LOVE HARDER , EAT BETTER & EXPLORE FURTHER
"Gurlll, did a mad dawg do that to yah...." concerned family noting my war wounds Sunday while out on a recovery run.
*First off if you don’t know what the Barkley is, stop, find your Netflix account and watch “The Barkley Marathons - the Race that Eats its Young” - then continue
This race (and of course the Big Barkley) have been in my brain since I watched The Barkley documentary with my then-boyfriend, now-husband a little over a year ago. I had only been ultrarunning for a few months when we sat down with beers last summer and devoured this movie - not to mention Mr. Hough himself has a few cameos while supporting Rob Youngren a few years ago. We supported some friends at the 2016 Fall Classic and I was amazed at the carnage and the courage all the finishers had to take on that terrain that I had explored a few times - and I could not even fathom the famed “Rat Jaw”, “Testicle Spectacle” or “Meth Lab” Hill.
I was waitlisted for 2016 and registered at midnight one night last summer for the 2017 rendition. The rest of 2016 till now I continued building my ultrarunning background and hill climbing my ass off. And doing cycles of speedwork thanks to Andy Jones-Wilkins. I am the woman requesting mile hill repeats in place of a few 800s on the track….
Now, hilariously enough, I wasn’t even the most worried about the power line climbs, I’ll hike, crawl and drag my ass up any hill till my lungs scream and my butt aches. BUT I was terrified of going through Brushy State Prison - my fear of the dark is nearly paralyzing and has at least gotten better with age. And truth be told - I did lose time there, entering the dimly lit prison building I froze and entering the tunnel I waited momentarily for someone to catch up with me before I just held my breath and ran with my hand along the wall praying Pennywise the Dancing Clown didn’t pop out of the water or the ghost of a long lost prisoner grabbed my ankle. Pure Terror.. I am the woman requesting mile hill repeats in place of a few 800s on the track….
Note : If I head to Big Barkley, my training besides orienteering and hill climbing will definitely be sitting in the woods in the dark trying not to have a panic attack.
Luke and I got in to Morgan County later on Friday afternoon, grabbed my packet and headed to Harriman to a pretty nice Holiday Inn. That we barely made it to. Since we followed Cary Long and David Thurman and we all nearly got killed. After the four of us terrorized the lovely hotel clerks with our banter, Luke and I tucked in for as much sleep as we could get before a not-too-early 4:30 AM wake-up. Got to the field with plenty of time to pitch drop-bags into the trailer, catch up with all our favorites and take my new favorite group picture of the year.
I lined up - and, not able to see the infamous cigarette light - just waited for the throng to shove off. It was a cool morning and I felt great - even without much of taper working to train through the race. After the sprint to the trail head I found myself with the lead chase pack of men and felt pretty great, North Old Mac was a great climb.
Not knowing what to expect, we hit Testicle Spectacle and it was glorious. I truly could not have been happier trouncing through the yet-uncut-briars (the lead pack of men had gotten off course for a short while and caught up to us quickly). I tore my legs and arms to shreds, nearly broke my elbow and saw the largest spider I had ever seen in my life. I pushed through the church aid station without getting water and headed back to climb back up the Spectacle. We created a perfect little butt-shoving train, I had the eventual second place Anatoly Ross shoving from behind and I gave a nice guy named Jeremy a shove or two in the shorty-shorts. Eventually we got up and made our way to Methlab Hill and the Prison.
I filled up my pack quick and steeled myself for the dark and the creepy. In hindsight it was quite awesome and truly my second proudest moment of the day was not sobbing in the tunnel.
Out and Up Rat Jaw we go. This took forever. Check out Facebook. The End.
Fire tower bib punch (and I have to apologize, at the top of the fire tower I did cut in front of a few runners accidentally and did not correct myself - I really am sorry, Karma came back for me in the end) and I had to sprint off to try to regain the lead female position. Not 5 minutes later, I became one of the many who took an incorrect turn and ended up spending about 15-20-30 minutes lost. Who knows - there is no time “Out There”.
I decided to turn around and hollered to everyone I could that I though the other fork was the correct way. It was. At the “Garden Spot” bib bunch I was now 34th Overall and probably 6th woman. I was frustrated and prepared to run with every bit of fury I had. Fury only with myself, I came out not to win but to just take on something really tough and see what this terrain could do to me - and the Barkley was getting the better of me! I pulled up my shorts and prepared to hit Bird Mountain as hard as I could, I love these trails, I love the switch backs and I love the long, slow climbs, hell I even loved the many downed trees that I could vault over, shimmy under and skirt around. On the final climb to the Bird Mountain peak I had regained the lead and promised I would take every opportunity to run for the rest of the day and smile while I did it.
Descending the road to Laz and the “decision point” was a great relief. I chugged a Coke, impressing a teenager, smooched Laz the sick son-of-a-bitch and headed up Chimney Tops only a few minutes behind the 4th place dude. Chimney Tops is a favorite of mine, god I wish I could train in Frozen Head all year round. I quickly caught up to Wesley from Ohio who was keeping a great pace and together we navigated the rest of the route, climbing and climbing until the actual “chimney” came in to view. I took off through these runnable sections all the way to the final bib punch. I asked the gentleman there to never tell a soul, but I will, I ugly-cried, ugly and loud. I had run out of water on the climb and was so desperate to see jugs of warm water and to know at no point had I gotten off course.
Last bib bunch and off I went. Knowing once and for all THIS was the way to finish. And still I trust no one, not even myself, and I gestured to every hiker I passed that yes, they had seen racers coming in this direction. I continued all the way down the road to my favorite sign of the day.
And I’m still smiling thinking about the maniacal chuckle that spurted out of me.
After spending so much time alone in the woods, seeing the finish line was amazing and at the same disconcerting. As it is whenever I finish a race - seeing other people is off-putting. As soon as I took a picture with Steve Durbin (a photo I’m sure is just sexy as hell), I just wanted to be off alone, as quickly as possible. Luke helped me rinse out the rat bites and eventually we settled back up at the finish line to cheer for the rest of the field.
Cary Long snagged another marathon finish, David Thurman finally got the 50k beast of his back, David Nast did NOT get stung by yellow jackets, Jay Crosby finished in style and pants, Dana Overton crushed it wearing the most clothes (but without poison ivy OR many rat bites!), more 50k finishes from Rob Youngren, Martin, Ryan Uchida and Tyler Harbin and probably many other Huntsvillians (see what I did there…) who I have missed. I’m am proud as hell of our ultrarunning community that Beat the Rat.
Now the final question - winning the Barkley Fall Classic allows me to enter the Barkley Marathons - do I count my blessings, heal my scratches and say No, Thanks or do I relish the opportunity to go back “Out There” and let the race eat me alive….
As always Tailwind to start my day and the Sword on course helped a ton. Honeystinger chews when I could actually stomach something through the heat and the pace. My most favorite Nathan Pack that is some-what-actually-completely-destroyed from the briars. Saucony Peregrines and my trusty Milestone pod that (while not collecting any GPS data - which would be highly illegal at a Barkley!) showed me post-race what a couple power line cuts will do to your day :)
Luke Hough & Liz Canty
Liz Canty and Luke Hough. Co-habitants who like to run, race, explore and drink much too expensive beer. Read along through the awesome, the sweaty, the daily life and the occasional bickering over which running shoes are the best…