Jamil Coury, founder of Arizona’s Aravaipa Running and the Run Steep, Get High ultrarunning site, was at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee (the site of the Barkley Marathons) for an informal, four-day training camp in late February, in preparation for his sixth attempt at the race, which usually takes place in late March. Coury has published three videos chronicling days one, two and three. At the end of day two he picked up Gary Robbins of Chilliwack, B.C., at the Knoxville airport, who joined him for another couple of days’ training on the course.
We say usually, because, as all Barkley fans know, details like when the race starts, who’s entered, and possible changes to the course (which isn’t marked anyway) are closely-guarded secrets, some of which are shared with the competitors on a need-to-know basis–and some of which become apparent only once the race is in progress.
Coury is joined by Andy Pearson of Los Angeles, who will be making his first attempt at the Barkley this year. Pearson has done 24-hour orienteering races with Guillaume Calmettes (another multiple Barkley Fun Runner), which should help his chances in the race that only 15 people have ever finished in 35 years.
Last year Coury completed a Fun Run (three loops in under 40 hours), but was not fast enough to be allowed to start a fourth loop, for which the cutoff is 36 hours. That honour belonged only to first-timer Karel Sabbe and Greig Hamilton. (Both men returned to camp without completing Loop 4.)
Robbins didn’t go to Frozen Head in 2019, since he was dealing with a sacral stress fracture. In 2018, crewed by 2017 finisher John Kelly, Robbins was the only participant to score a Fun Run. He came close to finishing in 2017. This year will mark his fourth attempt, and Coury’s sixth.
In the day three video, Robbins makes sure to let folks know that Rat Jaw is a lot steeper than it looks.