"Help Is Not Coming" - The 2018 Barkley Marathons

42 Comments

"Help Is Not Coming" - The 2018 Barkley Marathons

Howie Stern Photography

 

It was 1:30am on Wednesday, March 21st and we were in Knoxville, TN. The temps were just below freezing, with a stiff wind gusting over people. Snow was accumulating on the ground and my family, collectively my parents, wife and son, were walking between the hotels in the immediate vicinity asking if they had any available beds for the night. We had of course booked our own hotel that evening, and we were all in fact sleeping soundly just minutes before, but currently there were a few hundred people braving the winter conditions in their pajamas as firefighters streamed into the building.

When the hotel alarms were triggered my mother thought it was her alarm clock, and she called front desk complaining that she couldn’t turn it off. She was informed that this was the fire alarm and she was to evacuate immediately. My own room, with my wife and son, was half a hallway away from my parents, but my mother and I somehow opened our doors into the main hallway in unison and I waved at her with that look that says “damn fire alarm, I guess we should evacuate just to be on the safe side.”

I walked down the hall with Linda and Reed, towards my parents, whose room was directly across from the second floor stairwell. As I was getting them all set someone barreled through the door onto the second floor, with their full rolling luggage bag in tow. He looked like he was being chased by a bear and he simply yelled, “FIRE!!” then promptly dove back into the stairwell and outta site.

Okay, shit, this is actually happening right now!

I direct my family down the stairs and then walk back the length of the second floor saying in a calm but loud voice, “There is a fire in the building, please evacuate immediately. There is a fire in the building, please evacuate immediately.”

It was amazing to me in that moment how many people were still attempting to wait this out in their rooms. The alarm noise leaves no doubt and certainly no desire to attempt to ignore it. My head hurts now just recreating this and thinking about it. I ducked back into my own room to grab my wallet and keys to our rental SUV, as I was now envisioning that we’d be spending a few hours out in the cold. I had thousands of dollars in electronics with me, between my computer, battery packs, watches, etc, etc, but I stayed calm and rational, all of that was replaceable and I wanted to be in and out of my room in a matter of seconds, so I didn't even attempt to take more than my wallet and keys.

I did one final check of the entire second floor and no one remained, so I headed down the stairwell and out into the frigid night to locate my family.

 

When Linda and I had checked in exactly 24 hours earlier we were placed in a “non-smoking room” on a smoking floor. I had no idea smoking was even allowed in hotels any longer, but here we were. I retreated to the front desk and asked if in fact there was a non-smoking room available on a “non-smoking floor”, what a concept. The front desk attendant was helpful enough and we were moved one floor lower. I mentioned my folks were checking in the following day and requested the same for them. Linda and I were initially placed in hotel room #313 and I’d later discover that the person in room #312 (the one we would have been sharing a wall with) had fallen asleep while smoking in bed.

 

My wife, son and I had arrived in Tennessee 26 hours earlier, and it had already been an eventful first day up to this point, what with an ER visit for our two-and-a-half-year-old son’s first ear infection, and our rental car agency messing up our reservation and not having a child seat available for us upon arrival. I had a full Jerry Seinfeld moment;

“You see, you know how to *take* the reservation, you just don't know how to *hold* the reservation. And that's really the most important *part* of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.”

Hands up in the air and all.

By all accounts our first day had not gone so smoothly, but that’s why we decided to fly in a day earlier this year, to get all of the rental car issues, hospital visits and hotel’s burning down out of the way early.

I eventually located two available rooms at an adjacent hotel, and at 3am we all attempted some fitful shuteye.

I don’t believe in omens. I don’t subscribe to luck, but it was undeniable by this point, I’d been sensing for quite a time that nothing was going to unfold the way I’d hoped it would at this year’s Barkley. Every time I had this fleeting thought of impending doom, which had been ongoing for weeks, I’d repeat a Macklemore lyric in my head (mock me if you will, I really don’t care. That’s not the lyric, that’s me talking to you) “they ain’t givin’ it, I’m takin’ it” and it was just a reminder that I had to get my headspace right and to not allow any expectations, distractions, or excuses to creep in. Nothing about the Barkley is supposed to be easy, you want an excuse, I’ll give you 100 of em in under a minute, “they ain’t givin’ it I’m takin’ it”… “nobody’s gonna make this happen but you Gary, control what you can control and forget about the rest.” The hotel fire would make for a great story and It was but one night of lost sleep. I didn’t even talk about it again until after the race, because as we drove out of Knoxville and towards Wartburg, it was already literally and figuratively, behind us.

Frozen Head

We arrived at Frozen Head late on Wednesday and were greeted by a familiar site in an unfamiliar location, snow, and lots of it. I managed to get out for a sundown run up England Mountain and the snow drifts along the top were shocking, some being knee deep. “This could get interesting” I thought, but the forecast for the following days was promising enough and most people expected the course to be free of snow come race day.

 

One of the rules of the Barkley, and Frozen Head State Park, is that you’re not allowed to depart the ‘candyass’ maintained trails at any point outside of the race. If you are caught going off-trail outside of the 60 hours of the race you are removed from the race by Laz immediately and escorted out of camp, likely to never be drawn back into the event again. I was hoping for a bit more daylight so I could scout my end of lap five error from 2017 a bit further, but within minutes of cresting the high point I had all the information I needed. Twenty feet. Six meters. That is the actual margin of error that lead to my coming in from the wrong direction one year ago. Twenty feet at the end of 60 hours of effort. I never did write a race report about it. I sat in an internet café for seven hours on a rainy day in April last year and I had managed to recreate all but one paragraph of my experience. I just didn’t have the desire to relieve it blow for blow. A common misconception that’s taken hold is that I hit the trail and simply turned the wrong way, going right instead of left. I knew I was to go left and was expecting to T-junction with the trail. If I had, I would have turned left and run down into camp to close out the race with a few minutes to spare. I would have become the 16th finisher of the Barkley Marathons, and I wouldn’t have been standing there now, staring down thoughts of why and how, and attempting to put a positive spin on things.

 In the end I learned that in 2017 I was about twenty feet too far west, and the trail curls away at that point. When I finally found the trail I was parallel to it, while knowing I was supposed to T-junction with it, then I trended into it, more of a merge really, and somehow as the trail was on my left at this point my 60-hour sleep deprived brain went “left side, left turn, all the same, you’re on the trail now run it in!”

Anyways, they say American football is a game of inches, and the Barkley is no different. Small mistakes rapidly become big mistakes, and that was one of my mantras this year, along with "go slower, to go faster.”

 

Friday arrived in no time and before we knew it the map was out and things were getting real. There were three changes to the course for 2018, two of which favoured the runners in terms of appearing to be slightly faster than the previous book locations, whereas one book location was most certainly much longer than the year prior. In the end I guessed this 2018 course to maybe be in the range of 7-12 minutes longer per loop, or 30-60 minutes harder overall.

The total climbing stats for 2018 would come in at 13,484ft per loop, or a whopping 67,420ft for the full pull. If Laz adds one more 500ft climb to the mix in the coming years, the Barkley will be a 70,000ft race! Read that again and let that sink in.

The Conch Is Blown

Save for our fire alarm evac on Tuesday, I’d slept great all week, and thankfully Friday night proved no different. I passed our just after midnight, after already being in bed for three hours, and likely ended up with about six hours of reasonable sleep. When I awoke just after 7am I eased into the morning and the conch was eventually blown at 8:33am for a 9:33am start. Jamil Courey and I were the first two runners to greet Laz as we awaited our official “Barkley watch”, the $10 Timex piece that is the only watch you are allowed to carry for the race. This watch is set to “race time” or “zero time” so when the 24hr watch goes to zeroes you start running. When the watch hits 12:00 on your third day, time has officially expired (60 hours).

My strategy was simple going into the first loop, go slower to be faster, get through it mistake free, refresh my memory as to the nuances of the course and go from there.

Just prior to the start I’d somehow managed to bump my watch and it reset the seconds back to zero. The seconds must’ve been counting up in the 50’s, about to turn over to a new minute, because my watch showed the race starting about a minute early, and I was scrambling just a bit to get through the pack at the back and up near the front as we all streamed past the yellow gate. We were about ten minutes into the first climb when I questioned someone else as to the start time and then realized my watch was out by over a minute. Runners know that the watches will be out vs the “master watch” that Laz wears but only by a few seconds over the duration of the 60 hours, and by coincidence when I initially compared my watch with Laz’s we realized my total time variance for the 60 hours would be seven seconds, meaning my watch, set to race time, could not go above 11:59:53 on day three. Not that any of this ended up mattering in the end, but it is just another example of the attributes that make the Barkley so unique.

As we worked our way up the first climb, on a few miles of candyass trail, this was the slowest I’d ever started The Barkley, following my race plan perfectly. In the previous two editions a lead pack pushes off the front and crests the first climb in about twenty-five minutes. We were closer to thirty minutes and there were at least 8-10 runners in front of or around me. We snagged our first page and proceeded to drop off the mountain towards book two. The race always seems to splinter here, as runners scramble for position after the first backlog of pages being pulled, and this year was no different. By the time we intersected the river below I’d found myself at the front of the race, earlier than anticipated, and already down to a group of about six.

The more eyes the better, was also something I’d been telling myself. No need to shrink the field until we’ve at least collectively located the new books together. I had mentioned to Guillaume Calmettes a day earlier that I intended to up the pace a bit after book seven, which in the clockwise direction would be the third and final “new book location”, but until then I saw no reason thin out the field.

Our now lead group nailed book two, thanks in no small part to Nova Scotia’s Jodi Isenor (a previous fun run finisher) and as the book gets handed around to pull pages I glance at the cover. The book is titled “Six Seconds” and I temporarily lose my mind. “F@#K YOU LAZ!!” He is an expert at mental warfare. As we started up “hillpocolypse” which in the clockwise direction is the first off trail ascent of the race, our group consisted of myself, Jodi, Guillaume, Jamil, a Scottish bloke named Ally Beaven and another overseas runner whose name was James. Before we topped out on this climb we’d be down to four runners and I’d be down to one trekking pole, somehow managing to snap one of my poles within minutes of pulling them out.

Jamil Courey certainly knows the course well and he was a huge asset as we proceeded along without issue. When we arrived at book five, the biggest change of the year, he zoned in on it like a hawk. It was really impressive and I knew my decision to not forge on was paying dividends.

What was really surprising to me was how well Guillaume know the course. He’d done his homework, having travelled out just a month or so earlier to run all of the trails you’re allowed to scout outside of race weekend, and Guillaume took the lead on some sections as he was in fact the person in our group who’d been over some of the terrain the most recently. All in all, we were moving right along and accomplishing exactly what I’d set out to do, which was to put in an error free first loop.

At book seven, the third and final alteration to the 2018 course, I went right to a set of trees that matched the description, had a poke around, saw nothing, and began moving away from there, then Jamil comes in just behind us, goes to the exact set of trees and pulls out the book. This is one of the things that people fail to recognize about this race, you can literally be standing on top of the book at times and you still won’t see it unless you dig for it. Books are buried in tree stumps, under rocks or just anywhere that makes it as hard to locate as possible. Jamil informs us that “this was the location of this book in 2014.” Cool, good to know. Okay, all new books have now been established and it’s mostly smooth sailing in regards to my own course knowledge.

For the first time in my three attempts, the course goes up the infamous “Testicle Spectacle”. Over the past two years the book near Testicle has been off to one side of it, in 2016 it was in the left hip, if you will, and 2017 was in the right hip, so I’ve never done this route in its entirety, and I’m excited as it feels like a right of passage.  

It had rained overnight from Friday into Saturday and we were warned of an incoming “weather event” from late day Saturday into Sunday. As we started up Testicle the hill just continues to slop away from under us. It was a complete pile of mud and not a single inch was gained without slipping backwards to some degree. I was no longer enjoying my right of passage. The thrill of the new climb had lasted all of, well, six seconds really.

We crested the climb, now down to three, myself, Guillaume and Ally, and proceeded towards book eight. My line was off a bit and sure enough captain consistent Jamil catches back up to us. I lead us all up Danger Dave’s Climbing Wall and the onwards towards Rat Jaw.

Rat Jaw is a bitch. There is not a single picture ever taken of Rat Jaw that can accurately display its gradient and inherent challenges. Every year pics are posted from Rat Jaw and inevitably people following along online think “oh that doesn’t look so bad” “oh hill x-y-z that we have here locally is at least that steep.”

We were in for a special treat on Rat Jaw this year as the recent rains, not just overnight but over the last few weeks, had turned its clay like dirt into a vertical skating rink. No matter how fast you are moving up until that point, or how strong you might feel, Rat Jaw is am absolute soul destroying grind from bottom to top. There is an old cable that lays on the ground along some sections, and this cable becomes a life line. You drag yourself up this slope, one agonizing step at a time, and then you hang on for dear life on the downslope, using the cable as you would a climbing rope that’s been strung over a rocky slope to allow for safe passage.

By the time we’d topped out it was but myself, Guillaume and Ally. We might have been a few minutes slower going up than I’ve been in previous years on the first lap, but we’d exerted so much more energy in doing so. It was a fight for every step and for the first time in my three years at the race I actually had the thought, on the first lap, of “I can’t even imagine the effort that’ll be needed to get up this thing on laps three, four and five.”

Bottles filled, page pulled and careening down the mountain. I slam hard at one point but immediately bounce back up and keep running. My tricep is screaming at me and I think it’ll dissipate, but it never does. I attempted to arrest the fall by leaning into a pole and ended up straining my arm. Even as I type this almost a week later the tricep still has a ways to go to get back to 100%. Only at the Barkley are you as likely to experience an upper body injury as you are a lower body injury. The amount of upper body strength needed for the Barkley is often underestimated, and it’s a whole-body workout for two and a half straight days.

We went through the prison, up and over the final two climbs and down into camp after what could readily be described as a perfect first lap.

With about a mile to go, Guillaume says to me, “so how long do you think you’ll spend in camp?”

I’ve had a year to digest last year’s failure. I’ve watched Ethan Newberry’s documentary about it 17 times on the big screen (WhereDreamsGoToDie.com). I do not see six seconds as being the difference, I see the better part of 45 minutes that could have been improved upon. Goal #1 for 2018 was to be more dialed in camp, to be better organized from the start, and to “leave no doubt”. Leave nothing for chance. Be better, from lap one through lap five.

Laz changed the rules around camp for 2018 and each runner was allowed but two crew members. This meant Linda +1. This meant no Ethan, no Kim and no Shaun Martin. In the end my crew ended up being Linda + John Kelly, and we shared John Kelly with another runner, the aforementioned Jodi Isenor. John would have his hands full, crewing for two people, but there was no better person for the job. I was honoured that he’d dedicate his weekend towards my own hopeful success. My parents were staying at a hotel in Oak Ridge and would come to camp for Interloopal, taking Reed off of Linda’s hands so Linda and John could focus on the task at hand. Every – second – counts.

Me to Guillaume, “five minutes best case, seven minutes worst case.”

Guillaume, with a pause…”okay”.

We hit camp in 8h38m.

In 8h45m, after a full gear change from head to toe, socks, shoes, shirts, lube, everything,  I was sprinting back out of camp. It was, easily, the best I’ve ever felt after a lap at the Barkley. Things were going perfectly.

I spotted Guillaume and Ally scrambling to get to the gate to claim their second lap bib, as I was exiting the campground. I did not have a desire to move on without them, I had a desire to finish the race. Every – second – counts.

There was about ninety minutes of daylight remaining when I departed camp on lap two. For 2018 the direction of the loops was set as;

1. clockwise

2. counter

3. counter

4. clockwise

5. choice

The Second Lap - Counterclockwise

I put in a good push to get up and over the first climb, claiming book #13 (or the first book going ccw). As I dropped down the first off trail section of lap two I thought it about the right time to pull out my headlamp. The weather, as had been predicted, was setting in and it was foggy, cold and starting to rain. They were calling for up to 30mm of rain. The “weather event” had begun.

I clicked on my headlamp but nothing happened. I tried again…nothing. Tried one final time, but still zero. I always carry two primary headlamps of 350 lumens, the Princeton Tec Apex rechargeable, and a third emergency light of just 100 lumens, the PT Remix.

I attempted to fire up my second Apex light but it too was dead. This had never happened before. I pulled out my backup, backup light and turned it on. There was no way in hell that this emergency light was sufficient for navigating in the dark, and I didn’t even have spare batteries for it. I was far too far out of camp to head back and fix this. The sun was all but gone, the fog had rolled in, and my race, was about, to end…

“GUILLAUME! ALLY! GUILLAUME!! ALLY!!”

I knew they’d be close, but if I was unable to locate them I’d be hooped as there were no other runners close to us at this point.

Thankfully Guillaume started whistling back to me and we worked towards each other through the dense laurel brush.

“Oh my god, thank you! My headlamps are both dead, do either of you have a backup main light?”

Neither did but both offered what they did have. Nothing added up to a working solution though (extra batteries specific to each lamp) and I was forced to continue with my “AAA” powered Remix. I need to explicitly state at this point that my headlamps were not malfunctioning. It was not a product issue but a user mistake. We as a crew made an error and learned a valuable lesson in real time. The lamps were both dead, but through no fault of the manufacturer.

Myself, Guillaume and Ally were a team again, whether they liked it or not 😊

I lead us to our second book and as we made our move towards the third book a pack of runners headed our way at the end of their first lap. I asked everyone if they had any light source or “AAA” batteries to spare and a TN runner was kind enough to spot me his emergency light which was also “AAA”. This would at least get me closer to being able to cover the 12hrs of darkness we were now confronted with. (if you are reading this please message me so I can get your light back to you)

As we navigated towards our next book the epicenter of the storm started to unleash on us. We had curtains of rain rolling over us and visibility was down to about a foot or two at most. Neither Guillaume nor Ally had ever been on the Barkley course at night before, this was their first counterclockwise loop, we were in a rainstorm, on a pile of mud, in the Tennessee wilderness, with temperatures in the single digits, and their fearless leader had 100 lumens of light to work with.

The death by a thousand briar cuts had begun.

We blew this book in significant fashion and by the time we did locate it we were all soaked through to the bone and on the cusp of hypothermia.

“Guys, put on every layer you have, this is not going to get any better and we won’t regret it if we somehow end up being a smidge too warm on the next climb up Rat Jaw.”

I was now wearing a long sleeve merino wool base, a short sleeve tech shirt, and hooded wind jacket, a waterproof jacket, a buff, a toque, I had a second thicker pair of gloves that I switched into, I had on a short pair of tights under a full pair of tights, and now pulled on my waterproof pants. On the bright side, my pack was now much, much lighter.

Guillaume Calmettes is certainly one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet, and he exclaimed with a smile, in his thick French accent, but with perfect English “ADVENTURE!”

Ally Beaven possessed a great sense of humour, the ability to tell a good story, and most importantly he understood the golden rule of not complaining out loud.

I would have classified us squarely in the middle of being a “Dream Team” and “The Three Stooges”.

We dropped down towards the prison in the most deranged conditions I’d ever witnessed on this slope. It was like the ground was no longer solid but had somehow decayed into a foreign, much more malleable surface. If I could not visually process that I was moving across a supposedly solid slope I would have guessed it to be ice and snow underfoot. Each time we slipped, and we slipped plenty, we’d go for a ride downslope of about five to six feet before coming to a halt, often against a rock or tree, and then we’d be forced to pick ourselves up and attempt a few more feet of actual forward progress. It reminded me all too much of this:

I mostly nailed this descent, placing us just a tiny bit south of our intended target. We claimed our book and proceeded to the prison tunnel.

I have done the prison tunnel and Rat Jaw ten times in my first two years, this was now my 12th pass of the tunnel. Down the center of the tunnel is a cement strip that’s about five inches wide and six inches high. If you are not wearing a headlamp you loose site completely for about 25% of the tunnel in a complete blackout. Jared called this one of his Barkley games, to see if you could navigate this while essentially blind and I’ve adapted this game. On lap one I’d make it through the tunnel without falling off and getting wet, now on lap two, by headlamp, I was presented with something new to me. The tunnel no longer offered a slab of concrete down the middle as an option. There was one steady stream of water flowing through the tunnel, seven plus inches deep throughout. We still tried to stay on the concrete as the water was only an inch above this, but unbeknownst to me there are “inflow” pipes up above and at one point a rather vicious waterfall from above forced us to hug a sidewall. We were essentially fording a river, through a tunnel, at night, under a prison. It was right about then that I started questioning where I’d gone wrong with my life? Up until that point I'd mostly believed that I'd made reasonably good decisions with my life, but in retrospect, my epiphany was that I’d just managed a positive spin on a series of really bad decisions. I do really stupid things, and I do them with stunning regularity.

Anyways, not like I'm making any big life changes at 41 year's old, might as well forge ahead as is...at the exit of the tunnel there was genuine concern for not getting washed over the edge, into a five plus foot drop.

“ADVENTURE!”

We cleared the tunnel and heaved ourselves up Rat Jaw, crawling through the mud and briars every step of the way.

John freaking Kelly was waiting up top yelling encouragement at us through the fog. There’s a fire tower up top and I couldn’t help but picture Lieutenant Dan in the Forrest Gump film, sitting on the topsail yelling out into the storm,

“IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT!?”

John informed us that we had at least another six hours in this weather, but that it should start to ease through the night and, as forecast, it would blow through and the next 48 hours were in fact promising. He also admitted to me later that he got lost in the fog, on maintained and sign-posted trails, while heading up to the fire tower to cheer us on. I was uncertain in that moment who was more miserable, us, while plodding through this thing, or John, wearing every layer he owned and standing out in this mess awaiting our arrival.

We were effective through the next few books, skiing down a mountain of mud on both Rat Jaw and then Testicle, and fording the New River to start up what’s known as Stallion Mountain and the back-half of the course going CCW. I couldn’t help but think of Blake Wood, a true legend of the sport and Barkley finisher who during one particularly rough year found the New River impassable on lap five due to heavy rains, and he subsequently was unable to finish that year through no other reason than he didn’t have a boat with him. Laz instituted a workaround for any future years should this happen again, with a prescribed reroute, so we couldn’t even claim that this was the worst year on record, though we were later informed that it did rank right up there.

We made good time all the way to the top, snagged our book page and then turned to descend towards our next book, dropping through a feature known as Cougar Rock.

Guillaume was on lead, he was near perfect through this section in daylight on lap one, but this was a different beast entirely at night. In hindsight, I became a passenger, and it cost us dearly. When you’re dealing with conditions like we were it hinders your judgement, there’s no time to stop and reset because stopping for even a moment leads to a deep shiver that originates in your core. To move is to stay warm, to stop is to freeze. If you start shivering you might not be able to recover from it, so you push on. It is not until we are fully cliffed out that the severity of our situation overwhelms us. We’re in a bad spot, we’re lost, we’re bleeding time, and a misstep by any of us could lead to a serious incident. We retreat, we reset, we work together to figure things out, but the damage is done. We right the ship, find Cougar Rock, nail our next two books through what’s known as The Garden Spot, and find ourselves correcting for a small error on the third to last book.

We’re now down to the final two books and our best case scenario for this lap is 13hrs – high.

The lead is back to me and with limited light I struggle. I’ve already gone through two sets of batteries for my own headlamp and am now borrowing Guillaume’s backup light. A major marker I’m searching for is a sign off the side of the trail, it is less than two feet from the trail, I know this, I am looking for it, I completely proceed right past it and start down an unfamiliar trail and am confronted by a sign I’ve never seen before that reads “legacy tree”.

“F#@K.”

I scream back up slope to Guillaume who is third in our line,

“Did I miss the sign!? Can you see it?”

“Yes, it’s here!”

We retreat, reset, and then struggle with this descent. For the second straight lap, I snap my pole in pretty much the exact same location. We are anything but smooth and the clock is ticking. We eventually locate the second to last book and start up the second to last climb of the lap.

In the fog mistakes are made, I miss by a few degrees and we’re once again scrambling. I have a deep pit in my stomach. This feels fatal.

We locate the trail right at daybreak and I ask the guys if they’re okay with me pushing onward, saying every second is vital right now. They’re totally cool and off I went, somehow feeling like I was up against the clock on lap two, instead of lap five.

I got chased off the trail a short time later by four wild hogs but no harm was done. I get up and over “Checkmate Hill” snag my page and absolutely careen down into camp. Lap time was something like 14h30m. My entire body is numb, not from pain, but from fear and frustration.

The weather has passed and the forecast for the day is nice. I did a full gear change and bathroom stop, but there was a lot to address after that loop.

To add insult to injury I was up against the absolute worst chafing I’ve ever experienced in my life. My Squirrel’s Nut Butter had more than done the trick on loop one, but something went wrong on the second lap. I was continually reapplying but things were getting worse. It was not until I stripped down that I could spot the cause. I was caked in mud from head to toe, and we were so cold overnight that removing gloves just wasn’t an option. Every time I relieved myself I was inadvertently introducing mud into my tights and I’d created a sandpaper grit effect. I was officially no longer having any fun, though at least I knew it’d help keep me awake from here on out.

Linda learned to make sushi in the months leading into the race. If you want an idea of how all encompassing this race has become for our family, Linda spent months this year helping me with my food options for race weekend, and Reed has a tattoo across his shoulders that says “My Daddy has made it further in the Barkley than your Daddy.” Of course this means we can’t hang out with John Kelly, or Jared Campbell, or Blake Wood, or David Horton, but that’s besides the point, this thing never really leaves us alone for too long at a time. Linda stuffed a sushi burrito into my hand and walked me to the gate for my third lap.

I got out of camp before Guillaume and Ally arrived, and it was once again daylight. There was 12h15m left on the clock for the 36hr cutoff to begin my fourth lap. I knew I could manage an 11h30m lap if I pushed hard, and if I was calculated and focused. This wasn’t over yet. I also finally established my favourite direction of travel, clockwise, which would be the direction of the final two laps should I make it that far. In the CCW direction the “handrails” into books are a bit subtler than in the CW direction, and I am therefore faster and far less prone to errors going CW. I just had to lay down an 11h30m lap and to leave 12h45m on the clock for lap four. I believed in my heart that going clockwise was faster and that this was still within reach.

“I can do this, and I will do this.”

 

Lap 3 - Counterclockwise

I ran out of camp and focused on going fast when things were certain and slowing right down when they were not. I tripled checked everything, and though this lead to a few more minutes being eaten up, it subscribed to the “go slower to go faster” race plan.

I arrived a Rat Jaw a full 40 minutes quicker than lap two and there were a ton of people there to cheer me on. I was getting into some eating issues now, as I approached 27 hours of continual movement. I’d find myself dry heaving a bit here and there, but was thankfully still keeping things under control. It is a fight to keep the calories coming, and if you’re not dedicated to the fight than you’re all but done. At one point I opened an Endurance Tap maple syrup gel, sucked it into my mouth, but realized I was going to dry-heave again, so I promptly spit it right back out, but I spit it back into the resealable pouch, got over my dry-heaving, and then sucked down the vital 100 calories on my second attempt. I actually patted myself on the back for that one. “Nicely done” I thought, “that’s a first”.

I dropped off Rat Jaw and had legs. I was moving well and the rains were behind us. I just had to keep pushing and stay focused.

I made great time through Armes Gap, across the New River, and back up Stallion. A small bump once again near where we messed up one lap earlier, but I was triple checking things so my small mistake stayed as just that, a small mistake.

Howie Stern Photography - descending Testicle Spectacle

The next few books were uneventful and I have ten pages in my pocket. I was doing some math and figured I was on pace for 11h45m at worst. I would have 7-10 mins camp time and be out on lap four with maybe 12h20m or so to work with. I was thinking about a lot of things, about if it were possible, about how this had gone wrong, about what it would mean to finish under these circumstances, about how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful family, my parents, my wife, our beautiful son. I was thinking about how much I wanted this, how much me and my wife have invested into this already, how much a finish would mean to us, forget everything else, that’s all white noise, this is for us. I’ve dreamt of becoming a Barkley finisher for ten years now. I was thinking about how good I felt overall, now having eclipsed 32 hours. This is probably the best I’ve ever felt at this point, though I was already on loop four by this point in my two previous attempts.

I was thinking about so much and getting into a nice running rhythm, I was thinking about absolutely everything BUT the one thing I should have been thinking about, book three.

There are varying levels of difficulty between books and some are considered “a gimme” compared to others. Book three is a gimme so you can often treat it as such…

“Whoa, did I miss Bald Knob!?”

I continued around the corner, seemingly confirming in that moment that I had gone too far, then I backtracked and headed up to claim my page.

I was about ten minutes up the slope when things started not adding up so much…

“Did I f@#K this up!?”

I pulled out my map, confirmed direction, moved up slope about another minute, and there it was, the Emory Gap Campground site…

“F@#K! F@#K! F@#K!”

Jared and I ended up here two years ago, at least I knew where I was. I shot a bearing and went to work on correcting my mistake. Maybe ten minutes later I pulled my page from the third book. This error, in and of itself was shitty and detrimental, but not fatal, it’s what happened next that buried me. I somehow dropped down off of Bald Knob too far North, thinking I was West. I thought I’d missed a prominent trail intersection and that I was South of where I needed to be. It’s at this point that I should point out that I’ve never gone more than 31 hours at the Barkley without sleep. I didn’t feel like I was necessarily sleep deprived, but this entire thought process is rather inexplicable to me post-race. I ditched another fifteen minutes piecing this back together, then really wanted to puke when I did a time check.

“GO, for f@#k sakes Gary, GO!”

I ran to my next handrail and then did something I’ve always struggled to do, I got the CCW descent into book two absolutely perfectly. I was still in this thing! About a quarter of the way down I spooked a dozen hogs of varying sizes though, and they continued down the exact line that I was. The last thing I needed was a standoff or a charge from one of them so I made as much noise as possible and after what felt like an eternity they finally dropped off of my line and to the west.

I ripped my page from book two and leaned into the second to last climb in the CCW direction. The sun was setting and my headlamp, which we’d figured out, was back on my head and shining brightly, all 350 lumens of it.

I made good time up Checkmate Hill and ripped my final page. I know my best case time from here to the campground and it didn’t look good. I had to get up and over England in record time and then lean into the descent to camp like my life depended on it.

I got over England, found the trail, hooked a left, and flipped my watch…I double checked the math, then triple checked it…checkmate.

Even if I found another plain to exist on for the next few miles I’d still come in about 90 – 120 seconds over time. I took my time dropping down into camp, not wanting Linda to worry about me once time expired, but also not wanting to rush the inevitable. I wasn’t ready to step aside, I hadn’t even gotten to the hallucination phase of the race yet. I trained for a 60-hour effort, not a 36-hour effort. “I’m not even going to lose all my toenails” I thought. Is there a greater indicator of failure at the Barkley than NOT losing all of your toenails? Probably not.

 

 

The Barkley Marathons is a personal goal that I am dedicated to. To finish, is akin to breaking a course record at a lot of other events, things have to go right, and some years it can feel like the odds are stacked against you. I want to go on record right now as saying the race was doable this year, I have no doubt of that. If you look back through the history of the event there is a higher likelihood of a finish when two knowledgeable veterans are able to work together through four full laps. Just one year ago John and I formed a great team in which we were continually correcting each other’s errors to prevent any small mistakes from becoming big ones. Having said that, the course has been completed numerous times by an individual, Jared being just one of them, and I believed that I had the skills to do that myself as well. I have the physical capabilities to outwork many of my mistakes, but until I eliminate those “zone outs” and “passenger periods” for 60 full hours, a finish will elude me, for as John Kelly so eloquently stated,

“The Barkley will find your weaknesses, and it will exploit them.”

I had described the experience going into this year like I was a prize fighter. One year ago, after being decisively ahead on the cards going into the 12th and final round, the Barkley got me with a lucky punch and left me TKO’d. It was the hardest defeat of my life and I’ve had to wait a full year for my rematch. This loss is more shocking, but somehow slightly less devastating, since I never even made it to the championship rounds.

As I sit here typing this I have but one “Barkley toe”, not ten (a completely numb toe). I will likely loose but three toenails, not the full set. I am tired, but not obliterated. I am sore from head to toe, cut up by briars, and flush with the usual unique recovery issues post-Barkley, but I will probably head out for a short run sometime this weekend. I did a 36-hour race, not the 60 hour event I’d set out to, and I am unsettled and rife with emotion.  

A Barkley finish likely means more to me than it should at this point and there’s been a crescendo through three years now that would have made for a perfect storybook ending this year, but that’s not how life works sometimes. I simply cannot express my true gratitude to everyone who has followed along and sent well wishes and words of encouragement along the way. This is my purge, please understand that this is my way of telling my story, and it is my preference to not have my life and every single interaction become about the Barkley Marathons. This has evolved into so much more than it should have. There was one goal, it was not accomplished, I’m proud of what I did do, but finishing a Fun Run is not even close to finishing the actual race. I don’t want to be “picked up from this”, that’s the reality and that’s where motivations are forged from. If I was okay with this already I would question how much I really wanted it to begin with. I will stand tall again when I am ready to, but right now I am processing my shortcomings and this is as valuable as any BCMC mountain lap repeat I’d perform in training. This is a period for introspection.

I will return for a fourth go, but honestly we don’t know when that will be. This is not like a year ago where we knew we were going again the following year but we didn’t want to talk about it, we really don’t know when we’ll go back and a decision won’t be made until well into the fall. I’ve missed my skis quite a bit this winter. I’ve missed having more days to teach my son to ski. I’ve missed having more adventures with my wife on a day to day and week to week basis. There are a lot of variables here.

In the grand scheme of things, this is just a race and these are trivial matters. My wife and I have our health, we have our happiness, and we have each other, and in the end, that’s all that I’ve ever wanted or needed. I will say that in three years the Barkley has brought us closer together and for that I’m forever thankful. Linda and I have always been a team, but we’re a tighter more cohesive unit than ever before, and our son Reed will reap those benefits throughout his life. Linda said this to Laz before we departed the park;

“In the end this is just a stupid race, put on by a funny man.”

True dat babe, true dat.

You can’t put yourself out there without expecting to fall flat on your face from time to time, sometimes literally. Life is not easy and pursuing the limitations of who you are will certainly be wrought with unforeseen challenges, but as long as you keep your head up and keep pushing onward towards your truth, towards your belief in who you can be, you will learn to enjoy and cherish the journey, to find positives where others only see negatives…even if you end up reaching your ultimate goal a little later than you may have expected to. Even if you find yourself at that destination a few years further along than your planned arrival time. 

GR

To Guillaume and Ally, I have no idea what either of you said at any point in time (that whole French and Scottish accent thing), but I did enjoy your company, and I really enjoyed your headlamps. Well done out there! Very impressive first go for both of you. 

To the Kelly family, John, Jessi, kids and John’s parents and cousin: Thank you for extending your home to us and for taking such great care of my wife, son and parents while I was on course. You’ve taken a race that’s already special to us and brought it to another level.

To the Barkley family, Laz, Sandra, Rawdog, Kathy, Dave, Ed, Gail, Keith, Rich, Mike and on and on, and all of the runners from around the globe. You are what make this so special. You are why we keep coming back. You are why we as a family will return again, at some point, because believe it or not, we really like you guys 😊

To my sponsors, thank you for believing in and investing in me. Salomon, Suunto, Princeton Tec, Drymax Socks, Trail Butter, Endurance Tap, Squirrel's Nut Butter.

and supporters: Fortius Sport & Health / Matt Thompson RMT 

To my parents, I love you so much and I'm so happy you were there and that you got to establish such a wonderful bond with Reed throughout the week. (this is but the second time my father has seen me race and the first time my mother has been to one of my races, given that we live over 7000km apart and I didn't start running till I was long free of the nest.)

To my son. You'll regret that tattoo when you're older.

To my wife. I'm sorry you learned to make sushi for nothing, maybe we should have relied more on the ketchup this year. #backtoketchup20??

Photo Thanks to Michael Doyle / Canadian Running Magazine

The following eight images are thanks to Howie Stern Photography

These final eight images are some of my own from the week

42 Comments

An Escape From It All - An Edmonton Oilers Playoff  Hockey Game

2 Comments

An Escape From It All - An Edmonton Oilers Playoff Hockey Game

If you don't know, then you haven't watched a Ginger Runner video featuring me, I'm a huge Edmonton Oilers hockey fan and have been my entire life. #GoOilers

This posting is not about running, and it is not about the Barkley Marathons. Those will come, eventually, so if you were hoping for that it's best to move on and check back later. This is a hockey posting. This is a video compilation of a pretty magical 36hr trip I just did to Edmonton, AB last week.

Since returning from The Barkley, less than three weeks ago, I've directed the Diez Vista 50k and 100k trail races, worked through a stomach bug that sidelined me for a few days, caught up on my coaching and race directing business duties, completed what has now added up to 25 Barkley specific interviews, and flown to Edmonton, Alberta on a bit of a whim to cheer on my team in round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I am 100% dedicated towards writing a Barkley race report, and it is my hope to be able to accomplish this within the seven days.

The Edmonton Oilers were last in the playoffs in 2006, when they lost in game 7 of the finals to the Carolina Hurricanes. I actually flew to North Carolina for game 5 of that series and saw an Oilers overtime victory, and what was one of the most exciting overtime games in franchise history. The only other playoff game I've made it to was in 2001 vs the Dallas Stars, in Edmonton for game 4. This one also went to OT and again the Oilers would prevail. Could there be a theme here? Could I end up with a third OT playoff game? Could I witness the Oilers winning a critical game 5, after being blown out in San Jose just two nights earlier in game 4? Of note, I almost flew to San Jose to watch game 4, as it would have been cheaper, but decided to splurge a bit and take in game 5 in Edmonton in the brand new rink, hailed as the nicest in the entire NHL. Boy o boy did I luck out there! Game 4 was a stinker, game 5 however...

I think it's safe to say that the Edmonton Oilers should fly me in for every playoff game from here on out :)

Go Oilers! Game 1 vs Anaheim Ducks goes this evening.

GR

2 Comments

133 Comments

Close, But No Cigarette

upload.png

Thank you everyone for all the heartfelt support and well wishes. It's been quite an emotional rollercoaster these last few days.

I just want to say a few quick things right now before delving deeper into my full race experience in the coming days.

First and foremost, congratulations to John Kelly on becoming the 15th ever finisher of The Barkley Marathons! John and I got to spend four laps together and we were a great team. I have a solid grasp on most of the course, as does John and we worked together very effectively to help launch each other into lap 5 with enough time to close it out.

John grew up in Oak Ridge, 30 minutes away, and he and his family have been hiking and camping in the park his entire life. When we discussed lap 5 direction, while on loop 4, John said "When I've dreamed of finishing Barkley, it's always been while coming down Chimney Top (clockwise) as I've hiked there so much with my family."


John Kelly is the 15th person to ever finish The Barkley Marathons. John Kelly deserves more congrats and recognition than I do right now. Please take a second to properly congratulate him on his phenomenal accomplishment.


Regarding my finish yesterday. After collecting my 13th and final book page, having not stopped moving for even a second on my fifth and final lap, the fog had once again set in. As I went over the final bump on the course I knew I would hit a trail, go left, and run down into camp with maybe five minutes to spare, but the math added up, I was going to make it.


In the fog I was a few degrees off course and when I hit my trail I must've trended into it left and then continued following it, now counting down the minutes till I would intersect the final turn down the last switchbacks into camp, with about two miles to go.


Something didn't feel right though, it was taking too long (like these brief few words) so I checked direction and it seemed to be right, but in my deprived state I didn't assess that I should have rapidly been heading east, and not south for more then a few seconds. I pushed harder now, wondering why the "pillars of death" just would not appear. Did I step over them in the fog and not realize it? No I thought, not possible, so I pushed harder, and then I came to a staircase. There are no staircases on the Barkley course, not a one.


I ripped open my map and the gravity of things hit me. I did not have enough time left to correct my mistake by going up and over the mountain again. If I did this I would have finished in maybe 60:05 and I would not be an official Barkley Marathons finisher. Here's the thing though, that's exactly what I should have done, and the one regret I have after now sleeping is not doing just that.


The Barkley Marathons is not an orienteering style race. You do not get to select the route that best favors you between books. You need to navigate between books, off trail, but in a very specific direction of travel. My finish, even if it were 6 seconds faster would not have counted. I put Laz and the race in a precarious situation and in hindsight I'm glad I was six seconds over so that we didn't have to discuss the validity of my finish.


In that raw moment however, I see two options, turn back up the mountain and finish over time, or shoot a bearing and find yet one more reserve of energy to get to the yellow gate in under 60 hours. I bushwhacked down the mountain at breakneck speed and I found myself at a large river. The river was maybe fifteen feet wide and absolutely raging from all the rain we were experiencing. I took one step off the river bank and was already chest deep. I would never have made the decision to attempt to swim such waters under anything other than a highly sleep deprived and stressed state of mind.


I washed out on the other side maybe thirty feet down stream. I continued buswhacking and quickly spotted the road into camp. I had less than three minutes left till the sixty hour cutoff. I thrashed my way to the road and put my head down and gutted out the hardest three minutes of my life to collapse at the gate, overtime, and from the wrong direction. I did not finish The Barkley Marathons, and that is no one's fault but my own. That one fatal error with just over two miles to go haunts me.


Congrats to John Kelly on one hell of a run and thanks to every single person who makes The Barkley what it is.

My crew were amazing and I can't thank them enough for all that they did for me this past weekend. Linda, Reed, Shawn, Kim and Ethan. I love you guys and I couldn't have come so close without each and every one of you.

 GR

133 Comments

Barkley Marathons 2017 - Final Training Week

3 Comments

Barkley Marathons 2017 - Final Training Week

Done and done! 

The final four week training block is complete. The deposits have been made and numbers stack up as follows;

February 20th - March 19th

28 days.

129,000 total feet of climbing.

62,000ft over an 8.5 day span through my final workout.

187 total miles.

72 hours of training, almost all of it completed on a single two mile long trail called the BCMC.

One man cold.

Four gym sessions and four massages out at Fortius Sport and Health.

Two Coast Mountain Trail Series races directed, Run Ridge Run and the Cap Crusher.

28 dark chocolate bars consumed.

One Squamish50 orientation run cancelled due to the trails being buried in snow.

One three liter box of red wine polished off.

One single toe blister due to running in snow spikes for 70% of those 72 hours of training.

One completely exhausted, exuberant and ecstatic ultra runner who is all but ready to give this crazy Barkley thing another whirl. 

Here's my final training video of the last seven days, including my final overnight training session. I am now happily into the taper phase and anxiously awaiting another go at this thing :)

GR

 

 

3 Comments

Barkley Marathons 2017 - Video Training Log - Week 3, Video 2

1 Comment

Barkley Marathons 2017 - Video Training Log - Week 3, Video 2

Three of my final four high volume build weeks into the Barkley Marathons are now in the books. The weather has most certainly been on my side as of late, at least in terms of it being entirely terrible day in and day out and thereby forcing me to find another level of resolve throughout this process. I'm sure I'll be thankful for these challenging training conditions come race day :)

This video is slightly longer than the first recap, as this week I delve a bit deeper into the psychological challenges that arise during the day to day repetitiveness of it all. 

Just a handful of workouts left to go, and overall things are tracking incredibly well. The goal for the final week is to not make any mistakes that could lead to injury, as was the case just one year ago when I ended up with tenosynovitis in my ankle on my absolute final training session. 

WIth 100,000ft of climbing and descent in the last 20 days, things are tracking incredibly well right now.

GR

1 Comment

Barkley Marathons 2017 - Video Training Log - Week 2 - Video 1

4 Comments

Barkley Marathons 2017 - Video Training Log - Week 2 - Video 1

There are now just two heavy volume weeks of training to go before I taper down into my second attempt at The Barkley Marathons. I have had a very successful winter season with consistent training via predominantly backcountry ski touring.

In mid-January we flew to Hawaii to volunteer at the HURT100 and then we hit up The Big Island afterwards. This was my '2017 intro to running camp' if you will. Once we returned to BC I began to balance out each week with skiing and running, and I officially concluded my ski season on Sunday, February 19th with a second place showing at the Vertfest Alpental Ski Mountaineering race in Snowqualmie, WA. That capped off a 21,000ft / 6400m week of training. 

February 20th - 26th saw a 31,000ft / 9450m week, and throughout that week I contemplated doing a daily video journal over the final 21 days into Barkley...and here we are. 

This was also Suunto World Vertical Week and I was happy to contribute to Canada's totals, as best I could. 

February 27th - March 5th

GR

4 Comments

(Video + Imagery) Whistler Alpine Meadows - WAM50 Course Day via Skywalk North

1 Comment

(Video + Imagery) Whistler Alpine Meadows - WAM50 Course Day via Skywalk North

If you haven't already heard we're bringing a super cool new alpine trail race to life in Whistler!

The Coast Mountain Trail Series, Whistler Alpine Meadows will happen on Saturday, September 24th and will include 12km, 25km and 50km distances. These will all be very tough courses with more climbing than you've likely ever encountered in a course of each particular length. Full details are at TrailSeries.ca, we already have over 230 registered runners and all races are tracking towards selling out far in advance of race day. 

Here's a video I shot today with the visionary behind the Skywalk Trail, Kevin Titus, along with some imagery below. Enjoy :)

1 Comment

Barkley, A Long Form Race Report

28 Comments

Barkley, A Long Form Race Report

Credits : Des bosses et des bulles

Almost a month on from when I toed the line at The Barkley Marathons and I am literally still unable to feel most of my toes. The scars from the briars have mostly recovered and my energy levels slowly return to normal, though I do swing between feeling near 100% and knowing I still have a ways to go to get back to 100%. 

The Barkley, quite simply, was the toughest race I've ever attempted, and although I did come up just short in the end I was able to take away nothing but positives from the experience, at least after I'd slept on it a few days and come to terms with it all. 

The Barkley documentary that recently made its way to Netflix certainly affected things this year, most notably in the media coverage during and especially after the event. To speak specifically to the documentary on Netflix, having now experienced all that Barkley is I can say that the doc does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of The Barkley, with its quirkiness, unique characters and appeal on all levels. Where the documentary falls flat on its face though is in showing how difficult the Barkley really is. In hindsight I believe the documentary softened my expectations of the purely physical challenge of the event and as such the very first words out of my mouth after my first lap, to Laz were "This is WAY harder than I expected it to be. I'm enjoying it mind you, and I kinda like what you've managed to piece together out here." 

Beyond all the things that makes The Barkley a near impossible undertaking I like to sum it up like this, I know track running and what happens in Frozen Head State Park could not be more diametrically opposed but bare with me here. Consider the sub 4-minute mile, for many years it was considered impossible and at the outer reaches of human possibility, but since Roger Bannister became the first to break the barrier in 1954 the record has dropped by almost 17 seconds and high school runners have since broken the mark. Take the sub 4-minute mile and after every single runner breaks four minutes tack on another 50 meters / 50 yards to the distance, but keep calling it a mile.  This is The Barkley.

Lap 1 - Let's Get This Thing Started Already.

I had been warned that Jared would take it out hard, at least in comparison to what you'd expect a "60-hour" pace to consist of. I decided that I would hang with Jared and the lead pack for the first thirty minutes, no matter the pace, and then assess from there if it were sustainable or not. I thought we'd see a bit of a false charge, or a "scraping" of people as soon as possible. When I veteran makes a move to drop a virgin, it is referred to as scraping them. 

Sure enough just a few minutes in and we were running the first climb. The grade was nothing serious and you'd run it without question during a shorter endeavor as it was a maintained trail, also known as a "candyass trail", but to assess this as a 60-hour pace or not would certainly return with only one answer of "oh hell no." Thankfully, and as expected, once we'd established our lead group of seven the pace eased ever so slightly to a more reasonable clip. Our group consisted of Jared, John Kelly (so local that one of the hills/mountains is named after his family), Andrew Thompson (2009 Finisher), Adam Lint and two french runners. Not a bad group to find yourself with this early on. 

As a virgin I knew the only shot at success was to latch onto a veteran and attempt to learn as much as possible while not getting dropped. My intent, if I did get scraped by Jared and co. was to immediately stop and await the next group of runners to catch up to pair up with them. I did not know Jared in advance of the race beyond a one hour phone call we'd had after I reached out to him asking him if I could run a few questions by him. The main piece of advice I took away from that was, "follow a vet for two laps, ideally someone who is slower than you and take on as little stress as possible while learning as much of the course as you can." We never once spoke about the "what if" of if we would pair up together, but it was always my intent to stick with Jared for as long as it made sense to do so.

We rapidly veered off the candyass trail and through the forest towards our first book. Once we located it I became jubilant, my first Barkley page! On the way into Frozen Head State Park there is a house just before the turn with a small sign for self defense classes and a rather large red sign on the roof of the building simply saying "NINJA". I told Linda I would celebrate each and every book along the course by simply saying NINJA when we found it, whether out loud or to myself I did keep this promise and it helped to keep my spirits light as the race progressed.

"NINJA!"

As I was celebrating people were pulling pages passing the book along and then darting out of sight. There's no "I" in team and there are no teams in Barkley. As the last person to pull a page I now had a gap to Jared and co. at the front. As we started down our first off-trail descent we were forced through a pinch point in some rocks. I lept forward, caught mud at the bottom and was thrown to my butt for a slide of about ten feet. My backside was covered and people continued to peel away from me. I found myself with AT, asked him about his course knowledge and he said it'd been years since he'd lined up and he was in fact not 100% confident in his nav skills for this new course. He himself was following the leader and we were both about to get scraped. I immediately leaned into the descent and rather recklessly went about attempting to make up ground before the leaders were in fact out of sight. One of the french runners was between myself and the lead pack and he was all that kept them in sight initially. 

Me to myself, "This is NOT a sensible pace right now Gary." "Thanks Captain Obvious, how bout ya shut the hell up and focus on not throwing our race out the window before book two?" "10-4"

At about this time the reality of the Barkley starts to unveil itself. The terrain underfoot is steep and buried beneath organic material, mostly leaves. Every footstep crunches like you're on a early morning winter frost, and every footfall breaks through into something unknown beneath. A patch of mud, a tangled root, a slippery rock, you are constantly being thrown about and often to the ground only to have to pick yourself up time and time again. It is glaringly obvious that the number of ways for your race experience to end prematurely are all but infinite. The Barkley is thrashing me about and I'm not even an hour in, picking myself up off the ground again and again. Thankfully I am closing the gap and by the time we find ourselves at a river crossing to step back onto some candyass trails I'm up in the lead group of four again. Heads down, moving militantly up the second climb, I look down the trail to see AT working hard to catch back up. One French runner is gone and I realize in that moment that there's no messing around here, this isn't an easy stroll in the forest, we're racing.

On the now off-trail descent to book two I am all but attached to Jared at the hip in the two spot. Jared sticks to what he knows which is kind of a two step approach to the book, follow this ridge to this rock, then take a bearing straight shot, while John Kelly opts for a direct line. It would be the last we would see of John until the beginning of our third loop, while going counter-clockwise and we would later learn that as he was heading towards the book he became entangled in a briar patch. The briars took him down and wrapped around his neck and John would end up looking like he'd escaped a cougar attack. 

Book one had been fairly straightforward, but book two would be all but impossible to find as a complete virgin. Jared hit it straight on and all of us doted appreciation on him as we realized how vital he was to our success in that moment. 

We started the near 2000ft off-trail climb away from book two and another member of our group started to falter. As we topped out on some candyass connectors the pace quickened once again and you could hear the scraping sound. We were down to four, Jared, AT, Adam Lint and myself.

As we collectively approached book three, a newly added book for 2016, all but Jared started searching the rock features for where it might be hidden. You are given instructions as to how the books are placed, things such as, and I quote

"If you go to the exact juncture of the two creeks, and cross over to the west bank, there will be a steep earthen embankment directly in front of you. Go left, downstream, until you see the path climbing onto that earthen bank, and turning right to go up the crest. This is only about 30 or 40 feet. Climb up the trail until you are directly above the juncture of the creeks. You will be standing next to a Beech Tree with a Hollow at the bottom. Inside the hollow is book XX"

The instructions mostly make sense if you hit your target spot on, and can kind of make sense for the 101 ways you can slightly miss your target. 

Jared goes straight for a rock on the ground while saying, "I think Laz would put it HERE." Bingo. Slow clap. Ninja.

Onto book 4, standard stuff. From book 4 towards 5 AT tells us stories of how he sat in a mudpit in this area on the 5th and final loop years back squishing mud into his toes for over an hour. He was so delusional he had no idea where he was or what he was doing anymore. He obviously did not finish that year. 

Book 5 involved a short but steep descent and once again we all relied on Jared's precision to save us valuable time. 

Somewhere between Rat Jaw (shown below) which is book #9 and book #12 AT fell off the back and it was but three of us, Jared, Adam and me. We actually waited a minute hoping AT would catch up before turning and continuing on without him. Such is the respect level for a previous finisher of the race. Jared continued to show us the ways of The Barkley and collectively we made haste towards the end of the first lap. 

Photo Credit Keith Knipling

In the clockwise direction the final four miles are candyass trails and they are after you've collected the final 13th book. As we ran down those 2000ft to close out the lap we started talking transition. Adam straight up said he was not continuing at our pace and as I was thinking Jared might declare twenty or twenty-five minutes of "interloopal" time when he spits out,

"Ten minutes?"

Excessively long pause while I process the influx of emotions that came with this tidbit...

"Sounds great...."

Woohoo, camp! Our first lap time was 8:01:19. The conch blew at 9:42am for a 10:42am start time. It was now 6:43pm with a sunset time of just after 8pm and a sunrise time of just before 7am.

Me to Laz as he's counting our pages, "This is WAY harder than I expected it to be. I'm enjoying it mind you and I kinda like what you've managed to piece together out here."

To Jared, "See ya in ten."

To my amazing support crew who consisted of my beautiful wife Linda and our then 7.5 month old son Reed, a buddy from highschool in Newfoundland who now lives three hours from Frozen Head, Shawn Martin, Ethan Newberry (aka The Ginger Runner) and his lovely wife Kimberley Teshima, and finally Matt Trappe...

"WE'VE GOT TEN MINUTES!!!!!!!"

If I could insert a GIF of the Tasmanian Devil spinning in circles it'd be perfect. Ten minutes later,

"Oh hey Jared, that was fun wasn't it, did you sleep? I thought about it but figured it best to focus on breathing for fifteen seconds."

Lap 2 - Second Verse Same as the First.

Into the night. 

As Laz is handing us our new bibs he reminds us that once we take the bib our crew and camp is off-limits again until either dropping or completing another loop. "Make sure you've got everything you need."

Two headlamps, three batteries, 12+ hours of food, waterproof breathable kit, just in case, cold weather gear as the temps are expected to drop to near freezing, etc, etc. The pack is loaded, weighing maybe ten pounds. We grab our bibs and are off, attempting to cover as much ground as possible before needing to turn on our headlamps. It is now down to just Jared and me and we move remarkably well up the first climb to snag book 1.

At book 2 we come across Canadian Rhonda Marie-Avery, the runner with 8% vision. We are on loop two, somewhere around nine and a half hours in and Rhona, along with her guide, are still searching for the second book. You want dedication? You want resolve? You want inspiration? Look no further. They were within throwing distance of the book and yet they just could not locate it. To their great relief Jared helped them out, I gave her a hug, and we were off again. There was no downtime, there was only focus.

The sun set on us shortly after this and we next lapped runners at book 4. From book 3 we could see a light at book 4 and when we arrived there about thirty minutes later the light was still searching. Starchy, someone I've met at the HURT 100, was going in circles looking for the 4th book. Again the runner was all but right on top of it, but at night the navigation becomes even trickier. We all grabbed a page, placed a rock atop a cairn memorial, and as Jared and I proceeded on towards book 5 we came across a group of maybe five runners. The group was a mix of "get me the hell out of here and back to camp" and "please, please, please just help us find this one next book."

We attempted to convince everyone to come with us towards book 5 but a few were so shell shocked that they were hearing none of it. The group split and Jared helped the eventual group of three, Kimberly, Brad and Starchy, who would go on to set the new longest first loop record of, are you ready for this, 31h59m. We were directing them to book five on their first loop, and we would pass them again on our next loop. I said this afterwards via the Barkley message boards, they, along with Rhonda, were my "heroes of the weekend". No one leaves camp with 32 hours worth of food on them, and very few depart with 32 hours worth of fight in them.

Jared and I had gotten to know each other pretty well by this point and we were clicking along like a well oiled machine, right up until we ourselves got lost in the night. Being very experienced at getting lost in adventure racing I have at least learned one thing over the years, small mistakes become big mistakes and limiting those loses is key. Jared and I were attempting to figure out where we were, while thinking we were perilously close to the one house on course in which the pre-race instructions clearly stated "DO NOT got to this property for help as the owner is entirely likely to shoot any and all trespassers on site" when Jared says,

"East? How are we going east? We should be going west, can you reference your compass here." 

Yes, we were that turned around. At this point I said we needed to sit our assess down and talk this out. In under five minutes we were in agreeance with where we were and just a few minutes after getting up and proceeding in the agreed upon direction we found ourselves back on course. I had helped with something! I felt just a little bit less like a deadweight at that moment and I celebrated the knowledge that we were in fact working as a team and we were most likely in this together until we both made it to the 5th lap.

We proceeded through the rest of loop two without and major hiccups to close our our second loop in 11h01m.

Jared, "Ten minutes?"

Me, "Ya know, an extra five would be dreamy right now."

Jared, "No worries, sounds good."

"WE'VE GOT FIFTEEN MINUTES!!!!!"

As I was packed up and ready to head to the gate my bladder seemed to have exploded on my bag. Shit! Thankfully I had packed two of every essential (pack, bladder, compass, poles, etc)

Me to Jared, "My bladder exploded, just need another minute."

"No worries" as he proceeded to the gate and hung out with Laz for a bit. I was not being scraped, we were a team and a damn fine one I might add with how well we worked together and how there was an unspoken bond between us. We got to talk about anything BUT how we were feeling, how we were doing, what our time looks like or how much pain we're in, etc. We can ask questions of each other as long as they don't pertain to these items, and we can randomly spit out any stories that pop into our minds as we go. We were less than 24 hours into this thing and we pretty much knew each other's back stories, kids names, how we each met our wife, etc. It was rather quite pleasant. 

Lap 3 -Counterclockwise.

Photo Credit Kimberley Teshima

I tried to go the wrong way while leaving camp. Nope, it's counter-clockwise time now. About thirty minutes out from camp John Kelly came running down the candyass trail looking strong. We had no idea his story at that point and hadn't seen him since book 2 on loop 1. It was nice to be going in the opposite direction so that you could interact with the rest of the runners who were still in this thing. 

As we were honing in on book 2 in this direction I stepped on a rock that was about a square foot in size, it rolled back and as I slipped behind it it slammed into my left shin. I crumbled to the ground while writhing in pain. Jared was ahead of me and he stopped to ask if I was alright with a bit of a look of what the heck just happened to you? 

On my final long training session leading into Barkley, the overnighter I posted a video about, I'd managed to injure myself. I knew going into that training session that I was in "gravy time" with training and I felt no need to push things, so I agreed to shut it down at any point that night if anything felt off. Nothing did, it went great and I celebrated the training session as I was driving home for breakfast. As I arrived home I stepped out of my Xterra and could not walk without significant pain in my lower left shin. What the hell? Where did this come from? 

Throughout the night of the training session, on one small section of trail, I was postholing through a thick ice crust while coming down the upper parts of the snow covered mountain. The first time this occurred I remember thinking, holy crap that feels terrible, but nothing more than that so I proceeded lap in and lap out to posthole and ignore this discomfort. It would take three more days before I learned that I was suffering from tenosynovitis, initially diagnosed as a tendinopathy. Basically the postholing through an ice crust created an impact injury on my shin in which I'd damaged the tendon sheath, caused an inflammation and could not walk without significant pain. There were 15 days till race day when this first occurred and I was told that the only true remedy was time and rest. Things that could help with recovery included a topical anti-inflammatory, massage, ART work and cold laser therapy.

The following week, with less than a week to go until we flew to Tennessee I was driving all over Vancouver, North Vancouver and Burnaby getting as many treatments as possible. I spent over $400 on sessions and have never been so stressed while leading into a race before. I was unable to do much of anything in the taper phase, which is certainly not ideal, and on one particular day my quads nearly shut down on me while out on a short steep walk working on my compass skills. I had gone from 60 - 0 in training and you just can't apply the handbrake while cruising the highway and expect things to go well. I arrived home after that compass session and declared this was all for naught, I had not purchased refund insurance on our flights so we were heading to Tennessee and if things managed to recover enough to allow me to even start I'd see if I could make it at least a few laps. 

I did not talk about this to anyone who did not need to know about it because I didn't want to believe it was happening, and I could do without the sympathy, support or condolences which would only make it more real. Linda did manage to make me laugh but once when she said,

"It's as if Laz is a wizard and he could see how confident you were in your training so he cast a spell on you just to see if you could handle it."

It almost goes without saying that it is NOT difficult to picture Laz wearing a wizard's hat.

I started the race with nothing but uncertainty, but I also knew that I'd never been so mentally dialed into an endeavor before and I believed deep down inside that I had a chance, even with this obstacle. I asked my practitioners before departing BC what the worst case scenario was and I was told that a lengthy recovery period was the worst case, if I were even able to continue to push through the pain and swelling to get it to that point.

The rock took me down. Jared asked if I was alright.

"I will only speak of this once. I started this race injured, I've been ignoring pain since mile one and my downhills are seriously compromised by this injury (I couldn't remember the word tenosynovitis at that point so I simply said) called a tendinopathy. (As I picked myself up) I'm fine."

Jared, "I've had that before, it really hurts."

And that was that, back to business.

Through book three and four and while going for book five, up Rat Jaw we came across Kim, Brad and Starchy...they were still going on loop one....we were closing in on the halfway point of the 100 miles.

A few hours further along and I asked Jared what his preferred direction of travel was. There is no way in hell that I would have had any shot at this thing without his assistance and it was just a bonus that we were enjoying each other's company along the way. Jared said clockwise and I said great, you go clockwise and I'll go counter when we both get to our fifth and final loop. 

If you don't know, the first two laps are clockwise, the following two are counter and on the final lap is runner's choice, but if multiple runners make the fifth they must alternate direction so that they can no longer work together. I actually really like this rule and believe it adds a wonderful dynamic to things.

We were still on three but now Jared forced me to lead while he instructed me as to what to look for along the way. We were pretty much doing this all along, but now he placed me in front so as to ensure I collect every bit of knowledge to ideally succeed on my final loop by myself. There was absolutely nothing more that Jared could have done to set me up for success and without him this race report would have ended long ago...so it is JARED'S FAULT that this F-ING RACE REPORT is so F-ING LONG ALREADY! Thanks Jared!!

As we neared in on the end of three I was pushing up against the longest I'd ever been on my feet continuously. I have completed expedition adventure races before with the longest taking me and my team nine days to reach the finish line, but those are multi-sport and at a slower overall pace. The combination of not sleeping the night before the race, being on foot for over 30 hours, now having covered nearly 39,000 feet of climbing and descent, and then realizing that we were only 3/5ths of the way through this thing lead to my own armour showing chinks. My mind, the number one tool in any Barkley attempt had been my greatest asset up until this point in time, but now it was thinking things through. I was doing math, I was extrapolating pain and thinking it forward, I was losing absolute focus and struggling to believe I could or should go on past this third loop, the Fun Run. I had no interest in a Fun Run (three loops in under 40 hours) and not once had I told myself I'd be happy with this. There was no reward for me in only doing 3/5ths of what I trained so diligently for and what I knew conclusively that I could accomplish, yet here I was, completely entrenched in doubtsville.

We agreed to attempt to sleep after this lap and that we'd spent a total of 90 minutes in camp. Sleep as much as you can in that amount of time but don't be late getting back to the gate. As we thumped down the candyass descent of 2000ft feet at the end of loop three I started a chant in my head, 

"Just keep your feet moving. Just keep your feet moving. Just keep your feet moving."

Nothing else went through my head for the final twenty minutes into camp. Nothing else was welcome there.

We arrived after an elapsed 31h27m. They call this 60 miles, but the true distance is at least 78. Those first three laps at Barkley stand up as being tougher than any 100 miler I've yet to compete in, without question. I believe Hardrock will eventually prove to be harder than three laps of the Barkley (when I get in via the lottery), but the HURT 100 is not and UTMF is not. 

Laz actually looked impressed and the glint in his eye showed a hint of excitement. He knew he'd at least have some 5th lap runners this year.

Matt Trappe Photography

I announced to the team that we had 90 total minutes and that I needed to try to sleep. I fell into my chair, removed my shoes and socks and attempted to eat some real food before laying down. I had onset of trenchfoot but it was not yet full blown. As I was cramming food into my mouth, and rubbing a topical anti-inflammatory across my injured shin, uncontrollable tears started to slowly trickle down my cheeks. I did not know how to go on. I did not understand how this thing called Barkley was in fact possible. I was embarrassed by these tears and yet I could not prevent them. I crawled into my sleeping bag and asked Linda to sing to me. I requested the song we sing to our son when we put him down at night and the uncontrollable tears continued behind my sleep mask.

It was evening in camp and camp was active. I had in ear plugs, I had on a sleep mask, and I had a comfy sleeping pad on a flat surface, but sleep would not find me. Dogs were barking, the bugle was tapping people out and I think a car alarm went off once. I was all too aware of the fact that my 55 minutes of actually laying down was about to expire, and all at once I was up and getting dressed again. 

I did not, for one second, hesitate. I was robotic in my movements while still telling myself to just keep my feet moving. I was up against the wall of The Barkley and that wall was constructed by a master of drystone masonry. I could not conceive of how to get through this wall and as I walked up to the yellow gate with Jared to collect our bibs for the 4th time I passed on through the wall as if it did not exist, for in fact it didn't, it was all a construct of my mind. As we departed the campground on lap four I felt a surge of energy. Before even getting to the first climb on lap four I now knew I was going to make it to lap five. The first crux of the Barkley had been negotiated.

Lap 4 - Who Is This Guy In Front of Me?

Matt Trappe Photography

We were heading into the night, our second. Night nav is incredibly difficult at The Barkley, night nav after being awake for two straight days takes on a whole other challenge. 

As we proceeded through the fourth lap and through the night we made small error after small error. Every micro-error leads to lost time that won't come back to you, and as Jared and I both dealt with hallucination issues we did express that we weren't leaving ourselves much room for error on the fifth and final lap.  

At one point during loop four I'm following Jared through the night and I realize I have no idea of who is in front of me. I start a mental roll call of who it could be, is it my high school buddy Shawn Martin? I almost laugh, nope Shawn is a wonderful friend and we've shared some fun adventures but he is not a runner. Is it Andrew Thompson? No, I don't think I've seen AT since we departed on loop two. Is it Eric Carter? (Eric is an adventure buddy and my partner in our coaching business, no I did not just put him in here to work in a plug for our business I swear) It can't be Eric, he's not on skis and I haven't seen Eric in running shoes in over six months. Who is this guy in front of me? OH, is it Jurgen? I think his name is Jurgen...no...Jared! I then repeated the name Jared five times in my head before speaking out loud.

"Jared, I'm struggling to remember who the hell you are right now!"

His response, with a bit of a laugh, "I'll be whoever you need me to be, let's just keep moving forward."

Our micro-errors were adding up and the hallucinations were increasing. There are two water drops on the course and as were were closing in on the second water drop over halfway through the lap Jared mentioned being tired. I knew we were both struggling but was aware of the fact that sleep would be challenging, even in our depleted state, as it was a windy and chilly night. The water drop was in a bit of a sump so my hope was that it would protect us from the wind. 

I had, up until this point in the race, not carried a watch. There was simply no point really as you're not allowed a GPS, and time of day could reasonably be deduced given our nice weather pattern over the weekend. I did not know the exact time of night, but I did know we were likely a few hours from sunrise. 

"Do you have an alarm you trust?"

"Yes."

"We should sleep when we get to the water drop, how does fifteen minutes sound?"

"Sounds like a great idea!"

We trudged down to the water and filled our bottles. We knew that upon waking up we'd be freezing and we'd need to get moving immediately. I put on every additional layer and piece of clothing I had in my pack, but I wasn't carrying pants at this point and I had on knee high socks and a spandex short under a running short. I grabbed an empty gallon water jug, depressed a head sized pocket into it and I plopped myself down in the dirt. We set an alarm for seventeen minutes, to allow for two minutes to fall asleep and fifteen of actual sleep.

"Sweet dreams."

I did find sleep, though about twelve minutes on I started shivering from the wind catching my knees and in hindsight I should have pulled apart a box that the water was transported in and created a blanket out of it. I lay there shivering for a few minutes, knowing that Jared was asleep and not wanting to prematurely end his seventeen minutes of bliss, but alas my stirring lead to standing so as to attempt to stay warm and Jared awoke when he heard this. 

"Time to go?"

"Not quite, but I'm shivering so I have to move a bit."

Up he popped and we simultaneously turned towards the slight incline away from the water drop and got straight back to work on the task at hand. The alarm sounded as we were ascending away from our five star accommodations. No wifi, but all you can drink bottled water.

The sun seemed to arrive all too early and we started feeling the pressure of the 60 hour time limit. A new hallucination began as any and all flowing water now became group conversations in my head. I could not discern words, just that I was hearing voices. Given how many water crossings there are on a Barkley loop it was one of the less pleasant hallucinations I would deal with. As we snagged the final book in the counter-clockwise direction and approached the candyass descent back into camp I felt the need to push the pace a bit. Jared had been dealing with his own knee issue for over ten hours already and collectively we made quite the site of hobbled runners. I should have removed a strap from my pack and tied our bunk legs together to create the first ever three legged race in Barkley history. 

I arrived at the gate about a minute ahead of Jared, feeling like this was beneficial to both of us since it would allow Laz to count out pages seperately rather than collectively and thereby save each of us about thirty seconds. Yes this is a preposterous thought as I write this, but that's how up against the clock it was all starting to feel in the moment. In the end Laz showed his own sleep deprivation by restarting my page count no fewer than four times, and just enough for me to start worrying that I'd somehow lost or forgotten a page. In the end Laz counted our pages simultaneously and Jared and I headed into camp at the same time. We had taken 14 hours to complete the fourth. 

My crew surrounded me in prep to get me set and the campsite was a buzz.

"Let's get me outta here ASAP!"

We were efficient, I knew what I needed and I was pumped. I was making it to the 5th lap! Jared described the fifth as a euphoric experience and adrenaline was surging through my body. 

2012 finisher John Fegyveresi offered congrats and words of encouragement saying I had plenty of time to get it done. I responded by saying that I hadn't accomplished anything yet as I was all too aware of the fact that in the last 75+ hours I'd slept about 90 minutes. I knew I had the physical capabilities to close this out, but did I have still possess the mental wherewithal to figure it all out?

Coincidentally Jared and I walked right into each other in the campground as we were heading to the gate to collect our final bibs.

Me to Jared, "I've got an idea! Let's go to that gate, collect bibs and then head off in opposite directions. Let's high five at the exact midpoint on course and both meet back here before the 60 hour cutoff!"

"Deal!"

The bibs are handed out and the bell lap is announced with gusto.

Lap 5 - Can I Get A Timeout Please?

In the counterclockwise direction the first mile or so is flat with a slight downhill before the climbing begins. It's about 10am, sunny and the day is promising to be the warmest yet. It's Monday. We started running on Saturday morning. There are film crews everywhere and cameras follow me until the grade kicks up. I'm lucid, focused, happy, and I'm running, like actually running. I reach the incline and continue to push the pace, climbing faster than I have yet to do in the counterclockwise direction. I know the adrenaline will wear off shortly but I can't stop my mind from going to what it'll feel like to hit the gate and close this thing out. I get excited, too excited and I quickly tell myself to "Chill the F out. Keep your focus. You haven't even collected a single page yet." I then go through waves of excitement that are followed by chanting "CTFO. CTFO."

I turn a corner and the trail heads down for a bit. All at once everything feels entirely foreign to me. Have I taken a wrong turn? I look for the green blazes on the trees to confirm I'm still on the right trail, and I know inside that there are no other trails off of this one. Yup, green blazes, this is right, but it all looks wrong. Shit! Did I accidentally turn around at some point? Am I heading back towards camp or away from it? A long pause as I attempt to recall if I've stopped to pee. No. The adrenaline has dispersed and all I'm left with is complete and utter sleep deprivation and confusion. I make a pact with myself that whenever I stop to pee I have to take my trekking poles and place them on the ground pointing in the direction of travel so that I don't make this critical error. My mind is crumbling.

Book one is a near gimme in this direction and I find it without issue. From the first to the second book is fairly complex. I have a new mantra now. "Take a bearing, check a bearing, follow a bearing. Trust your compass." I start chanting this out loud to myself as I align compass to map and begin my descent. I am aware of the fact that I have little to no room for error now. I can make this happen, I can finish the Barkley in my first ever attempt, I just need to get everything right. 

I look downslope to align my bearing and I see a vivid image of an industrial sized water container, the large white things that are the size of a transport truck trailer.

"Ok, shoot for that water container...wait, I've been through here four times now and I'm pretty sure there's nothing on this slope. Ok, I wonder what this'll actually be once I get to it."

I was at least still with it enough to recognize what was going on in my own head. Sure enough once I found myself in the clearing that was suppose to hold a water container there was nothing even remotely resembling one, not even a tree that I could believe had contributed to this illusion. 

"Take a bearing, check a bearing, follow a bearing. Trust your compass."

The river came into sight, the confluence came into sight, the incline came into sight and the beech tree came into sight. HOLY SHIT, I DID IT! WOOHOO! Ninja.

Water. Voices in my head. Talk out loud to drown it all out.

"Take a bearing, check a bearing, follow a bearing. Trust your compass."

I triple checked before I made a single move. Down across the river and up towards book three. I peered up through the forest and I spotted a number on a tree, then another, then another. Clear as day, no doubting that my mind was seeing numbers on f-ing trees. I looked down, I saw faces in the leaves. Anything with two puncture holes became a face. Leaves everywhere = faces everywhere. I avert my gaze, my eyes pan across a pile of small rocks and I see my brother's face on a pebble the size of my pinky nail. "Was that Bryan?"

I try to reason with myself, to talk myself out of this malfunctioning mindset, to regain the necessary focus to continue error free. I again peer up slope and I spot two mule deer prancing through the forest. The deer are far enough away that I process no sound from their movements and all at once they are gone. Was that a hallucination too? Why does this feel like one of the most beautiful experiences of my life right now?

I topped out on my climb and I did not hit my target. The map came out as I started to piece together where in fact I was. My mind felt as though I must have continued too far north, when in fact I was too far south. I started to make the map match my mind rather than the other way around and I decided to move, rapidly, down a ridge in the hopes that I would all but collide with my intended point. I started jogging, then running and then all but sprinting. I was bleeding time but I could limit that by moving rapidly now. Before I even knew what had happened I'd dropped far too much elevation and I was intersecting with service roads. Another challenge of the Barkley is that a lot of gravel roads you cross or utilize on course do not in fact show up on the map. 

As I was trudging one service road I caught my toe and wound up on my face before my deadened senses and reflexes could even respond. It was the harshest fall I'd taken all race and I lay in disbelief for about five full seconds before peeling myself out of the dirt. I quietly murmured "Fuck you Barkley."

The clock never stops.

One hour became two and for the first time all race I lost my cool. Success at the Barkley is predicated on keeping a cool head and dealing with any and all obstacles along the way as part of the challenge you've undertaken. Picking yourself up off the ground time and time again is par for the course. Briars ripping the flesh off of the back of your legs, where the knee bends, is standard fare. Getting lost is just part of the game. For over 50 hours I had slogged away at this thing and not once had I even so much as even flinched in anger, but that was over now, I was all but out of time to make up for this error. I stopped moving, through my arms up, and yelled from deep within,

"IT DOES NOT FUCKING END LIKE THIS!"

After two and a half hours I finally located book three. I briefly told myself that maybe I could push past this, that if I found yet another reserve of energy somewhere that maybe I could make up for my mistakes. I dropped towards book four, at the prison, ended up in the wrong gully, came out north of my target and had bled yet more time. This wound was fatal. 

"Well I might as well climb Rat Jaw for the fifth and final time."

I had run out of water and the sun was beating down on me now. I was in full slog mode, no stopping, suffering every step of the way, my mouth becoming drier and more encrusted in salt with each agonizing breath. To stop is to only prolong this discomfort so just get to the top and the water drop. With maybe 1/4 of the climb to go you come into sight for any would be observers from the water tower. It is one of but two points on course where non-runners are allowed. To my joy and dismay a crowd had gathered and they started cheering. I wanting to vocalize something in response but my mouth was all but dried shut. I eventually topped out, went straight to the water table and collapsed in the shade beneath it. There was not enough time left to finish this thing and everyone knew it, especially me. I knew it was but impossible for me to get much further at all without some form of sleep, ideally at least three hours of it. 

Photo Credit Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson, John Fegyveresi, Heather Anderson, Billy Simpson, Nicki Rehn, along with others were all cheering me on while also seeming to derive some sick pleasure from witnessing someone so close to the brink of extinction. This group of people are some of the most accomplished you'll find anywhere and my respect for them is off the charts. They would not let me stop and eventually they kicked me outta there. Again the adrenaline surged a bit and as I descended Rat Jaw I harbored illusions of maybe finding a hidden gear. I did my best impression of a runner and was grasping at straws to keep my race alive. It was like a diesel engine that had run out of fuel, I kept cranking away hoping a spark would catch, but I'd only managed to roll myself onto a down slope and was utilizing gravity while it was on my side.

The terrain flattens and you take a left onto a service road. The adrenaline had worn off and I was struggling to stay awake. I needed sleep, there were no two ways about it, my eyes had to shut for a few hours. I didn't have an alarm I trusted and I was scared to put my head down for twenty minutes as I figured I'd wake up three hours later after the sun had set and I started shivering. I believed Jared might be an hour away so I sat down, removed my pack and was about to lay down, knowing Jared would wake me up when he came by...but then he literally appeared as I was about to go prone. 

Jared to me, "What the heck is going on?"

I explained my plight and that I simply could not go a step further on no sleep. Jared looked sullen, he was genuinely saddened by learning that I would not become a finisher this year.

Me to Jared, "You're doing amazing man! Get on out of here and close this shit out! First ever three time finisher!"

Jared reluctantly departed. Not a minute later two people magically appeared while coming down from the lookout tower. I had gone through so many iterations of what to do next and in the end I was worried that Linda would be worried about me. I could either sleep for three hours, waking once the sun set, and then continue to grab books all night long, or I could accept my fate, ask for a ride back to camp and go listen to the bugle play me a song. I came to Tennessee to attempt to finish the Barkley and the Barkley had won. Nothing I could do in that moment would change this. I had failed and I had accepted it.

It took more than a bit of convincing to get the two people to take me back to camp for as they put it, 

"We don't want to be the people who drove Gary Robbins off course."

"Well it's either you or the first car that picks me up hitchhiking once I drop down to the road crossing."

And with that we proceeded back to camp. I told my ride to drop me outside of the campground so that they wouldn't have to take any flack and I dragged my sorry ass up to the yellow gate. 

Taps played. Danger Dave is not very good at playing taps which makes it sting all the more. 

Barkley 1 - Gary 0

For 55 hours I gave myself to the Barkley, heart, soul, mind and body. I was all in. Nothing else in the entire world mattered for three full days, and I loved it. I did not reach the finish line of the Barkley Marathons but I got pretty damn close. As I mentioned leading into the race I knew it would challenge me in new and unforeseen ways and boy o boy did it ever. During the race I feel like I unlocked a door in my mind that led to a room I'd never entered before and in that room existed a near perfect version of myself, devoid of ego, free of judgement, removed from life's minutia, steadfast in purpose, distracted by nothing, heart wide open with a complete inability to overreact to any obstacle that stood in my way. I wish I could be that person more often.

To be continued.

GR

This race report is ridiculously long so if you've made it this far I commend you, this probably means you could finish the Barkley since you're so dedicated to the process.

Thank yous - couldn't have done it without yous:

Jurgen Campbell - The ultimate badass and an incredible person to boot. Congrats on making history as the first ever three time finisher. I'll pay your entry fee if you line up with me again next year

Linda Barton-Robbins - my rock

Reed Robbins - my inspiration

Shawn Martin - best burgers in interloopal history

Kimberley Teshima - Reed is in love

Ethan Newberry - has a long ways to go on that new beard of his

Matt Trappe - master bladder filler

Lauren Eads + Jason Eads -  don't sell your home in Nashville we want to come visit again in 2017 and we need to borrow your camping supplies

Georg Kunzfeld - a secret German spy

Lazarus Lake - the wizard

Keith Knipling + Keith Dunn + Raw Dawg - save my campsite for next year please

Frozen Ed - thank you for writing the definitive guide on the Barkley, it should be considered mandatory reading by those hoping to apply 

Danger Dave - try playing taps more than just 39 times per year would ya

The end.

Matt Trappe Photography

Image thanks to Melanie Boultbee

28 Comments

The Barkley Marathons, a quick summary

52 Comments

The Barkley Marathons, a quick summary

Matt Trappe Photography

Close but no cigar. The Barkley is tougher than I ever could have imagined and I'm incredibly proud to have made it almost four and a half loops into what is a notoriously difficult race to close out. On my 5th and final loop I was up against some of the deepest sleep deprivation of my life, having not slept the night before the race and being unable to catch more than a ten minute nap during the race, I was on about 90hrs since my last snooze. 

I knew my final lap would have to be mistake free and I was calculated and precise in grabbing the second book of the counter-clockwise loop, one of the harder books to locate (the first book on the CCW loop is a gimme). From the second book to the third I shot a bearing, triple checked it, followed it as closely as possible and came up a just a few degrees from where I intended to be, yet in my sleep deprived state I processed that I was too far north instead of too far south of my target. The following decisions that somehow made sense at the time will haunt my dreams until I one day return. Small mistakes became big mistakes and turning right instead of left became my undoing. Over the following 2.5hrs I wandered in circles in the forest as I watched the merciless 60 hour time limit fade away before me. When I finally located book three I knew that my Barkley dreams were shattered. I would not become the 15th ever finisher of The Barkley Marathons, and I would time out on the fifth and final loop. I decided to at least keep moving for a few more hours and I grabbed the fourth book at the prison and then climbed Rat Jaw for the fifth and final time. 

At the top of Rat Jaw were a collection of misfits, also known as previous finishers and world class badasses, and they all but forbid me from ceasing forward progress. I dropped down RJ, again attempting to generate enough adrenaline to stay awake, yet at the bottom of the descent I sat down and knew sleep was my only course of action. I eventually dropped off the course and found a ride back to the campground to face my fate against the bugle. I had answered all of the questions I'd set out to source answers to when I lined up for this beast, and I had nothing left to prove to myself on the course. A Barkley finish, if it is in my future, would have to wait another year. The Barkley is beyond classification and hard to put into words, though I will try with an eventual blog posting. 

Jared Campbell. I feel like that should be enough, just saying his name, and to those who know him or have witnessed him in action they know what I mean here. I spent 47 hours with Jared during The Barkley and am now honoured to call him a friend. I would have struggled to complete a single loop without Jared's hard earned course knowledge and his calm, kind demeanor actually contributed to enjoying quite a bit of the two and a half days I spent thrashing through the Tennessee wilderness. 

My wife Linda, son Reed, high school buddy Shawn Martin, Ethan Newberry, Kimberley Teshima and Matt Trappe, thank you for being the best support crew a guy could ever hope for.

John Kelly, you made the 5th loop as well and inspired so many people in doing so. It has been pointed out that no person has made the 5th loop, not finished, and then not been able to return and eventually claim an elusive Barkley finish. John, I look forward to seeing you do just that in the coming years, hopefully on your very next go.

Raw Dawg, thank you for not freaking out when I inadvertently stole your campsite.

Danger Dave, I don't like your bugle but the ribs were delicious, thank you.

Frozen Ed, thank you for signing my book, but when you update it for version 2.0 you'll have to reword the thoughts on Canadian's at The Barkley :)

Lazarus Lake, thank you for introducing me to a side of myself that I believed existed but who I'd never met before. I liked who I became "out there" and I look forward to giving it another go.

Barkley 1 - Gary 0

Round two? To be determined, but 2018 at the latest. 

Photo Credit Ethan Newberry

GR

52 Comments

Video - Barkley Marathons Training Finale - An Overnighter on The North Shore

5 Comments

Video - Barkley Marathons Training Finale - An Overnighter on The North Shore

Well that's it for the training side of things leading into Barkley in just over two weeks.

Last night went as well as, or even better than I had hoped for, and over the last seven days I've managed a combined 55,000ft / 16,700m of vert over the local North Shore Mountains. 

Nothing left to do now but to continue to refresh my navigation skills, and to attempt as much sleep and recovery as possible over the next fifteen days. 

Some of my favorite shots from last night.

GR

5 Comments

My Letter of Condolences Has Arrived - The Barkley is a Go!

24 Comments

My Letter of Condolences Has Arrived - The Barkley is a Go!

And on Feb 29th no less, that's gotta be a good omen on some level.

"dear gary;

it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that your name has been selected for the 2016 barkley marathons, to be held on april 2-4, 2016, at frozen head state park, in the state of tennessee, usa.

it is anticipated that this enterprise will amount to nothing more than an extended period of unspeakable suffering, at the end of which you will ultimately find only failure and humiliation. at best, you might escape without incurring permanent physical damage and psychological scarring, which will torment you for the remainder of your life.

you may, if you so desire, spend the intervening months between now, and april in a futile attempt to perform sufficient training to enable yourself to cover a greater distance before your ultimate demise. however, it would probably be better to spend this time putting your affairs in order...

update your will, visit with friends and relatives, and otherwise tie up any and all loose ends.

should the unfortunate mental condition which led to your application for the 2016 barkley marathons improve, you might still escape by simply writing me and asking that your slot be passed along to some other unfortunate fool. there are many other unfortunate fools suffering from the delusion that they *want* to participate in this hopeless endeavor.

otherwise, please respond with an acknowledgement that you indeed wish to participate, and (if you are not already on the barkley mailing list) write to NOT TELLING YOU to request to be added. this is the medium thru which I will pass along any information related to the race. please do not pay any attention to information from anyone other than myself on this list, as the barkers of the past may have been mentally damaged during their attempts to run the race, and are no longer reliable.

in order to protect your privacy, we will not announce your entry to the race on any public forum. this way, you may be allowed to fail quietly, without anyone ever knowing. however, if you wish to make any public statement about your acceptance into the race; that is your choice... if you tell the world that you will be running, do not be surprised to find your heirs requesting that you bequeath them favored items among your possessions, and making inquiries about the location of your valuables.

may your god go with you;

laz"

If you don't know Barkley, here's the wiki link and more importantly here's a great way to kill 90 minutes by viewing the highly entertaining recently released documentary, "The Barkley Marathons, The Race That Eats Its Young", which was recently released to Netflix for FREE!

The Coles Notes (Google Coles Notes if you didn't exist before Google)

-Absolutely one of the toughest physical challenges on the planet.

-There have only been 14 unique finishers in 30 years! Two runners have finished twice. 

-130 or so miles in length, though no one knows for sure / 210km

-60,000ft of climbing and an equal amount descent, as in 120,000ft of change! 18,300 meters!

-60 hour cutoff

-5 laps long. If you finish 3 laps they call it a "fun run" finish. I am not going for a "fun run".

-Never has there been a Canadian finisher of the event.

-The "race" is limited to just 40 runners. Yes, more than 40 people apply for this "privilege" :)

-This is the most quotation marks I've ever used in a blog posting :)

-HURT was a training run for Barkley, and so was this, just yesterday as I knew my letter of condolences was imminent. 

 

-There are no course markings at Barkley and no aid stations. You get a map, some coordinates, and you go find hidden books in the forest and pull out the page that matches your bib number to prove you found the checkpoints. Lose you pages and you're out of the race. Seriously, watch the documentary :)

-You are not allowed GPS, you are not allowed an altimeter, just map and compass.

-Each time the course is completed in its entirety the course is changed to make it harder the following year. No one finished in 2015 so the course does not change for 2016.

-Apparently 2016 will see the deepest field they've ever hosted as the initial announcement was that four previous finishers and eight previous fun run finishers were returning, and apparently a former Olympian (no idea what country of what sport it was) is in as well.

-There is no race website and they do not publish a starters list. It is up to the person if they wish to openly admit that they are attempting this. 

I applied as you are supposed to back in December and was not amongst the initially drawn entrants, but I did find myself at #8 on the weight list, yes they like to mess with words and they call it a weight list instead of a wait list. One by one I watched people climb the weight list whilst knowing full well that I was high enough to eventually get in. Barkley has been my focus and my big race goal for the better part of the last year. If I did not get into Hardrock, which I didn't, I was focussing on Barkley. This is not to say that HURT wasn't my absolute race goal in January, it was, but Barkley happens on April 2nd this year and as such you'd better be logging race specific mileage through at least December, January, February and March. If I were finally going to apply for Barkley, it was going to be in a year where I was also doing HURT as the training for both is so complimentary. 

A brief summary of my history with the Barkley. I've been dreaming about this day for the better part of seven years, maybe eight. I did come from an expedition adventure racing background into ultrarunning, so I learned of this impossible race early in my ultra career. If I didn't end up injured for all of 2011 I would most likely have applied that year, for a hopeful 2012 inclusion. 

In November of 2012 after working my fitness back from a lost year in 2011, I found myself in a room with two Barkley finishers and a third person who then went on to become a finisher. 

Andrew Thompson - 2009 finisher

Jonathan Basham - 2010 finisher

Travis Wildeboer - 2013 finisher

I brought up the Barkley and of course passionate discussion ensued. I took a lot away from that day but mainly this, you can't prevent the suffering, no matter how hard you try, and sometimes simply trying to prevent that suffering is to your own demise. Jonathan or JB as he's known summed it up best, while throwing his arms out wildly to the sides,

"You know how you finish Barkley, you've GOTTA WANT BARKLEY!"

Plain and simple, Barkley isn't an afterthought, it isn't something you just tack onto a racing calendar, it isn't something to be taken lightly and if you want to finish the damn thing you'd better be prepared to live for it for months and even years on end. This is where I've been for the last few years now, until I finally applied, knowing that there can never be excuses in getting the training in and ensuring I'm as prepared as possible come the day of reckoning. 

That workout shown above, or displayed in this image capped off a week in which I managed 42,000 feet of climbing, while also directing my first CMTS race of the season. It was a busy week and come Sunday the weather was the nastiest it had been in sometime. It was a miserable day with high winds, at time sideways rain down low and blowing snow up high.

All in all I would have preferred 101 other ways to spend my Sunday, but I knew I was eventually, maybe even that day (yesterday) getting into Barkley, and as such there are no excuses, only actions. I fought tooth and nail against quitting before I had even begun and ten and a half hours later I'd logged the biggest vert training day of my life, and by a decent margin. That's why I signed up for the Barkley to begin with, because I know that come race day it will challenge me in new and unforeseen ways, and that in the months leading up to the race, it would force me to be a better person, a better athlete, and that it would force me to challenge myself in new and creative ways. Yesterday was about doing something that not that long ago was beyond the realm of possibility for me, 20,000ft in 31 miles / 6100m in 50km, as a training day.

April 2nd is about facing the greatest physical and mental challenge of my racing career and indeed my life. 

The Barkley is a go, the training is right on schedule, now to figure out how to read a map and use that damn compass :)

GR

24 Comments

Enter to WIN a Suunto Ambit3 Vertical! MSRP $645

Comment

Enter to WIN a Suunto Ambit3 Vertical! MSRP $645

World Vertical Week is coming, are you ready?

From February 15th - 21st Suunto is hosting World Vertical Week, in conjunction with the official launch of the new Ambit3 Vertical watch. Check out full specs on the new Vertical here. First thing you'll notice is the lack of the bump on the wrist strap, that's right, all antenna are now fully internal and the wrist will only see a silky smooth silicone strap. Honestly, most comfortable GPS watch I've ever had on my wrist! I may never take this thing off :) Colours available include white, black, lime and blue.

But enough with that, how can you WIN one of these bad boys!?

This particular contest is only open to Canadian residents, so first and foremost ensure your Movescount and Suunto Movescount App settings are up to date and list you as a proud Canuck.

Don't have Movescount? No problem. Don't own a Suunto watch yet? No problem.

Here's how to enter the contest, all the while helping Canada accrue vertical in the World Vertical Week challenge from Feb 15th - 21st.

It's easy, ready;

1) Join Movescount.

2) Record a workout via the Movescount App for smartphone, or via your Suunto watch if you already own one.

3) Share a Suunto Movie of your workout. Never done this before? It's very straightforward and a SUPER FUN feature!

4) Use this hashtag while posting your workout #SuuntoVerticalCanada

5) Stand back and wait for the draw. 

Please do log as much vertical as you can next week to help Canada pump up their totals vs other nations. All human powered activities count, including running, biking, skiing (no lifts), mountaineering, hiking, etc, etc. So GET OUT and HAVE SOME FUN!

Go Canada Go!

GR

Comment

Video: Rainbow Mountain Heli-Drop

2 Comments

Video: Rainbow Mountain Heli-Drop

Back on January 2nd I had the good fortune of doing a heli-drop on Rainbow Mountain in Whistler with some of my best friends. I pieced together a 90 second video summary of the day. The cost of the heli-drop was $105 per person. A Whistler - Blackcomb lift ticket runs $110 + taxes, advance purchase only and $129 + at the ticket window on the day. The decision was an easy one and we lucked out with a perfect day and great snow conditions considering it hadn't snowed in the days leading up to this :)


2 Comments

Video: Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park.

Comment

Video: Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park.

Finally got a chance to  tackle another bucket list trail run, the Kalalau Trail along the Nā Pali Coast of Kauai. This was the longest adventure run that Linda and I have been on in over a year, since that whole spitting out a kid thing occurred :)

We were fortunate to run the trail on an absolutely perfect day, and there was also a big wave warning in effect, meaning the ocean put on an absolute performance for us all day long. 

I put together this short (<5min) video that encapsulates the day and puts the big surf in perspective. 

GR

Comment

How To: Auto-sync / mass upload all old GPS files via any service to Strava

2 Comments

How To: Auto-sync / mass upload all old GPS files via any service to Strava

For far too long I've desired to amalgamate all my old run data onto Strava, but the task seemed far too large to tackle during race directing season. With the series finale of the Coast Mountain Trail Series in the books as of October 10th I am finally able to focus a bit of energy towards other projects, and this was near the top of my list. 

I started on the onerous path of downloading and uploading a single file at a time. It was taking me approximately a minute per file or thirty minutes per month of archived training. I set in on a tackling two months per night at the end of my day, and after two days I finally stepped back and said out loud "there has to be a better f-ing way than this."

Of course there was a better way and a simple google search will answer this for you, as it did for me. I am not here to tell you anything more than is already posted on the ole interwebs, rather I'm going to briefly describe how GD easy it was for me to accomplish this once I landed on the service that seemed the easiest and cheapest to use. 

Tapiriik at https://tapiriik.com/

There's a donation button that starts at $5. Apparently you can contribute as little as $2 but I figured if this thing actually worked that $5 was a near theft on my part. 

You simply login each of your respective accounts, hit sync and voila! Done and done! In my case I had over 800 files on my old Garminconnect account that I wished to upload to Strava. You can choose to sync in any direction, between 13 different service providers, or basically every service but Movescount (insert sad face). No biggie though, all my data was synced in a matter of hours.

Quick tip: Most of my Garminconnect files were listed as private, so they initially wouldn't sync. I scrolled through over 800 files to change the setting from private to public and then it synced instantly. Of course immediately after accomplishing this I hovered over the Garmin box to see a settings button appear. Clicking on this button allows you to mass select "sync all private files too". Damn. Oh well. 

For just $5 Tapiriik automatically added over 800 files with over 1400 hours and 8600 miles to my Strava files. I can now look back through 2009 to view my entire training history and it's proven quite insightful, through my lost year and subsequent comeback after twice breaking my foot, to the correlation to race day successes via consistency in training over months and even the full year leading into an event. It's nice to host everything in a single space (or multiple spaces if you sync all your services) and no one can touch Strava for how they display and present your data. 

So there you have it, if you've been considering updating your Strava account with your historic GPS data, it's as easy as $5 and five minutes. Have at er!

If you hadn't already noticed this is my new website, I hope you like the layout. I haven't delved into it too far just yet and will get to that in the coming months, but I figured first things first, it was time to post a blog for the first time since August 8th. Typically at this time of year I attempt to catch up on the things I can't stay on top of during event season and this year is no different. I'm hopeful to maybe even get a few race reports and/or trip reports posted in the next few months as well, just don't hold me to that :)

GR

2 Comments

Brice Ferre Video Project

Comment

Brice Ferre Video Project

I had the good fortune of connecting with Brice Ferre recently to link up on this video project. It's always fun to get to tell a bit of my story into ultra running, and Brice stitches it all together so seamlessly, and with drone footage no less :)

All footage was collected right here in North Van on Mount Seymour, one of my favorite training grounds. I hope you like it!

GR

Comment

Wonderland FKT Attempt is a Go!

2 Comments

Wonderland FKT Attempt is a Go!

Well, it's time to make this thing official. On Wednesday, July 1st (Canada Day) I'll be starting in on the 150km journey around Mount Rainier with but one goal in mind, a new fully supported FKT (Fastest Known Time).

2 Comments

About 50% of What I Came For at CSP118 Spain

8 Comments

About 50% of What I Came For at CSP118 Spain

Well shit, that didn't exactly go as planned. 

There were so many great things about today that it's hard to believe it ended in a DNF. 

I was fit and ready, tapered properly, acclimated to the heat (after a week in Mexico + a week sauna training), injury free (even some small tweaks I've been working through for about eight weeks were fully at bay today), my nutrition was dialed, and most of all I ran a really intelligent race.

8 Comments