It advertises itself as one of the worlds toughest 100-mile trail runs, it must be because the ratio of finishers to runners starting it beats anything else by a mile (about 1.5%). I like the humility of the ‘one of the’ because epithets like toughest, hardest, and their kin are often blatant lies, always marketing props, and, even if the event deserves something hard-core as a descriptor, the comparative suggestion is by definition bollocks.
It does in everything the opposite of what big races are expected to do. A way to take the piss out of them and what they stand for. The commercial interests profiting from them as well as the weekend-warrior type of ego-boosting participant motivation making them extremely popular. But without malice, and without seeking the limelight for that perspective on things.
A short documentary has just been made available online:
It is not that the Barkley 100 is unknown in ultrarunning land; on the contrary, it’s (in)famous, it’s iconic, it’s whispered about, but it is also largely shunned by the elite (not all, but most). Apparently not many willing to test their real limits, not many eager to add a near guaranteed DNF to their running CV. I can fully empathize with that, creature of comforts that I am, wimp in all but my fantasies. But I do not blabber much about transcending my limits, exploring the unknown beyond, etc. etc. as is common currency among many describing their motivation for training hard and competing in races. So the least the Barkley finishers deserve is much more recognition of their feat. Because it certainly is one of the toughest ultra-trailrunning events on the calendar.
For basic stats and race reports Matt Mahoney’s Barkley page is the best resource. For some more impressions about what the race is about this interview in outsideonline and this article in runnersworld are good resources.
8 June update: an insightful reflection by a 2014 Dutch participant (Michiel Panhuysen) on what the Barkley is (and is not) alerted me to the existence of another documentary about the same edition, and the race report of 2014 finisher Jared Campbell on irunfar.com. One more doc, based on the 2012 edition, is in the making (trailer included in Jared’s report).
An update also offers me the chance of adding some thoughts to the above. One of the revealing moments in the embedded documentary is when the race organizer Gary ‘Laz’ Cantrell says that every time someone finishes he’s is awed and grateful to be present at such a moment. Having crewed for Lizzy Hawker during her second Everest-Base-Camp-to-Kathmandu Fastest Known Time effort , I think I know what he talks about. Seeing Lizzy transcend limits wasn’t something so very special to me because she went beyond her personal comfort zone, not even way beyond, it was special because she did something hardly anyone of even the constitutionally favoured, super-fit, well-prepared and utterly determined, is going to succeed in doing. A glance at the limits of our species rather than at a remarkable individual achievement. The Barkley seems designed with those limits in mind.
Michiel thus very rightly labels his reflection ‘Barkley is no fun’ and warns his readers that it is not about running, and – my translation of his intended message – nearly all runners should just forget about this race because it is not for them. How true, and exactly why the Barkley is one of the few events that could legitimately advertise itself as ‘one of the hardest’, if it were the kinda race that advertises itself that is.
Now, just to dispel any suspicion that blogging about the Barkley is a way of portraying my tough-guy credentials, let me conclude with a groovy tune, very much this side of the comfort border: