Imagine your dentist running around in the woods all weekend, fighting through 60-degree temperature changes, from highs of 80, down to snow and sleet and 20 degrees. Imagine doing this on almost no sleep as they have 60 hours to complete over 100 miles and elevation gains that are equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice. This is the charm of the Barkley Marathons and one of the reasons it becomes an obsession of mine for at least a month each year after first learning about it a few years back. This year a dentist from Belgium outlasted all of the other amazing runners and made it into loop 4. The unique type of participants and the race director, Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake) are also important pieces of the charm.
Unique Participants at Barkleys
In a world of extremely high paid professional athletes for mainstream sports, it has become my favorite sporting event of the year. Though I won’t ignore the fact that some of these runners have sponsors and make money doing the sport they love, it is nowhere near the level of the athletes from some of the pro football, basketball, or even hockey teams I support. They also come from a community that is extremely supportive of one another and one of the most common traits of finishers is that they have a Ph.D. Often during the race, runners form little groups to help each other find the books, which are put out on the course to be found and pages are used as proof you have reached each milestone.
Finishing the Barkleys
Speaking of finishing the race, there have been only 15 finishers since the race began back in the 80’s. In fact, our dentist hero this year didn’t actually finish the race. He was forced to tap out on loop 4 of 5. Most years the Barkley course wins. You can learn tons of information about the race details through the great documentaries and articles that have been written about it. My purpose here isn’t to share all of that, but to just celebrate the experience. This year, 2019, we saw two former finishers come back and find themselves unsuccessful. One having a nasty fall in the first loop and the other tapping out with the lead after two loops, knowing that he didn’t have the drive to go through it this year. If anyone would know, it is him, as John Kelly was the last person to finish the Barkleys successfully in 2017.
The Barkleys Twitter Weekend – #BM100 & Keith Dunn
Since the race takes place out in the middle of rural Tennessee at Frozen Head State Park, most can’t make it there, and in fact, the organizers don’t recommend you coming. As a die-hard fan, I visited last year and can vouch that there is not a ton of space for press and spectators. It also isn’t a great place for cell reception, which also adds to the charm I keep mentioning. For one weekend each year, many fans from around the world, both new, and discovering it for the first time, and follow #BM100 and the king of Barkleys news, Keith Dunn, as he updates us on those finishing loops, tapping out, and in 2019, the rise of #Barkleycat. If you want the streamlined version, you can just follow Keith. He will update on the most important facts. If you want to fully immerse yourself, you will constantly refresh the #BM100 hashtag and then follow other posters down different information holes.
To me, the Barkleys is the most important and fun use there is for Twitter. Many participants in the “Twitter Watch” leave Twitter immediately after, only to return the following year. It makes for a fun weekend of people all over the world bonding and cheering on names of people they may have never heard of before Friday, and will probably never meet. As certain participants start to separate themselves from the field, you take to Google and learn this one happens to be a dentist who set the record fastest trip on the Appalachian Trail, or who knows what other incredible fact. Then you become a fan of them and their story. I highly recommend this experience to anyone for one weekend. Chances you will be back for the next one and suddenly be interested in the lives of a lot of these humble and gracious runners who are pushing themselves to the limits.
Thank You to the Barkleys
I have been a runner of some type for about 6 years. I tend to have short interest in a lot of hobbies like running, but wanted to keep myself healthy after a battle with cancer several years back. When road races started to feel repetitive and boring, I began to embrace the trails, which took me down a path that found the Barkleys. Now with my Frozen Head T-Shirt and trek to the park, along with a framed picture of the Barkley gate on my wall to keep me motivated, the Barkley is a big part of what keeps me out their training and running, and keeps everything interesting. As a guy that grew up playing football, and a big football fan, the Barkleys has now become my Super Bowl every year.
Dive into the Barkleys
If you want to immerse yourself in the rules and some history, start with this article, then move on to the videos. I’m sure there will be more each year. Also, it doesn’t end at the gate. After everyone leaves Frozen Head, the stories start to come out. As we have limited information on what is going on out on the course during the race, we only hear the details as they are released on blog post and podcasts in the coming weeks. The end of the race is only half way there. Do you want to know when a couple runners decided to pair up, or why they didn’t pair up. What was the experience like? All of that info trickles out in the days and weeks after the race, and for die-hards, is just as interesting as the race weekend.
So jump in and enjoy the Barkleys, one of my greatest loves.