BFC50k or Bust?

So I guess it was a bust…

Thursday afternoon I was packed up, and ready to go.  I was so excited to be running the inaugural Barkley Fall Classic, and couldn’t wait to get out to the mountains. My friend, Geoff, pulled into my driveway just before 2pm, and we were off on our adventure.

I first heard about the Barkley in 2011, when I first started trail running.  One of the guys in my trail running club, Joe Lea, was preparing for Barkley that spring, he finished the “fun run” of 60 miles and brought back some great stories.  Between his stories, and Geoff’s stories from the early 2000’s Barkley started growing into a mythic tale in my head.

I dream big, but knew from their tales The Barkley was out of my reach, (for now) so when I heard about the BFC50k I thought it was my chance to get a little taste!

6 of us signed up last spring in a rush to be part of this new race, though as the summer progressed many of my friends ended up unable to run it.  In the last week it was down to 3 of us, the day before 2 of us, and that morning I decided to pull the plug after not having been able to really eat or drink the few days prior..but I digress…

So back in the car on Thursday, as we drove through Asheville, I stared to feel “funny.”  I pushed it out of my head and told myself it was just nerves.  We stopped overnight in Knoxville, TN.  Friday morning we were up and off to Frozen Head State Park to do a little recon.

Geoff had run the Barkley in 2000, and 2001 so on the ride over we hypothesized which parts of the Barkley would be part of the BFC50k.  We were almost sure Rat Jaw would be in it, so we drove straight to the nearest pull out and hiked to Rat Jaw.  No surprise, there was Laz’s arrow marking the turn towards the power lines.

Geoff and I hiked our way over to the base of it, he looked up, and chuckled softly.  What greeted us was 6 feet of very dense, very thick brush, and saw briars…all.the.way.up.  “Well, in the early spring the foliage is much less dense,” he pondered while he started looking for a route through, around, across and somehow up the hill.  We eventually decided that by the time we arrived some of the front runners would have beaten down a path to take, or a path not to take.

We hiked back to the car wishing it was already time for packet pick up so we could find out what the route really would be.  Since we still had 3 hours until packet pickup we went to find food, and I napped..hoping I could sleep off the yuck I felt.

Eventually time to get our packets and maps arrived and we headed over right away.  As we entered the basement of the hall, immediately Mike Dobies recognized Geoff.  We chatted with him and found that he wouldn’t be running, but was going to be the check point and bib punch after the first aid station.  I listened to them reminisce about the “old days” of trail running.  As we sat, Dan Baglione came over.  At 84 he was picking up his bib and getting ready for whatever awaited him on the trail.   He knew he wouldn’t be finishing the entire race, but was mentally prepared to just get out there and enjoy himself for as long as he could.  I would have to say he is one of the most positive people I have ever met.   He attributes his ultra longevity to his positive attitude.

After meeting and chatting with many of the other runners, it was time to head out to the hotel.  That night I lay awake tossing and turning with stomach pains, nothing I wasn’t used to, but I kept telling myself it was just excitement and nerves.  I won’t go into the details of my symptoms, but I got dressed in the morning anyway.  By the time we got to the start, I finally accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be participating in the way I had planned.  I end up too dehydrated and dizzy after these episodes to chance running, so I changed my plan on the fly.

There were several people volunteering, so I hopped into one of the Forestry’s trucks and rode out to the “12/18” mile aid station to help fill water bottles and give words of encouragement.  To my surprise Carl Laniak was at the aid station to help, We were pretty busy so I didn’t have a ton of time to chat with him about his Barkley experiences, but it was cool to meet him, nevertheless.

We saw the runners come in off of a jeep trail section, they would leave the aid station and do an out and back around up then up RatJaw.  On their way out they were all happy and chatty, most were prepared for the difficulties of the course, a handful seemed quite under prepared..but we sent them all on their way with bottles and tummies filled.

It was like sending people off for a long day of hard labor.  They went out looking pretty good, and came back like they were casualities of the war on saw briars.  Most people had figured a way along, or around, or minimally through the briars, so the carnage wasn’t too bad, but the greenhouse effect of the thick brush had super-heated the section of RatJaw, and many were coming back covered in brush, and needing to sit to cool down a bit.

The aid station is also strategically positioned right at the junction of “quitters road.” Which was just a short, but technical trail that cut the course back to the parking lot. Several people dropped here, but I was happy the the majority of people kept on track.

Once the aid station slowed down, I hopped onto “quitters road” which took me about 3 miles downhill to one of the next aid stations.  Unfortunately I missed my friend Geoff, so I kept running back to the car.  At this point I had probably gone for 30 hours with out any real food or drink and I had a smoothie in the car that I was hoping would stay down.  Luckily it did.  I lazed around the finish line while a bulk of the female finishers crossed the line…GO women!  🙂

I estimated that Geoff would finish before sunset, so as the sun moved lower in the sky I started heading back up the road to where the runners popped out of the trail for the final mile on the road.

The sky was turning a pretty orangy-pink of sunset as Geoff emerged from the woods.  He hadn’t fallen once, and was in much better shape than countless many others that had finished ahead of him, or come through quitters road.  He worse a wistful look of pride as he trotted down the road to the finish.

From Stever Durbin: 50 DNS, 65 DNF
“The comment I heard over and over at the finish line was that it was hard, and fun.  rat jaw was the topic of the day.  never seen it that overgrown.
the 13hrs, 20 mins was perhaps a bit generous, as 65 finished after 12 hours.”

Geoff finished first in his age group (60-69) with a time of 12:05.

Was this what I had planned, no.  Was I disappointed, yes.  Did I regret the day, no.  Lemon aid out of Lemons and sign up again next year I guess.  In the end I am thankful that my stomach has returned to normal, and I am eating and sleeping normally again….and that Grindstone is in less than a week!!


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