Since January, I've had so many friends ask me "Why the Barkley" and for the me, the answer is pretty simple:
Because, it's the BARKLEY!
In 1998 I was enjoying the faster side of running and racing hitting up a 5k or 10K each weekend in and around Knoxville, TN. After a horrible few years of running in college and a coach I despised, I finally began falling back in love with running thanks to my good friend and now coach, Bobby Holcombe and the Knoxville Track Club. Running was just fun, something that it had not been for me in quite a long time. We'd run, we'd drink beer, I'd go to work, get off and run again day after day. All my friends were runners, all we'd talk about was running and even when we had too much to drink, we'd create insane training plans standing around the kitchen in Bobby's apartment.
At the time, I worked for Coca-Cola and my territory cover a good section portion of East Tennessee from Madison to Oneida (a great place to run!) Right in the middle is Frozen Head State Park, home to the Barkley Marathons. Another good running buddy, Greg Johnson, began filling my head with stories of the Mt Masochist 50 Miler and introduced me to the existence of Ultra Running.
At the time, the internet was not what it is today and the information that I could find on Ultra races was very, very limited. I continued to drill Greg about Ultras and get as much information as I could from the rest of the Knoxville Track Club. At a post track workout dinner, someone made mention "Barkley" for the first time and I was hooked. How could this "thing" be going on in my back yard and I not go see it with my own eyes!
A few weeks went by and fellow KTC members got me pointed in the right direction and I drove out to FHSP on a miserable saturday afternoon. Apparently there was a race going on, but all I saw were a few "old" guys hanging out. I asked them if they knew where the "race" was and the gentleman responded... "you're in the middle of it" and they laughed. Not sure what to say next I asked them how far the loop was and they responded "20 miles". I thanked them and did some quick math in my head thinking the lead pack should be running back through here anytime being that it's been four hours since the race started. I was wrong.
I hung out for another 4 hours until two runners came in, after being "out there" for just over 8 hours. I didn't know it at the time, but it was Dave Horton and Dink Taylor. It would be almost another hour before another runner came through. Almost 9 hours to run 20 miles? That 27 minutes per mile pace! I left amazed, feeling like an outcast. This was stupid. This wasn't running. Running was fast and sleek and sexy. This was slow and morbid and ugly.
A year later I moved to Birmingham, AL and started running less and less. The Barkley Marathons continued to baffle me. I didn't understand it. As the internet expanded, information on the race continued to grow. I got married, moved a half dozen times, and then we started having kids. More and more articles on the Barkley began surfacing, race reports popping up on the web, and people were starting to finishing this thing!
With a moved back to South Carolina in 2009, I began running again or at least tried to. Jumping back into 5ks and never seeing anything under 19:00 was hard to swallow. I decided that maybe if I couldn't run 16's anymore I'd start being "the fast guy pushing the double stroller". I was getting back into shape, but my body was not responding the way it did a decade ago (damn). At the time, I started the "Palmetto Pacers" running Club in Bluffton, SC as a way to meet other runners in the area and a group of us, including Holly decided to run the USMC Mud Run in Columbia. 4 Miles, 30 obstacles and a ton of fun. Running was fun ago!
I did what so many of us did that night, I went looking for another race to run! After an hour of searching "active.com" I came across a race called "Mad Marsh Trail Run". It was a 7 lap 4.5 mile trail run or 50K. Hell, I just ran 4 miles I could knock out 31. The race was in 3 weeks and I decided "let's try it". After 3 weeks of steady training, I ran a sub 4:40 50K and was hooked in the Ultra Community! A few years later I would take over this race when "Ultra Becky" and her family moved away.
Now, I was an "ultra runner" and the more I ran, the more this whole big thing began to make more and more sense to me. Barkley continued to loom in the back ground. Nine runners have completed the race now, and rumors that the course continued to get harder and harder only began to peak my interest more and more with every passing Spring. Thanks to the help of some AWESOME people int he Ultra Running community I first, incorrectly, applied to the Barkley in 2011. In 2012, I got some better information and ended up 33rd on the "Weight List". In 2013, after waiting a week after applications, blood samples and the 48 page Race application was submitted, I gave up waiting at 1:00am and went to bed. The next morning I woke up with a text message from Karen Jackson saying "OMG, you're so in!" I ended up 3rd on the List and a few short weeks later I was in fact... IN.
16 Years later from the first time that I heard about the Barkley, I'm in. I'm willing to admit this now as my truck is packed and in less than 12 hours I will be on the road to FHSP. I look at this years Barkley as an education. An education about the course, the people and most importantly about myself. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have goals, because I do (We'll talk about those after the race). I see the Barkley as another stepping stone in life that I hope to cross for many years to come. As it's wonder and awe has kept me in its grasp for a very long time.
So why the Barkley? Because I have not yet had the opportunity to experience it first hand and I have been living "in the middle of it" for 16 years and its now time for me to go out there.