El Clásico de Barkley (a 2017 odisea de carrera)

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the barkley fall classic
frozen head state park
wartburg, tn
16 sept 2017

it is a race like no other
based on an even more insane
impossible event like no other
the barkley marathons
the race that eats it’s young

the barkley fall classic has grown quickly
to over 400 runners in just 3 years
trying to finish
wicked
gnarly
back mountain trails and hillsides
to get to laz
for a bonus loop
for a 50k – mile finish
for as advertised it is more
bang for your buck than just 31 miles
some say 48 miles
the lowest estimate was 40 miles

you see
no gps is allowed at the barkley
despite incessant cicadas beeping at mile 1 and beyond

before the race started
as i was getting my gear together
while downing my fourth organic pop tart of the morning

Joshua Holmes

a race vet
in the car next to me
told me that we were required to have a light
in our drop bag at mile 22…ahem 35
i had not even brought a light from the west coast
because i didn’t plan to run past the sun
but it was for sure more of a safety precaution
in case one got lost
as frozen head state park has been known
to swallow a wardian or two before
i had my phone flashlight
but RIF member cathy downes told me
she had an extra headlamp in her drop bag i could use if needed
her kindness stuck with me
as i thought about how many nice things
run it fast members have done for me over the past few years

Laz Lighting Up Barkley Fall Classic 2017

the race starts with the laz lighting a cigarette
just like he starts the big barkley in the spring
laz lit up and we all took off like any other race
yet we all knew we were about to enter a vast unknown

400 of us dashed down the paved road
taking advantage of the smooth surface and cool temps
about 50 feet in i hear some dudes behind me saying,
“someone is really going to miss that water bottle later.”
so i remember my soft flask i had stuck in my pocket pre-race
and check my pocket and it’s not there
so i immediately start swimming upstream
against a torrid stampede of anxious and eager buffalo
i finally see my bottle and runners stepping on it
oblivious to what was going on
they just saw this runner going the wrong way without a guide
i finally grab it and spend the next few min cleaning it with my shirt

so back to moving forward in the correct forward position
all of a sudden felt like getting shot out of a cannon
the first mile is on pavement before you reach the famed yellow gates
of frozen head made famous by the barkley
the race that eats it’s young
a sort of golden arches of sorts for ultra mile junkies

everyone was full of optimism and nerves
knowing that likely just 120 or so of the 400 starters would finish the 50k
i wondered who the other 119 would be myself

any race i begin
i visualize myself with only one outcome
coming out clean on the other side
no matter how ugly or desperate it might become

as unforgiving as little bark is
there is still some insurance knowing that you can
take a marathon
more like true 50k finish
if it goes to hell or you don’t make the cutoff at laz

the first few miles from the gate were on a single track trail
the climb was pretty gradual
and not too technical

Joshua Holmes Barkley Fall Classic TSD1

even though we were slowing climbing
i pushed the pace
i had gone out aggressive
to avoid massive conga lines
to find some space
to be able to operate
breath
find rhythm
the marvin gaye type
smooth
easy
effortless
and not over run
to avoid being over run
or be hung up
on the heels of whoever lay before me

i worked through this section
with rif member lisa van wolde
we would move past other runners
on this single track together
which made it easier for both of us
to get by quicker using less energy

you come upon the first aid station about 4 miles in
where the coalfield boys
high school football players held the jugs
that didn’t have moonshine
but had water and sword instead

i quickly refilled and kept down the trail
until coming upon a photographer
not my first in this life
a couple of us tried to run past her
continuing on down the trail
but she quickly said, “no, that way!”
as she pointed into the true wilderness
down a ravine into a giant lake
but it wasn’t a lake but just massive fog
onto of the moguls
this was testicle spectacle

quickly into testicle
i found a steep
slick
down where i could get no footing
i had put on my brush clearing gloves
as i knew i was about to be tested
my legs came out from under me
and i slide down the hillside about 20 feet
before i could get my legs under me again

this went on a few times
with some moderate climbs
for a mile and half or so
then we turned left into some low lying ground
and waded through a creek

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luckily i was behind dewayne satterfield
who has done big bark
because none of this was marked
there was for sure no trail at this point
just some creek funk thing
that looked a bit like the forked deer in west tn

well found a road on the other side of the marsh
then quickly over a wooden bridge
we ran
into a small white country church
that had an aid station to the right of it
as advertised it had water
sword
slim jims
and long elongated yellow fruits
this was also where we got our first bib punch
i think it was the letter i

testicle is an out and back
being near the lead of the pack it meant we were going to see
a lot of terrified faces coming at us
escaping testicle on the way out
is even more difficult than it was sliding down
into this foggy bottom

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as my mouth burned from slim jims
that were obviously soaked in tabasco
i quickly found myself on my hands and knees
trying to get up the muddy hillside
it is amazing how high your heart rate rises
when you are on all fours
trying to get any grip of the earth you can
to climb up

the two way traffic wasn’t easy
people were slipping and sliding into each other
but everyone was polite and understanding

once we escaped testicle
we hit that same photographer again
for the after ts photo
as i have told other runners
always know where the photographers are

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thinking we were getting a temporarily hiatus from the gnarly stuff
i took my gloves off
as we crossed the trail down into methlab hill
some parts of meth were worse than testicle
it could have been called testicle part 2
it included more butt sliding
and knocking other runners further down into the ravine
shortly after you bottom out on meth
you hit the prison

i hit it in 3 hrs 7 min 6 sec from the start

brushy mountain state penitentiary that is
an expired prison where james earl ray
the white supremacist
who killed the transcendent Martin Luther King was jailed
for many years
laz says he got the idea for barkley
back in the late 70s when ray escaped
it took several days for authorities to recapture him
but they did 58 hours later
he had only made it 5 miles in that time
due to the intense rugged mountains and lacking a garmin

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the prison looked straight out of shawshank
i went in the front door
and walked through the first building
then into the second building where most of the cells where located
a volunteer told me that cell 27 had been ray’s
as i walked by and looked into 27
all i could think about
was what a cowardly
loser
pos ray was for killing king
a man of peace

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after the cells it was out the side door
into the back yard behind the penitentiary
where we scaled a ladder over the back prison wall
and down the other side
where i got my second bib punch of the morning
the letter r

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the bib puncher
keith dunn
directed me to run around the back corner of the prison wall
and through a long
dark tunnel
the tunnel had a feint light at the other end of it
there was a slow stream of water flowing through the tunnel
more flashbacks to andy durfresne escaping from shawshank
it was pitch black in the tunnel
but i ran and trusted my footing would not be compromised

Prison Tunnel

then i took a sharp left
into some overgrown
green centrifuge
a couple min into it
as it started to climb
i asked another runner
if it was rat jaw
the infamous rat jaw
up the steep mountain side
under the power lines
the answer was in the affirmative

gloves back on
it was wildly overgrown
from a healthy rain season
i moved pretty quickly
up the first half of this rat’s nest
then i started to see a long line of runners stack up above me
stuck in the greenness
briars
thick
long
executing briars
that none of us could escape
i asked another runner if the half marathon was merging with us
as so many runners had grinder to a halt
stuck in the thick of it
it was so overgrown and thick with no where to go
a path had to be slowly carved
with human bodies

robert youngren
who moments before grabbed my feet below me
to give me a solid surface to climb up
as i couldn’t get a grip
started a new
revolutionary path he started blazing
with a mini train behind him
i was about the seventh car in this train
this was painfully slow but rob was taking most of the abuse
as the conductor of this train
our train was slow but steady
moving faster than the longer train
that seemed stuck in a paused motion
perhaps mighty casey had run out of steam
rob got us to the top
passing several in the other train in the process

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it took time but finally we reached the top of rat jaw
60 runners had stacked up behind us

rat jaw had been the great equalizer
almost like a nascar caution flag to bring the field all back together

quickly we climbed to the top of the watch tower and back down
quick aid station stop after the tower for refills
and then some downhill jeep roads
to garden spot
then to bald knob

most vets had underestimated how hard the back side
of the race would be
since rat jaw and testacle were knocked out earlier on

bird mountain was a formidable foe
it wasn’t gnarly or impossible
but due to not knowing exactly how long the course was
it seemed to go on forever

i knew we were many miles beyond what the map said
but as they say laz miles are way longer than actual miles
like 1.5x longer
the bird mtn miles seemed to go on forever
i kept thinking we had to be close to laz and dropbags

finally we come off the trail
back onto park roads
and after about 1/2 a mile later to our drop bags
and then laz
with an elapsed time of 8:03:30 to that point

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laz punched my bib
and made mention of how well i was doing
seeming a bit surprised
maybe it was because when i first met him on the ferry
in dorena landing years ago
at the start of the vol state
he looked at me and my crew
consisting of my high school cousin and his buddy
and told me
look to your left and your right
one of you will finish this race
i could tell his confidence was not in me being the one
i was very green then
i am just light
lime green now

other runners had warned me that the last loop was 9 miles
like 9 actual miles not laz miles

the climb up to chimney top was a long 5-6 mile climb
others had opted to grab poles out of their drop bags
i didn’t want to cheat my exercise routine with poles

early in the climb i was passed by a handful of hikers
i mean runners
as the climb wore on
i started to catch and reel in a couple of them
by being persistent and relentless

Chimney Top

i finally hit the top of chimney top
and you know how i knew it was the top of chimney top
because there was a mf chimney at the top of the climb
in the middle of nowhere
no house with it
no signs of a house
just a chimney and fireplace
no smoke
prevent forest fires
it was then i realized that i was at the top of chimney top
i did not need a sign to tell me

after chimney’s top started a gradual downhill
not many other runners were around at this point
another runner was in front of me
and after a mile and a sharp turn to the left down the mountain
we both started to get nervous wondering if we were on the right trail
or if we had become lost
and if so how lost where we and would we have enough time
to get back on the correct trail and make the cutoff
i pulled out my cloth map several times
and each time wadded it back into my pocket
unable to make sense of it
we both were running well
but simply did not see any other human beings
as more and more indecision began to set in

finally we saw another runner
and a volunteer
with a hole puncher and jugs of water
i refilled all 4 bottles i had with me
the volunteer punched my bib
and knew exactly how much of the course remained
he told us 2.5 miles back to laz
and about 3.4 total to the finish
and that it was all down hill

i took off running
knowing i needed to be perfect
if i wanted to break 11 hours
i knew i was about in 23rd position as well
however i didn’t know the terrain or the accuracy of the distance
but i ran hard smelling the barn
or perhaps it was myself
but either way it fueled me to another gear
that had been abandoned miles earlier

i caught a couple runners including youngren
who was probably simply tired
from sleepless nights with his new baby
and then shortly after there was laz and friends
i slowed just enough to ask if we needed another punch
laz said no and i turned it up knowing 10 hrs 52 min had expired
on the clock

1 mile
8 min or less
again was the distance accurate or not
i didn’t know
but i ran harder

another runner was alongside me
as i had caught him near laz
we were both chasing sub 11
we ran that last road like it was a legit 5k
i hit the pavement and emptied all my bottles
to get as light as possible knowing every second would matter

the other runner
nathan i believe
got a few feet in front and i followed in his wake
a couple turns hoping the end was in sight
clock ticking
a clock with no mind or mercy of what i wanted

i finally start to hear people
then i see the grassy field knowing to turn right
for the finishing arches
i see the clock at 10:59:30
i sprinted in comfortably over those 40 yards
crossing the finish line in 10:59:43

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a time that would matter only to me
breaking 11 hours that would only matter to me
but it had mattered to me for several miles
because it helped me stay focused and on point
it helped me prevent bad miles
and gave me something to focus on
and help drive me those last few miles to the finish

my last mile was 7 min 11 sec

the first person i saw after finishing was my good friend
rif member and bfc rd steve durbin
it was good to see him
he congratulated me and i thanked him for an amazing event
i was then presented with the prized
croix de barque for finishing

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i caught my breath
drank a few bottles of sword from the orange cooler
and then walked backwards on the course
to cheer in other runners
and root for my fellow run it fast members than remained on the course
slowly
one by one they found the finish as i had
some had made the 50k cutoff and finish
others had been turned in early
but all seemed satisfied with the effort they put forth that day

they knew they hadn’t don’t a normal race
and they were proud of the valiant effort they gave
they had been challenged in a new way
and had dug deep or discovered a new depth for the first time

after a few photos and hugs
i redeemed my post race meal card for a veggie burger
i am not even a vegetarian but it sounded like what my stomach
would agree with
and it was spot on

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i beat the rat

i traded war stories from the course and other battles
with other veteran ultra runners
from the past and present
the weather had been perfect
the course ripe
and i was pleased with my effort

my goal had been to finish in the top 20 and sub 11
i was 20th overall and 18th male
in a time of 10:59:43

Run It Fast Barkley Fall Classic 2017 Finishers 2

it was a good feeling to run well
and share in so many others achievements
i wore the rat bites and dozens of flesh wounds with pride
a very special running
epic event
race directed by my good friends durb and laz

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rif members before the lighting of the cigarette

congrats to all who were brave enough to toe the start
whether you got a finish or not
it takes a lot to take on a task like the bfc

thank you to all the volunteers
and football players
and friends
who were encouraging
helpful
resourceful
and made it possible to finish
marathon/ultra #197

and a special thanks
to all my Run It Fast friends
who continue to inspire and drive me
every race
step by step

joshua holmes
run it fast
2017

barkley fall classic results – 2017
photos: susan typert, daryl ann patton

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This post was written by:

- who has written 1051 posts on Run It Fast®.

Joshua Holmes has completed 197 marathons/ultramarathons while running 100+ miles 43 including races such as the Badwater 135, Western States 100, The Last Annual Vol State 500K (3x). His favorite races to date are the Vol State 500K, Badwater 135, Barkley Fall Classic, Catalina Eco Marathon, Chimera 100, Across The Years, Savage Gulf Trail Marathon, Strolling Jim 40 Miler, Tunnel Hill 100, RUTS, EC100 and the Flying Monkey Marathon in his home state of Tennessee. Follow @bayou Follow @joshuaholmes on Instagram

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