Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 Barkley Fall Classic 50K+

I felt a bit of anxiety going into this race with all the pre-race hype that I probably should have ignored.  This was the inaugural race so a lot of unknowns going into it. It was helpful reading some of the Facebook posts for the race in order be prepared but some of it made people scared. At some point the race was full and had a wait list.  By race day, there were several spots available since people dropped for various reasons and some may have just been scared while others had valid reasons.  There were over 200 other runners so somehow we would get through it even with the dire predictions that less than 10 runners would finish.  The race took place at at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee.  The idea was to give runners a taste of the real Barkley 100 mile which is run on an unmarked course and is rumored to be at least 130 miles (more info http://www.mattmahoney.net/barkley/).  The BFC was took place on trails with arrows at key intersections and runners were also given a map and a compass which was needed a few times at points of confusion.  There was no confidence flagging that you see in many trail races.  Hopefully, runners knew what they were getting themselves into when they signed up.  The time limit was 13 hours, 20 minutes, the same as the real Barkley 100 race loop. 

I left for the race around 7 am Friday morning for the long 9+ hour drive.  I had a confirmation e-mail from Orbitz and somehow had booked the room for Sunday night, instead of Friday night.  I made a new reservation before I left and called them on the way and they were able to cancel the nonrefundable reservation and refund all of my money.  I stopped at Old Chicago in Clarksville, TN on the way to fuel up myself and the car and check e-mail.  I arrived early enough that I had time to find the start line before heading over to packet pickup.  Then I stayed for the Barkley movie and dinner which didn't start until after 7:30 pm.  I didn't each much since I was full from lunch but did enjoy the movie.  I drove back to my hotel, about 30 minutes away, and prepared for the race, getting to bed a little later than I would have liked so only got less than 6 hours sleep.

I arrived at the race site around 6:20 am and got a parking spot close to the front.  There was no lines at the bathrooms but they were all in use.  I was wondering if Kimberly from Ohio had arrived yet and she walked out of the porta-potty I was waiting to go in.  We were able to talk awhile before the race.  I also saw Johnny A., also from Columbia.  We stood in a 2 lane road to start and had to run less than a mile on pavement to the trail.  Immediately we had to start climbing and climbed for over 2 miles before I was able to run a bit but even when I was able to run pace was only around 14 min.

Around mile 5, I felt something stinging my upper arm/shoulder through my shirt.  I briefly heard some buzzing but did not see the critter.  I checked it out and had a slight area of swelling and it hurt pretty good for the next 5 miles.  It seemed like forever before the first aid station and I ended up drinking the 2 bottles I was carrying.  I didn't carry much for nutrition other than a flask that contained 4 gels and 3 Kind bars. I started out with water in one bottle and Carbo Pro in the other one.  After more climbing, I finally got to the aid station which was a mile further than expected, I drank about another bottle of water, and filled up with more water and Sword.  Sword is the drink they were serving at all the aid stations and I was impressed with the taste, non-sweetness, and it settled very well.  I also had a bit of banana at the aid station before continuing on my way.  We also had to get our bib number punched at some of the stations and various points to prove we had been there.

A couple miles out of the aid station, the North Bird trail becomes difficult to follow.  I start looking around for people and eventually there are several of us that are confused but we bushwhack our way up to a tree where there is another guy with a punch and the trail is clearly defined.  I followed some people for awhile and we reached the Garden Spot, we were a bit confused since there was no one there to punch our bib so not sure we even needed to go there and looking at the map now, it looks like we went a bit out of our way.  We turned around and found an arrow to continue on the course.  At this point, there is around 15 - 20 people in the group and got to a point where they weren't sure if we should go left or right.  Someone pulls out his map and says we should go right.  Meanwhile, I noticed a guy way ahead that had gone left.  Someone else tells the guy he has his map upside down.  Finally, the consensus is that we should turn left which was a jeep road and the right direction.

It has been awhile but we finally make it to aid station 2 around 10:30 am so have been running 3.5 hours and around 14 miles.  From this point we run out 4.5 miles to a turnaround which was easier running for a couple miles and then some climbing.  There was a sign at the turnaround and then about half mile on the way back we had our numbers punched again. I saw Kimberly and Johnny on the way back.  I estimate Kimberly was about 4 miles behind me at this point.  Another guy I had been running with for awhile counted and we were in 30-something place.  

On the way back there was an arrow to take us to a different trail and the part of the course known as Rat Jaw.  Rat Jaw which climbs 1000 feet in 1/2 mile under some power lines and past some abandoned coal mines. The ground is covered with sawbriers that you have to climb through.  In some places there is a downed powerline that can be used as a climbing rope. Otherwise you have to climb with your hands, and the thorns draw blood.   When we arrived there were a couple people standing there staring up at where we needed to go or they weren't sure where we needed to go exactly.  Lucky there was a guy there that had run a loop of the Barkley 100 and he was familiar with this section.  I took off with 4 other guys through this section. Using leather gloves and having most exposed skin covered was a big help.  I wore hiking shorts that covered my knees and socks that covered my calves.  I wasn't too worried about my arms getting a little scratched so they were exposed.  I strapped 1 of my bottles around my running belt so I would have a free hand to help me climb.  This guy directed us through this section and we had to crawl flat to the ground at some points to pull ourselves up.  We took a significant break at one point.  We finally reached close to the top and could see the tower where we would have to climb to get a punch.  There was a guy below the tower taking pictures.  Once we got our punch, I continued alone my way and separated from that group.  The mile that included Rat Jaw took 48 minutes, but it's the Barkley Classic so most of us don't care how long it takes. The foremost goal is to just get out alive and secondary is to hopefully finish the race.

The mile also included an aid station the group reconvened but most of us separated and went on our way.  We had only stuck together to get us through one of the toughest parts of the course.  The next part of the course drops about 2,000 feet so was somewhat more runnable but still didn't go too crazy since what goes down must go up.  At the 22.1 mile aid station (at this point, it was actually 26 miles I'd guess), we were at the bottom and an aid station.  As I was turning into the aid station, I took my first and only fall but wasn't too bad and only hit my knee a little.  Laz (the Barkley race director) was there to punch our numbers and tell us it was all downhill from here. I told him I would be very disappointed if it was all downhill.  He asked if I was setting a PR today and I laughed.

I started off with another runner that I had been running near off and on.  Eventually, he told me to go around since he wanted to rest.  The trail kept going up and up.  I should have known but had no idea how far up it went.  This section is a climb to the top of Chimney Top Mountain which has an elevation gain of approximately 2,000 feet over 4 miles.  The total elevation gain/loss of the course is approximately 20,000 I'd guess so a significant chunk of elevation to climb all at once.  Another guy passed me on the way up.  There were only a few points where any running was possible since it kept climbing.  It reminded me a little of climbing Hope Pass at Leadville.  At some point I catch up to him and we reach some huge rock formations at the top.  He asks which way I think we should go.  I assume we should take the trail that keeps climbing.  We go around the huge rock formation and there is a dog and someone sleeping in a hammock.  Then it gets difficult to see a trail so we obviously went the wrong way.  Luckily we found the trail again and we were a little disoriented so he pulled out his map and compass to make sure we were going the correct direction.  I stayed behind him until the end.

There was still a little more climbing and finally we start to descend.  There is another aid station ahead.  They tell us 3.3 miles to the end and all downhill.  We ask if they are lying to us but it is really all downhill.  They told us we were in 27th and 28th place.  We run it out until the very end together.  It felt good to be running and finish strong.   

I crossed the finish in 9:37:27 and 28th place of the 164 that finished.   240 started so 68% finished which I am sure was a huge disappointment to the race directors.  I was hungry right after the race and had not eaten that much during.  I only ate 2 of my bars and about 2 gels, plus some banana and energy bar at the aid stations.  I purchased a ribeye steak sandwich which tasted pretty good at first but couldn't finish the bun.  I would have loved to stay around and see more people finish but had to start the drive home 40 minutes after I finished.  Surprisingly, I didn't get tired until about the last 1.5 hours of the drive and arrived home before 2 am.

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