Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Barkley Marathons 2009

The devouring of Swedish viking or a faint lapse of mental judgement

Or the classic Barkley Marathons slogan, The Race That Eats Its Young. Or should the title have been The Unannounced Violation of a Barkley Virgin. They all seem fitting to me.

Andrew Thompson the 8th Alumnus

But let me first off say a few words about the amazing feat of Andrew Thompson. I was there witnessing the triumphant end. Check out my video clips! It took Andrew 8 tries to finally complete the 100 miles at Frozen Head State Park. No wonder National Geographic bill this race as one of the top ten toughest endurance races in the world. It has the lowest finishing percentage among the ten races. Congratulations Andrew!! The 8th person in the history of the Barkley (1986). He is now one of the chosen few - A Master of the Barkley.

Andrew taking in food getting ready for lap five.

I followed Andrew's last 3 laps with great anticipation, enthusiasm and with learning eyes and ears.

Andrew looked so fresh and mentally ready when he took off for the last lap hearing the Swiss cowbell ringing...

The Swiss cowbell has rung and AT is out on his last and 5th lap going counter clockwise as his runner's choice.

I even drove to Lexington, Kentucky (3 1/2 hours away) to drop off Kevin, my crew chief and then drove back to see the arrival of AT. This doesn't happen too often at the Barkley and I was not going to miss it.

Andrew heading towards Chimney top - looking good!

A rare sight! Andrew Thompson finishing the 100 becoming the 8th finisher of the Barkley.

Finish interview with AT at the yellow gate

To put things into perspective, going into this race I had read something from a Barkley veteran who said that no matter what you have done previously it cannot and he stressed cannot serve as a psychological crutch or security blanket for the Barkley. It will simply lead you into false hopes or might even destroy you sooner than you think. You have to reset everything you've done in the past and go in to the race with a clean slate. So my 200 mile trail race last fall, my crutch, the New England 200 mile Endurance Run with 43,520 feet of climb and equal amount of descent with temps in the teens at night and mid 40s during the day was out the door. Humility towards the course is a vital ingredient for success.

Better be in training when receiving the good news
The difficulty with this race is that it is incredibly multi-dimensional, more so than any ultra race there is in my humble opinion. For instance if you are the chosen one which you will find out in early January, you had better been in hard training before then to get ready for the race in early April. It is for many early in the season which is not in your typical race schedule if you live in the northern hemisphere. Sure there are a few early big ultra races but for most of us this is early.

Navigation is an additional crucial element which you have to master which drains tons of time if you miss your navigational targets and subsequently drains your mental status and ability to push forward.

Hill training
You also had better trained massive amounts of climbing (I did way too little) and descending (both are imperative ingredients). In my opinion to become successful you cannot rely on being a strong downhill runner (which I feel I am today) and a so so climber or vice a verse, you have to have both which I found out the hard way. Being weaker on your climbing abilities will hamper downhill running greatly because you will be trying to recover going downhill instead of charging down the mountain with focus and vice a verse. This might sound very obvious to some but let me tell you this got very apparent at the Barkley.

Blood sugar
Learning how to keep your blood sugar in check is the probably most important thing there is. I struggled mightily with this. Your metabolic rate better be in high gear able to digest the food quickly and not be sensitive to stress while climbing.

Eat humble pie

You have to be humble going into the race but yet confident enough that you can do it which is a very tough balance. I can't stress this enough.

Every man for himself
This sounds so obvious right. You have to be strong enough mentally, I want to believe that I am but apparently not this time, to know when to sever your ties from someone who might have been a good companion out there for you. They could have talked you through some tough patches or by pausing but later you returned the same favor. Empathy out on the course is dangerous if you want to succeed. Barkley camaraderie out on the course works both for and against you. This is a very difficult process as a first timer.

Running a "regular" ultra leaving someone behind is not that difficult but here you are out there in the middle of nowhere (but Laz will say plainly but you have a map and a compass don't you). You have to think every man for himself. Another dimension is running with no manned aid stations and a back pack with more stuff (be prepared for anything) than usual. Being ready for any type of weather on any given loop Laz says. It is only 20 miles how hard can that be.

For Andrew Thompson whose incredible feat of becoming the 8th person to finish the darn thing had to overcome warm conditions, high 70s (this is hot when you are climbing steep sections) to torrential downpours to snow with high winds on the last lap. The fact that you have to run the course in reverse after two laps is another element making your noodle work even harder.

The Laz factor
Knowing that Laz can start the race at midnight (24:00) or as late as noon on Saturday throws any preparation of a race strategy out the door. You have to be flexible in your approach. Also Laz changes a small section of the course each year to make things a bit different for returning Barkley idiots who has yet to realize that their hubris might be a perpetual pipe dream. The race will test every single dimension in your physical and mental arsenal and you'd better have them otherwise he will exploit them to the point of the bugle tune. There were times when I was out on the course where I thought how cleverly the course was designed because the course never lets up and the few places where the course was fairly flat you'd better be running and not catching your breath if you have visions of grandeur such as hearing that cowbell going into the last fifth and deciding lap.

This foreign exchange student finally learned how to spell Barkley (and not Barkely my sincere apologies).

It's a long term plan

I felt I had the ability to get the 60 mile Fun Run finish (most virgins do and what did I know) I can hear Laz's voice contently laughing by now. Then again I had probably not thrown out that psychological crutch out the door completely. Most virgin race reports are about what they encountered and what they learned or what they will never learn. The students who come back the following year will have a more direct report as to why it didn't work out. What I learned out there was the Barkley way. You have to earn it by coming back and accumulate knowledge and wisdom in other words it's an apprenticeship. It is like going to a tough University. It's hard to get in. Once you're in there is the initiation process, being flogged by the briars and feeling lost at campus, the freshman year, then there is the sophomore year, hard work lies ahead and after a while you just want to graduate...that might take a few years or so or for most never, it is so darn hard to graduate that most simply drop out. Some try to come back and graduate only to be reminded how hard it was.

I spent some time a few weeks before the race drawing with my daughter in the kitchen. My daughter enjoys my "drawing company". However as the race approached my thoughts became more in line with the mental obsession Richard Dreyfus had in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" where mashed potato, shaving lather etc took shape of the rock where he would finally go and have an experience of a life time. (see my home made seal above thank good for Photoshop correcting my spelling!).

To draw on some positives for myself according to Andrew Thompson himself he ended up shorter than I did on his first two tries. But still that might mean zilch in the future for me, but I am a Barkley idiot after all. I had a bad day in my own view with the wrong type of training approach and nutrition strategy. I also weighed 8 lbs more than when I did for my 200 miler. Mostly muscle but with a few human Ensures around my waist. I did train hard peaking at 116 miles a week but not enough hills. This approach is being totally overhauled.

Few people have finished a Fun Run on their first try and those who have are to be congratulated, a testament to mental fortitude, proper preparation and full commitment. Hats off to them and to Mark Williams, the first 100 mile finisher (1996) who did the 100 miler on his first try being 29 years of age (the youngest). Mark is now looking to become the first 2-time finisher. This year he among the majority of the heard suffered an early dismissal.

The whole Barkley experience has for me been rewarding in so many ways. Since I first laid my eyes on Blake Woods report on his 4 1/2 laps in 2000. I knew that I wanted to go there. A race that I wanted to do more than any other race. It's not the long winding high mountain trails of the West Coast but a course that can show it's beauty and ugliness whenever it wants to and in short order. When I was accepted I was more than excited. Meeting all the veterans, Laz, The Troubador, Frozen Ed, Leonard Buttslide Martin, John DeWalt (with most Barkley starts), Stu Gleman, Raw Dog, David Hughes, Allan Holz, Chip Tuthill, Dr Horton among many. Matt Mahoney, Blake Wood, Jim Nelson were unfortunately not there. Then there was the next generation Andrew Thompson, Carl Laniak, Byron Backer, Mike Dobies, Pat Costigan, DeWayne Satterfield, Mike Bur, Paul Melzer, Steve Durban, John Price to name a few. The female contingency this year were Abi, Marcia Rassmussen to name a few. All very down to earth and welcoming to the virgin group. They all want you to succeed but they know that as a virgin this will be an initiation like you have never experienced before.

Many of the veterans have been here training prior the race. This is a race where you show how many peaks and valleys you can endure within very short intervals. In preparation for the race I read every race report to date, Google Earthed the place the best I could and conversed with a few veterans absorbing as much information as possible and still failed to prepare the right way. I thought my work ethic would go along way but it was still off course in terms of approach. What went wrong? - I thought it was important to go there to know what you are dealing with. Plain and simple. Now I know what I am up against and the terrain is ingrained in my head. I know what is needed next time around (or so I think). I have a whole laundry list of what I will do differently next time out rest assured. And Laz and the Barkley might still be having the last laugh. But I hope to increase my grades significantly next time around.

Entering Frozen Head State Park, TN.
The terrain looks pretty easy and undulating doesn't it? Boy, are you in for a treat.

Kevin, my crew chief and I arrived at Frozen Head State Park on Thursday afternoon. It's funny how you try to stay healthy, eating all the right foods and then when you drive to the race you make your food court rounds at McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King and Dunkin Donuts. It is a good 13 hour drive from Connecticut. Kevin is the ultimate crew chief and will help anyone in distress. An EMT volunteer and fun guy to be around.

Kevin, Crewchief #1

I did not get any sleep in on Wednesday night packing and we left at 3:00am Thursday morning. Arriving somewhat tired I was still really excited seeing the "hills" of the Barkley. I tried
to decipher which peak I saw when driving in. It is such an
exhilarating feeling when you have read about a place and finally get to see it up close. We found a really good camping spot next to a humongous Winnebago, model "Chalet", where Claudio and his Italian posse where staying. A nice and friendly group of guys.

The Italian's vehicle was a rolling hotel with all the amenities you would ever want. The only detriment with that type of arrangement I could see was that I would have a hard time getting out of the vehicle commencing another loop. The Italians were in good spirits and the European contingency was made out three. England, Italy and Sweden. We prudently held back our Euro trash talking.

Meeting all the people I have read about was a real treat. I knew them by the pictures and names which I had seen from past race reports and Matt Mahoney's website but to finally talk to them in person was fantastic. I could immediately feel the camaraderie and it felt like it was us against the Barkley. Sure some competitive juices were floating around but you know deep down inside it is you against The Barkley. Racing another guy is just plain lunacy. But if no one makes five loops you do want to be the best looser as Brian Robinson put it. Insight of how to slay the dragon was shared at Granny's diner.

Being the virgin, I was like the freshman student absorbing every detail trying not flunk my first test. Probably looking maybe even too eager to know everything and anything. The resounding advice to a virgin was to go with a veteran. I thought that Mike Dobies would be a safe bet since he has the most Fun Run finishes, this way I thought I could memorize the course on the first lap and feel more confident on the second loop which would take place most likely in the dark. Hmm that did that change quickly once we got started.

The weather called for mid to high 60's temperatures on Saturday with sunny skies which I was not looking forward to. I like the more 40-50s type of ugly weather even with rain which is typical for Barkley. Coming from Sweden, darkness, dreary rainy weather during the winter and a dose of Ingemar Bergman movies are probably good traits for a Barkley runner. This place can change from the beautiful Garden of Eden to a forgotten place. Saturday was a beautiful day at FHSP inviting you to come and play. I tied my rain pants around my waist because I simply did not trust the weather forecast. Bad things happen at the Barkley as they say. Laz talked proudly about how FHSP can change in one loop from good to bad. FHSP is his baby, his second love and every nuance FHSP can display is a proud feature Laz would talk about just like a parent seeing his/her child doing well at their recital or at a basket ball game.

I woke up on Saturday around 6:30. I had slept hard I was trying to catch up on sleep. As I got out of my tent I was like everyone else speculating as to when Laz would blow the one- hour-to-start-signal through the infamous conch shell.
Time was ticking and ticking and it was clear that this year would be a late start and if not run at a good clip first lap the tail end of the lap would be in the dark. This is not good for a virgin who is trying to familiarize him/herself with the course. I had been unable to train on the course prior to the start which I had hoped to. Next time that will be different.

Finally Laz took a final drag out of his cigarette before he mustered to blow through the conch the infamous "mating call" for the Barkley runners. Time to get ready. I had packed my stuff and I was all of a sudden exhilarated that I was going to start this monster of a race which I had pictured in my head so many times. To say I was excited, ultra aroused and focused was an understatement. One of my fellow competitors out on the course later that day, Frozen Ed Furtaw, 61, had eyes so intense before the start that I asked how many Pepsis he had consumed. He was ready to go on his 13th try of the Barkley. Frozen Ed, a great historian of the Barkley, taught me the history of the Barkley out on the course. I enjoyed his insight and tried to absorb as much as possible without loosing track of where I was going. As a Freshman I was eager to listen. I think history plays an important part of any race. It serves as a knowledge bank but also as a torch of traditions passed on to new virgins. This is truly a fantastic race.

Death by Tetanus

Smilax intimidation
For a virgin the intimidation or the anticipation of the briars (Saw briars but mostly Greenbriars - Smilax Rotundifolia) is something the veterans like to share in great detail with you . One thing that one should do (at least it would be prudent to do so) is to check when their last tetanus shot was taken (who remembers that?) because it is not a question IF you are going to be rat bitten by the briars but rather a question of WHEN. My older sister had told me a long time ago when she was in med school the death symptoms of tetanus and I will never forget her description (see picture). It is not a pretty death (like any would be!). If not vaccinated against it you could end up with your neck and heels on the ground and your back arching like a bow with a sardonic smile on your face. No one has died at Barkley but Tetanus is nothing to play around with. I
guess it is one less thing to worry about.

Saw briars which I saw at Specticle Testicle and Rat Jaw

Even long pants will not eliminate the chewing against your legs but it will decrease the sting somewhat but at the potential expense of getting overheated. Clothing choice is always up to debate. I went in shorts on the first loop. The stings I received from the briars became more of a nuisance on your mental focus, it just gets more and more of an irritation of having the gnawing going on. My second lap felt so much better with wind pants on but it was cooler.

Looks pretty benign to me....them Greenbriars...don't they...but these guys do the most damage out there.

The Greenbriar, it is this plentiful little bastard (Greenbriar or Smilax Rotundifolia) that causes the most gnawing agony at your limbs at FHSP not the saw briars, at least this year I will not even talk about them since I have gotten these out of my system, except if you go farther you end up with more of then you're probably numb.

Slow healing "rat" bite

The Barkley rattle snake
The Troubador did try to scare us virgins about the rattle snakes that loured out there at FHSP. Typically they don't venture out until the temps get in the 60's according to the Park map (forecast high 60s and 70s gulp!) Well, I didn't really think much of it until I got to Captain Joe's BBQ outside the park. There on the wall hung a picture of a man who had caught a tire sized rattle snake around the area we were going to visit. Now that picture resuscitated my fear for a while but once I was out there it was the last thing on my mind. You can't think about it just like the briars eating away at your legs.

Not the real photo I saw at the restaurant but the one I saw there was bigger.

Here we go!

When Laz finally lit his cigarette we all started to cheer. The race was on and we made our way up the infamous Candy Ass trail towards the top of Bird Mountain. The switch backs went on and on and as we reached the top Frozen Ed said this is the first Barkley mile. I looked at my watch and my calorie meter (this is a very useful tool in my opinion) and it showed 430 calories. Gulp!!! I kept Mike Dobies in sight, as I had planned, as we made our way down the back side of Bird Mountain. The spirits were high and it was a beautiful day at FHSP. The place is beautiful. We were all excited and a few whaooos were heard on our way along the North Boundry Trail. I jokingly asked how many calories were burned doing that each time and wondered if I would ever hear that same wahoo again on the second loop. I did not. The North Boundry Trail was very manageable and as everyone had said it was well groomed compared to Barkley's other sections.

But the NBT is not as benign as one might think by reading the race reports. It really sucks the juice out of you with the long switch backs up and down and slanting trails. It is easy to go too fast here weather permitting. Many have dropped at the Garden spot and NBT has surely been a fair contributor of that in my opinion.

As I got to book #1 the wait to tear out a page felt long. I didn't want to loose sight of the group I was in. Any separation from the group would be very difficult to catch up with and could become destructive if I had to do this at each book the entire loop. How hard could that be? It is just tearing out a page and then putting it back into the two zip lock bags to prevent the pages of becoming soaked. I was the last one of this main group and there was already a sizable gap when I had put the book back. The vets tore a page for their fellow vets and left the virgins to do their own. It is part of the growing up process at the Barkley. I started to press on to keep up and at the expense of increasing speed and heart rate on the climb towards Bald Knob. The problem going at someone else slightly faster pace was that I couldn't get my rhythm with the intake of my nutrition. I didn't know the terrain and knowing where it was a good place to take foods in is key. I finally caught up and got connected with the group just in time for Book#2.

Alan Geraldi, another virgin, showed up and we made our way through our first set of Smilax nests. So this is what it feels like I thought. As I got to the book Andrew Thompson, DeWayne Satterfield and Mark Williams surprisingly showed up after us coming in to book #2 from above. I was surprised and it was thanks to Mike's good navigation and familiarity that made us hit the book dead on. Yet again I was separated with the Mike Dobies group after I put the book back and again I tried to catch up. I ran like a fawn being lost from his doe. I was now by myself and later I would catch up to Paul Melzer who had also let go of the Mike Dobies pack. As I approached the Coal Ponds I looked at my heart rate and saw it was 172 bpms that was when I said ok slow down or you will not even finish loop one. Being scraped is a Barkley term when you are being dropped by someone who is going at a faster pace than you can keep up with. I was scraped alright. I was also thinking about Stu Mittelman's "slow burn" philosophy of pacing yourself where the right speed is where you can take in your surrounding. I had tunnel vision at that point. Recognizing your surroundings on lap one was imperative. Seeing the forest and not the trees. Patience is key and I cannot stress that enough. But you cannot go too slow either or you'll be hearing Laz playing taps at the yellow gate.

As I made my way up towards the Garden Spot DeWayne Satterfield made his way past me and he looked strong. Having the right positive mindset and enjoying it out there is key to success. Embrace your surrounding rather than fighting them. Easier said than done when something is gnawing at your legs ever so often but you do let go of that after while to a certain extent. You say to yourself ok go ahead bite me! When looking for Book#3 Andrew Thompson came up behind me and pointed me in the right direction. Finally a flat spot I thought but it was short lived. I made my way towards the first aid station and it was around 3 hours even which I felt good about. Mark Williams (first 100 mile finisher in 1996) was behind me and we hooked up going up Stallion Mountain. Mark was somewhat unfamiliar with the new course which had cost him some time early on and unfortunately it was not the last time for him either but he kept his composure.

Book #4 was at the edge of Stallion Mountain and just 20 feet away was a cliff drop off which at night would send you to a certain death if not watching your step. The yellow indian trail (the new addition) was there and we made our way down this section to end up in a marsh like terrain. As we passed a pond (not on the map) we veered right towards an overgrown jeep trail. This was my first encounter of heavy tall briars. Little did I know that 10 feet to the left was a small trail avoiding the claws of hell which I took advantage of on loop#2. Going through the briars was like an incinerator made out of briars. My whole body got entangled and my head sweats got hooked. My arms and legs drew blood immediately. It was short but for a 15 yard skin peel treatment it was brutal. Let me put it this way I am glad I had glasses on.

Mark and I finally caught up with Paul Melzer and together we made our way down towards the New River. This section was also briar infested and difficult to navigate through if you had not been here before. Heading down towards the river without paying attention to the vegetation I grabbed a tree trunk with my leather gloves, a Locust tree, I suddenly felt a 2" thorn make its way into the palm of my hand. My hand jerked back and I cursed for a second and payed more attention to what I grabbed onto going forward. We overshot the river crossing by going too far down stream and had to hike back up. As we crossed the river, Dr. Horton was standing there on the road asking for our names. "Dr. Horton it's a pleasure to meet you" I said. I didn't expect that. We pressed on towards book#5 at the foot of Spectacle Testicle. Paul decided to rest and Mark and I pressed on. I gulped an Ensure at the base which turned out to have a slowing effect on me. When I got to the base of the climb I looked up and all I could see was briars 6 foot high with spider webs glistening against the sun. Laz would have said isn't it beautiful! But there was a path which wasn't that bad avoiding most of the briars. I looked forward to this climb having read about it.

I was getting more and more tired and felt that taking in calories just before a climb isn't the smartest thing in the world. As I made it to the top Frozen Ed Furtaw caught up with me. Mark Williams had left me in the dust going up Spectacle Testicle. I started to run down the back side. I came to a sudden drop which I was uncertain if it was part of the trail or if I should go to the right. It was the Neo Butt Slide which Ed showed with great agility in how to tackle. We made it down to Raw Dog falls and found book #6 and yet again I saw Mark Williams who had gone too far up. Both Ed and I felt bad for him because his attempt for the 100 was becoming harder, after all he is an alumnus of the Barkley. But it also goes to show you that Barkley takes no prisoners. It will chew you up if you don't focus and that is where staying mentally tough in combination with being physically tough is crucial. I think we fall out of one or the other during the race and keeping it all together at the same time is of course the hardest part.

Ed pointed out in best veteran tutorial fashion what to look for at book #6, the diamond shaped rock and spotting Raw Dog falls. We proceeded down towards Danger Dave's wall but Ed said there is an alternate route (the wimpy route safer but longer) which took us down further and then back up to avoid the wall. I decided to go with the Ed and looked at Danger Dave's at passing and said I'll attempt that one on the second loop. Again I experienced another dip of unable to keep the blood sugar stable. One can say just stop and eat but it is not that easy if you are a virgin trying to stay in contact with the veterans learning the course. Most likely they'll leave you if you are stopping. An advise I took to heart stay with them if you can. You will save time.

Again I was a virgin, the pitiful fawn who yearned and wanted the wise and smart guidance to get a first loop recognizance under my belt. I will admit this wholeheartedly. There were times I was alone and had to look a the map and read the instructions at several places but going with a veteran learning what to look for was very helpful. As we approached Pigshead Creek Ed started to distance himself and he looked strong. I thought I hope to be strong like him at the age of 61 or like John DeWalt 71 (man what a stud). I was bonking yet again (this roller coaster was getting to me) and the climb up towards the jeep road heading towards Rat Jaw presented a place to take down some more calories. On the climb up towards the service road there was a small plateau to the left I'd say 50-70 yards just before the road towards Rat Jaw where I crawled under a heavy brush of briars thinking this is where the trail goes. I stood up and followed a small path which now started to look like game tracks rather than Barkley idiot tracks. The tracks took me to an impenetrable section and I looked at the map and decided to back track. A wise move it turned out to be. As I managed to get up to the road leading to RatJaw, Paul Melzer and Steve Durban showed up, both decided to rest before ascending Rat Jaw.

I started the climb because I knew I wasn't Speedy Gonzales up these climbs. Apparently Rat Jaw this year was pretty timid in terms of saw briars. They were cut down to 5-6 inch small stumps. I marveled at how they cut these down while operating heavy equipment. Where they using a harness or what? For those who have not climbed Rat Jaw it is has a decent incline. Then my second thought came ok climbing up is not that bad but descending on the counter clockwise loops would be tricky avoiding being impaled by one of the saw briar stumps. It certainly didn't seem too inviting or better yet add some rain or snow to this you had better have good footing. But I love these type of challenges. I could see Ed up ahead and as I got to book #7 Ed was still there looking for the book. This book placement was a last minute change and we had all been informed about this. Regardless, climbing Rat Jaw will make you suck wind and suffocate a few brain cells on the way up. At the top of Frozen Head there the Troubador was taking pictures along with some other people. I was glad making it up and charged for the water hole where Ed was standing. Ed frowned at the Coke that had been placed at the top almost signaling a code violation of the Barkley. Hesitantly I grabbed a Coke when Paul and Steve did the same. These guys had been here before. Was this a DQ trick? As I was leaving the water hole I'll never forget the person (I forgot his name) who came up from Rat Jaw, his first two words were JESUS CHRIST!! The look on his face said everything it was beet red. Everyone started to laugh out loud.

sucking wind at Rat Jaw

Paul, Steve and I started together towards the two humps, we found Book#8 on the Hump Trail and we made it to Indian Knob with no problems where Book #9 was. As we started the descent of Zip Line which I had read so much about my cuts started to remind me that this is what Zip Line is all about. Treacherous terrain and can lead you the long way if not paying attention. Every little branch regardless of thorn would spank the existing cuts on the shins and calves like small irritable rat gnaws (Laz yet again chuckling). Zip line is just hard to navigate through. All of a sudden we see Ed on the right hand side of the river and we finally meet up searching for the confluence. There it was. It felt so good to have gotten Book #1o only one more for this lap. Big Hell stands for BIG HELL and that was the first place where I started to talk to myself and felt yet again another bonk steaming at me. All of a sudden it's me, Ed and Steve. Paul just disappeared. I look beneath me and saw no Paul. I later found out that he was hurling at the bottom of Big Hell.

Two thirds of the way up I stopped sat down on a blow down. Ed and Steve continued chatting away moving closer towards Chimney top. I just needed to chew on a Cliffbar and get my blood sugar back to normal. This is absolutely the hardest part when you are a virgin, keeping your blood sugar in check (I think I have said this a few times already). I will also rearrange my nutritional intake next time because to take off your pack each time takes time and so forth. It needs to be easily accessible. After a 2 minute break I felt rejuvenated and I pushed up the hill towards Chimney Top where I would catch up with Steve and Ed. It was getting dark slowly. Ed and Steve took out their headlights but I decided to go without using the moon light. I worked out nicely. I tried to stay a few steps behind them avoiding to look into their headlights. The descent down Candy Ass Trail towards the yellow gate was uneventful and I started to feel a lot better and ready for more. Lap one was 10:29:35. A few navigational errors but I was fine. When I gave Laz my pages he started to count them one, two, three, four, four, five... my heart stopped for a minute and then he laughed. Nothing like seeing the immediate self doubt look on a virgin's face. But Laz truly wants you to finish and if you have to stop he wants you to beg him for a bugle tune.

As I made it over to my tent there was Kevin, my crew chief ready with food and change of clothing. He gave me a stellar pit stop as usual. I looked at my watch and analyzed the first lap. 10,220 feet of climb for lap 1. My watch tend to be on the conservative side even when calibrated. The weather seemed stable over the course of the day and evening which made the altimeter probably fairly accurate. What blew me away was the caloric expenditure. The watch takes your weight and heart rate into consideration when calculating your expenditure. I was roughly estimating that I would burn 4,000 calories per 20 mile loop. 200 cal/mile. My race at Pittsfield peaks 54 miler with 14,000 feet of climb I burned 153 cal per mile. Well I burned 7,100 calories (my watch did not have any heart rate malfunctions such as interference or disconnections). 355 calories per mile on average!!! As I sat there I grabbed two turkey sandwiches, two small cups of coffee, two small cups of low sodium chicken broth. I put on a pair of compression pants plus a pair of rain pants on top. It was getting colder.

The anticipation of who is going to continue and who will face the bugle

Steve, Ed and I had planned to meet up at the yellow gate for lap #2. As I made it up to the yellow gate there Laz, Dr Horton stood and a few others. I was asked by Laz how a lap felt. All I could think of was the word "Hellish" remembering the last climb but I was in really good spirits for lap #2. Rejuvenated. I was ready to go out to get some more. Laz looked at me and said you'd better go now because it is usually a bad thing to hang around for someone. They might not show up. So off I went on lap #2, up along the switch backs of Candy Ass trail. I felt fantastic. I felt like new.

The caloric intake just affirmed that I needed to eat more consistently. I wore my new pair of Inov8 Mudrocks for this lap and they felt so good until some blisters started to surface. I was in such a good mood even with the weather starting to turn ugly. after all this is what I was hoping for ugly weather. I felt like I had started the race from scratch. This is what keeping your blood sugar in check does to you (are you getting tired of hearing this). As I got up to the top of Bird Mountain I paused wondering if I should follow the Cumberland trail a bit further before turning right. Right then I saw the light down beneath me and it was Ed. Ed had had some blisters to tend to and was now ready to go. He also wanted 2 loops badly and NBT had been tough on him in the past. If we could get past Bald Knob we would surpass his previous record on this course layout. My light was working out great and as we got to Book #1 my electrolyte imbalance problems began.

All of a sudden I was starting to feel lightheaded. I was drinking more than usual I had stopped taking my S-cap in camp thinking that the broth and sandwich would be sufficient. I always have problems at night when I want something warm and that is usually chicken broth and if I had taken an S-cap I would get bloated. So by taking a low sodium broth I thought I would be ok but now I was feeling nausea and sluggish. My pace was snail pace like. Ed was moving well and I felt like an anchor. I said go ahead Ed don't wait for me. Ed would move up sit down and I would arrive and we would pause together and then move forward. Like an accordion motion sort of fashion. As we came up to a certain sign by Jury Ridge Ed said we have to move past this area because this is a bad spot for me. I said ok let's move forward. I was getting real thirsty. My 70 oz bladder was now empty which had lasted the whole NBT during a warm day. Ed lend me some water. I had an empty bottle attached to my back pack for picking up water along the streams but I didn't think of it at the time. I was struggling. There were plenty of streams to get some.

It was amazing how I went from a real high feeling so fresh thinking that loop two was going to be a breeze to a low where I just wanted to take a nap (not quit). As we made it to the Garden Spot I was so dehydrated that I just sat there on the ground staring at the empty plastic water bottles. Quitting was not a part of the equation and I told Ed to leave me there. I said I felt like an anchor and I was an anchor at that point. Ed looked fresh at the moment but rested himself. The water bottles that were brought up from the road were all empty and Ed went down to get a few more. Ed was a true Barkley comrade. I sat there with my legs stretched out trying to regain strength. As I gulped tons of water and took an S-cap I slowly started to come alive again. What a turnaround!

The wind started to kick up on Stallion Mountain and I pulled the hood over my head. As we navigated down the ridge I was happy to contribute with a few trails that I recognized and a new one that went past the briar incinerator that I went through on loop 1. Now my fear was realized I was not going to hit the New River at the right spot leaving Fykes Peak. I thought I had taken a good look of where to aim for the River crossing but somehow we managed to get to the New River too far up stream. We overcompensated from loop 1. After speaking to Carl Laniak he had practiced this section and thought it was pretty straight forward but here I was in the dark and in deep briar territory with Ed. As we searched and searched for the right landmarks the briars got thicker and thicker and so was Ed's patience. After a good 20-30 minutes Ed looks at his watch and looks at me and says "we are moving too slow". Ed was meticulous about recording his splits and how fast we had to move for each section, this section was a disaster. Ed said to me calmly we're not going to make the cutoff and we have to honor Laz's rule that we have to be back within two hours of the official cutoff time. As I stood there I just looked at Ed and said simply "ok". Just like that! Who argues with a 13 year veteran. I wasn't really suffering, a bit tired yes. At that point I had regained life from the Garden Spot. It was so easy to quit. I just said ok. I am not blaming this on Ed I did this to myself! And Ed and I knew later that we would have had a chance. Ed could have gone further I am sure of that. He had blisters like I had but we could have pressed on. We both vow to go further next time around.

Walking back to camp I was second guessing myself but I admit was tired like hell. I had to sit down and rest at a few times. It felt like Ed's rational argument made complete sense at the moment. What I should have said was "Ed let's press on it's time to suck it up we can still make it". Sure we had Spectacle Testicle (not an easy feat) and Rat Jaw (worse) and Big Hell (worst) ahead of us but we had a glimmer of hope and daylight was approaching which is always helpful when it comes to speed. As I had now resigned to continuing this viking ship was taking in water, the ores floating up to the surface and the shields floating to the bottom of the sea like falling leaves during autumn, all pain and fatigue surfaced simultaneously. I was deflated immediately. It was ironic that it ended by water for this viking. We could have crossed the road walked down and gotten book#5 and started the ascent of Spectacle Testicle but..

I was moving at snails pace towards home. We were almost the farthest away from the yellow gate and no one was going to come and get us. When you decide to quit you're most likely tired or injured. No one will come and get you. We started to walk back home. As we made it up the main road, 20 minutes later, I looked over to the ridge of Fykes Peak and there was a light far up on the ridge way behind us. It was Leonard "Buttslide" Martin. He made Loop 2 within 2-3 minutes. Again I don't blame Ed for uttering those words and we still could have missed the cut off if we pressed on but next time I will walk the official route home because the pain will not be as severe even if the cutoff is missed. We are all men/women and we make decisions. I should have been strong enough. Ed and I hit a low spot simultaneously. This was Ed's first sign of resignation and he just needed to hear let's go. He had more eneregy left for sure. He showed no signs of being tired walking back to camp. I should have stepped up but I didn't. I sought the easy way out. As we made our way towards camp I was already analyzing what I was going to do differently next time around. I've got my data and I have already devised a new plan.

As we made it into camp Kevin came out hollering thinking I was ready for loop 3 and I pulled my finger along my throat signaling that I was done. It was time to take my medicine hearing Laz play taps for me. I really didn't want it to end but I learned a lot. I took a shower and a long nap. As the night approached on Sunday it started to rain heavily. All of a sudden I heard people yelling "here is one coming"!. It was DeWayne who finally did get his first Fun Run in and he was doing it under the 36 hours cutoff time allowing him to go for lap 4! Amazing. Laz told him he had some minutes to get ready for loop 4 but DeWayne looked at Laz laying down on the wet ground and waited for Laz to blow the infamous tune. He was done, cooked and happy. Well done! We all hung around the gate like kids wanting to hear the horror story around the camp fire, how bad the course had been during the night and how he fought back getting back to camp. DeWayne had at one point been together with course speedster Byron Backer but Byron was having serious heaving sessions out on the course. As soon as he threw up he started eating and drinking again trying to hold it together but only to hurl again or so the story went. A couple of hours later Byron managed to make it in as well for a fantastic Fun Run. Congrats Byron!

Being violated as a Barkley virgin is part of the journey. Next time, that is of course if I am the chosen one, I'm going at my own pace and if no one is around I'll be going alone. As a virgin it is advised to go with a veteran or you will most likely get lost at some point. I will go faster at certain sections and slower at others. I will totally rely on my own instincts. It's so easy to slip mentally and oh so easy to quit. I truly believe if you are to be successful at Barkley you have to go alone unless you know someone VERY well ala Blake Wood and Dr Horton and who are evenly matched with their abilities. Some companionship along the way is ok but not for long. Stay within yourself. For the fifth lap you are alone because of the new rule change (after Dr Horton and Blake Woods incredible finish together) where the person who finishes lap 4 first will have runner's choice and the other person will have to go in the opposite direction. There are no guarantees for next years race, next year the course can change, the temps will most likely be different and so will the start time but that's Barkley for ya'....

Scandinavian and European stoical pride was certainly bruised and has to be restored at all cost. The revenge of Thor's undeniable hammer of thunder is scripted. I'm no longer a virgin...I will return stronger, with a tighter ship, stronger ores, lighter, smarter, more fearless, more self reliant, more embracing, tender and loving of the course and I will not be tempted to assume the position of resignation...true words from a chronically impaired Barkley idiot. Maybe there was something in that chicken that made me quit after time I will touch it symbolically but not eat it ;-)

When the seas get rough row harder!

Let the Barkley romance blossom into a long term relationship and work through the difficult times. The course is always right (we all know that). If it stings you, you respond with I love you. Because I want to hear that special wedding bell ring one day going for #5...that is of course if The Barkley is in love with me. She flirts with so many. She quietly says not so fast, one step at a time and one foot in front of the other teasing you. Baby steps, tenderness and humility. Don't get ahead of yourself. Let's get a Fun Run in first. You've got to woo the Barkley the right way to become the chosen one.

One day Laz....

Carl Asker (1 loop and 4 books)
infatuated viking boy - class of 2009


Steve Pero said...

Good write-up, Carl! And good job at Barkley....even one loop you should be proud of. Welcome ot the family....

Steve Pero
Fun Run class of 2001

Steve Pero said...

Forgot to say that it took me a week to read this ;-)


Steve S said...

Thanks for sharing your story. Good luck in all your runs and a return to Barkley. I have read about the run since the beginning. Maybe some day I'll get to try.

32 degrees said...

man oh mister, this looks like a pure painfest, pain-train, sufferfest. wow. anyone doing this deserves a big handshake and pat on the back.