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Back from Barkley Marathons

“If you’re going to face a real challenge, it has to be a real challenge.” – Lazarus Lake

Some people think getting up with a coffee and cigarette in the morning is insane. For others, running seems ludicrous. Marathoners think people who run ultramarathons (over 42.2km) are slightly off-kilter. Everything is relative.

There is always a line for people. There is always something longer, tougher and more challenging.

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Jodi climbing a hill at Barkely called Rat Jaw.  Photo Credit: John Price
Jodi climbing a hill at Barkely called Rat Jaw.
Photo Credit: John Price

The Barkley Marathons is a 100 mile run and a 60 mile ‘fun run’ held annually in Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tenn., in late March or early April.

The course itself, which has changed distance, route, and elevation many times since its inaugural run in 1986, currently consists of a 20-mile (32 km) loop with no aid stations except water at two points along the route and the runner’s parked car at the beginning of the loop. Runners of the 100 mile version run this loop five times, with loops three and four being run in the opposite direction and loop five being runner’s choice. Runners of the 60 mile ‘fun run’ (considered to be harder than Hardrock) complete three circuits of the loop.

With 62,500′ (19,050m) of accumulated vertical climb on the 2014 course, the 100 mile run is considered to be one of the most difficult ultramarathons held in the world.

In addition to running, competitors must find between nine to eleven books (13 books in 2014), the number varies per year, and remove the page corresponding to the runner’s race number from each book as proof of completion.

Since the race’s inception in 1986, only fourteen runners out of about 800 have completed the 100 mile race within the official 60 hour cut-off . In 2006, nobody finished even the 60 mile ‘fun run’ in under 40 hours.

The race is limited to 35 runners and usually fills up quickly the day registration opens. Potential entrants must complete an essay on why they should be allowed to run. The race starts at different times each year and is signalled by the lighting of a cigarette.

The course was designed by Gary Cantrell. His idea for the race was inspired upon hearing about Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassin James Earl Ray escaping from prison, and making it only eight miles (13 km) after running 54 hours in the woods. Cantrell said to himself “I could do at least 100 miles.” Thus, the Barkley Marathons was born.

Jodi Isenor

Jodi is a great guy and we go back to my high school days. He is one of the few people I have known that long and we also share a love of running and adventure. Our ideas of trail running slightly differs – Jodi doesn’t mind crawling, and pushing through crazy brush, where I would be more content to hammer along on a nice, quiet, single trail.

After hearing that my long-time running friend had gone off and done Barkley I wanted to know more and got hold of him to get his story and ask him a few questions.

What did you learn about yourself by trying Barkley?

“I learned that looking fear in the face is a good motivator to train hard and that having faith in your training sometimes pays off, even if it is a little different than normal. The Barkley Marathons is the only race that I have feared. If you read the race reports and look at the finishing rates, you’ll understand why.”

Jodi getting his number to head out onto his second loop of Barkely.

Do you think you will be back?

“I would love to go back in 2015, I just need to get in again. After most tough races, people immediately say ‘never again,’ and then change their mind a few days later. I never once said ‘never again.'”

Jodi finished three loops of the brutal Barkley course in 36 hours and 36minutes, just over the limit that would have allowed him to go out for another loop.

Whether it is a 5K, a 10K, a marathon or an ultra, we all have our challenges and goals that drive us to train and push ourselves. Many people weep as they cross the finish line of a marathon. It is more than running. Ultramarathons, especially those that are much more than just running through the woods, test mental strength and endurance and can push us to see within ourselves. I can attest to this from personal experience.

Jodi – you are one tough dude and you have a lot to be proud of for having gotten through the famous fun run at Barkley. Run on my friend, you inspire some of us to push as hard as you – or to simply get to our own dreams and goals.

*To read more in detail about Jodi’s Barkley adventure check out his blog.

See you on the roads or in the blogosphere.

Do you have a running story to share?


Follow me also on my personal blog as I work with experts to try and run a lifetime marathon PB at the 2014 Ottawa marathon or catch me on Twitter @NoelPaine