 hour race, on a 400 meter track, many years ago, and several runners were thinking out loud about what "else" we could be doing, you know, like the earlier poster said::"to save the world" That concept brought us down, briefly, until we realized there was a medical doctor in our midst, two teachers and a lawyer, (similar to the makeup of Barkley contestants in any given year). We realized that we were doing things for people every day, year after year. We were saving the world, a few people at a time. Our ultrarunning, rather than a misguided excess was our way of recharging our emotional batteries, and being physically fit enough to handle the stresses involved in our professions.
I drove 700 miles to New York last weekend where I spent a couple of hours at the Sri Chinmoy http://www.srichinmoyraces.org/us/ultras/6-10-day-race/6-10-day-race-2007 10 Day Race. There were runners there from all over the world, with more set to join them for the 6 Day that would begin on Sunday.
I had other plans for Sunday, however. I left the race to visit my 92 year old grandmother. Stayed the afternoon and evening at her house, and left for my own race at 4:30 Sunday morning. After driving two hours to Lake Waramaug for the 33rd running of the Lake Waramaug ultras. http://www.roadntracksports.com/LWUM/ After running 100 kilometers I climbed back into my car, at 6:15 PM for a 12 1/2 hour (780 mile) drive home, where I had to be at work at 7:45 AM Monday. (I slept for an hour en route, and was 20 minutes late to work - but it was stopping at home for a shower that did me in.)

I went to Barkley once, ran 8 miles in 5 hours or so, in sleet and snow. I decided to let Cantrell blow Taps for me. Gary is no sadist. (Remember he too is an ultra runner, which "must" make him a masochist.) He has a unique sense of humor, and the race is part of that sense of humor. He also was once a sub 3 hour marathoner (always a smoker) and had many credible ultra performances before injuries greatly hampered his running ability, though he still does compete.

The article was great, the comments amusing (I guess I have a unique sense of humor as well). http://running.thecolumbiarecord.com/ Overall though, I am a pretty regular person, family man, grandfather. Most of the participants of ultra marathons fall into the same mold.

I will go back to Barkley one day I hope to finish at least one loop, but make no predictions; after all, it is the Barkley.

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 06:10 PM

The man who finished five laps-brian robinson is my scout leader and has also done the appalacian trail, the rocky mountain trail, and te continental divide trail, all in 1 year. He is one of 3 to do it.

Posted by: Jarrod | April 30, 2007 07:26 PM

What's not to understand? We will all be six feet under some day, no exceptions. All indications are that it's tough to "do" from down there. And lying there for eternity wondering what might have been would be pure hell, no?

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 07:33 PM

Very very well written article. I have heard quite a bit about this Cantrell character and it is amazing how well you captured what he presents to the world. Beautiful.

Posted by: | April 30, 2007 07:54 PM

To Eli Saslow:

Beautifully written article.

To Brian Robinson: Thank you for posting your "report". Much, much respect for you and your feat.


Posted by: | May 1, 2007 12:56 AM

"What's not to understand? ... And lying there for eternity wondering what might have been would be pure hell, no?"

Well said. And if you'll pardon the pun: Dead on.

Posted by: | May 1, 2007 12:22 PM

Any biologist reading this thread?

Wondering if there is any form of life, beside the human animal, capable of running eighty miles+ on such terrain, continuously over a period of 50 hours or more.

We know of cheetahs capable of running at 60 mph in brief bursts, other animals capable of covering very long distances, but I have a hunch that no other animal can perform this kind of feat. If so, what a tribute to the human will and spirit ...

PS: Question/comment not meant as some kind of anthropomorphic value judgement with superiority undertones.

Posted by: | May 1, 2007 12:33 PM

1st of all- great article & hats off to Brian and the other competitors. I am not a marathoner but a backpacker and that is how I know Brian. As a matter of fact, I talked to Brian 4-28-07 at the Pacific Crest Trail annual kick off. I am amused by the snipes and gripes by those who do not understand those who challenge themselves to achieve what seems unachievable. I have heard the same snipe and gripe comments when I set the record for an unsupported John Muir Trail (JMT) trek 5 days, 7hr, 45min. I can relate to Brian's misery on the Barkley struggling to go on when the body screams for sleep. I have never been able to figure out the sleep factor, sleep to a marathoner is a waste of time.....you don't log any miles while sleeping....at the same time the body can go only so long without sleep. You can go for a day or two without sleep but after that the body demands sleep or performance will greatly diminish. So the question remains...do I sleep or do I keep on going...Or if I sleep, what is the minimum amount of sleep I can get away with

To the snipers and gripers I say this, "Yes I can stay at home and watch TV or I can go out and challenge the JMT or the Barkley 100."
The TV memories will soon fade away but the JMT or Barkley 100 memories will linger a lifetime.

Memories,......sweet memories.....

JMT Reinhold

Posted by: Reinhold Metzger | May 1, 2007 03:22 PM

Someone wrote: "Don't judge until you've tried it."
That's the stupidest philosophy. I don't need to get drunk or try drugs to see that someone is bad.

Someone told me that that Cantrell guys is an alright guy... sure... especially that thing about placing a book on a rattlesnakes' nest/ What a nice guy! And you call this a sport?

This is like a fraternity ritual where people who rush are willing to please the bros doing the inthinkable. That Cantrell is no other thing than an old frat moron. What the contestants just follow the moron in name of a putative "challenge."

Posted by: | May 1, 2007 06:11 PM

That's the stupidest philosophy. I don't need to get drunk or try drugs to see they are bad.

Someone told me that Cantrell guy is an alright guy... sure... especially that thing about placing a book on a rattlesnakes' nest/ What a nice guy! And you call this a sport? I also find amusing the fact that Cantrell cannot run it himself and yet he challenges others to do it. And he smokes! That's so healthy!

This is like a fraternity ritual where people who rush are willing to please the bros doing the unthinkable. That Cantrell is no other thing than an old frat moron who's proud of getting inspiration from a criminal. And the contestants just follow the moron in name of a putative "challenge."

(Sorry about my spelling mistakes)


Posted by: | May 1, 2007 06:19 PM

To the person who wrote the comment above ("That's the stupidest philosophy" ...)

Irish dramatist G.B. Shaw once said: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man"

Related to this, and putting it another way, some will not take "no" for an easy answer when pushing their limits.

You are not one of them. Nothing wrong with that. What is sad, however, is that you don't understand it, and do not respect those who have chosen the other way.

Posted by: | May 2, 2007 10:52 AM

Yes, you are right. I don't have any respect for people who the stupidest things. This is not even a challenge.
Challenges can be a marathon, a reasonable ultra, even a well run 10K or a 5K, or a miler!!
A challenge can be intellectual. Pursuing higher education, being good at work, dealing with hardships in life.
A challenge is to make the right decision every day. A challenge can be to say "no" when we are tempted to do something that's not good for us.
What's the challenge in this stunt? What's the challenge in obeying a frat guy and agreeing to eat worms? What's the challenge of trying to prove a moron inspired in a criminal that you can do something he cannot even do himself?

Posted by: | May 2, 2007 12:54 PM

TO THE SNIPERS & GRIPERS, I SAY THIS.....
Who is to say how high a man should reach, how far he should venture, to what extent he should challenge himself, what is reasonable, what is insanity, what is stupidity?
What is achievable and reasonable to one man, maybe impossible or unreasonable to another. Each individual must make that decision on his own based on his own beliefs, aspirations and physical capabilities.
If man had not challenged himself, there would be no sub 4 minute mile, Mt.Everest would never have been scaled, we would still be hunterers and gatherers. It is man's drive to achieve what has not been achieved, to go further than he has gone before, that moves him to ever greater heights.
If you want to participate in a sport, you follow the rules of the game. If you do not like the rules, do not participate. Granted the Barkley rules are not for the weak and feeble. They are for the super endurance athlete and I would never expect the weak and feeble snipers and gripers to understand or comprehend that some super endurance athletes are not only capable of meeting those challenges, but look forward to and get great satisfaction from meeting those challenges.
Of course, you could not expect the weak and feeble snipers and gripers to understand.
Furthermore, if you ever meet Brian Robinson, you would realize that all this extreme endurance racing is not all that stupid, but makes a lot of sense as you would be able to determine by his exceptional athletic and lean body.
Try it sometime; it might invigorate your sex life......It is a well known fact that long distance runners and hikers, keep it up longer.

JMT Reinhold, long distance hiker

Posted by: Reinhold Metzger | May 3, 2007 03:41 AM

To the poster who asked for a biologist and touted the human animal as the only one that could cover that kind of ground, wrong. I am not a biologist, but I think a wolf would probably cover an amazing amount of territory, coyotes also, on far less than humans with crews, and stops for water, and sleep. They could do it without caffeine, Ensure, 4 changes of shoes and socks, flashlights, etc. Plus, this is an extremely small sub population of humans that does this so it can't be a greatness attributed to all summarily as a result of some peoples predilections with competing, amongst others and against themselves. Most wouldn't even try. I won't bother with numbers, but 99.9% would appear to be logical in this day and age of humanity as defined mostly indoors and utilizing the latest gadgets and consuming large doses of trans fat. Don't pat humanity on the back for arriving perceivibly at the top of the food chain because of our athleticism. Not the case. What's worse, we probably won't stay at the top of the food chain because of our proclivity for assured self destruction.

Much props to those who enjoy scampering in them thar hills. I love it myself. I've run for distance, but not that distance. That could be a new goal. 5 laps in the hills and sacrifice sleep and sensibility for a weekend without killing yourself.

If someone can't see something admirable in testing your personal physical limits, then that's probably because you are the type of human animal that is mostly sedentary and unwilling, or unable, to test yourself in that way. Stay home. Eat a bon bon. Watch Jerry Springer. Live it up.

Posted by: | May 3, 2007 07:05 PM

I think this race is the stupidest thing on Earth. I don't own a TV and eat pretty healthy. I am a veteran of 13 marathons, 2 Bostons (I qualified)and a 31 miler. And I don't smoke...
Again, in my opinion, this race is the stupidest thing on Earth and I just roll my eyes at the creator of the race and those who feel compelled to "obey" him.

Posted by: | May 3, 2007 09:22 PM

here is an old essay, from '99, back when I could still run a little bit

"If you can dream it, you can do it" ... Walt Disney. Yeah, right. If you can dream it, IT can dream you, and the dreams may not be pleasant.

Why I should be allowed to run the Barkley
by "Mind of Winter"

A better title for this essay should be, "Why the Barkley Should be Allowed to Run Me", because that is how it has been ever since I first heard of this race, which is not a race, run on a trail which is not a trail, on mountains which shift and swirl in the light, dark, rain, fog, in the cryogenic surgical wind and urgent hurry-up despair. This race, this idiot's game, this constant and unwavering obsession, this agreed-upon concept of impossibility, it holds me in the prison of its unblinking gaze, holds me in the palm of its hand, regards me in the clear cold light of madness, regards me in its infinitesimal geological moments, which are struggling hours and days to me. This race, of ample opportunities to die, this beautiful big *****, this unscalable mountain on some distant planet of a lost forgotten star in an unknown galaxy, this demonic mathematical conjecture in shifting undefinable geometry, this lonely impartial thing merciless as freezing rain, it owns me. I run it in my dreams. I truly believe it dreams me, owns me. That is why it is allowed to run me, and why I should be allowed to run it.
END

Posted by: | May 4, 2007 07:29 PM

this was an amazing story and the race sounds terrifying.

Posted by: | May 5, 2007 04:27 PM

These athletes are what athletics is all about...competing against yourself and the ticking clock on one of the most difficult courses known in the ultrarunning circle.
...Fun Run finisher, class of 2001...

Posted by: | May 9, 2007 10:01 PM

Eli, great story! So proud!

Cori, from the Daily Orange '03

Posted by: | May 16, 2007 05:39 PM

Eli, great story! So proud!

Cori, from the Daily Orange '03

Posted by: Cori | May 16, 2007 05:39 PM

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