Home > Trail Running

Barkley Marathons and Frozen Head: just a jog in the park?

In daylight and before Barkley weekend, Frozen Head looks just like any other state park. Photo: Howie Stern

Barkley Marathons

The Barkley Marathons, which is “rumoured” to take place this weekend, is surrounded by folklore about prison escapes and encounters with wild boar. If you’ve never been to Frozen Head (or even possibly if you have), you might think of it as a mysterious, forbidding place whose only reason for existence is as the site of Laz Lake’s infamous 100-miler. But if you take a look at this video by Jamil Coury (who is returning to the Barkley for the fifth time this year), you’ll see that it’s just a state park like any other, with trails and campgrounds where families go to relax a little later in the season, just like they do in state, national and provincial parks across North America.

RELATED: Two Canadian women headed to Barkley Marathons

Coury and another Barkley veteran, Guillaume Calmettes of France, spent a few days together last month, running the trails in Frozen Head to get in shape for this year’s race. They make Frozen Head look positively benign.

Last year there were no finishers, thanks largely to terrible weather. Spring weather can be unpredictable anywhere, and last year Frozen Head got walloped with a massive rainstorm, dense fog and cold temperatures on race weekend. Running five 20-mile loops in 60 hours with no course markings and no organized aid stations is hard enough–add bad weather to the mix, and any hopes of finishing were dashed for most people after a loop or two. Gary Robbins completed a “fun run,” three loops in under 40 hours. (To be allowed to attempt a fourth loop, racers must complete three loops in under 36 hours.)

RELATED: Gary Robbins won’t be racing Barkley 2019 due to an injury

2018 Barkley Marathons
American runners Mike Wardian and Jamil Coury chat about the changes to the book placement and route in 2018. Photo: Canadian Running

This year could be a different story. The forecast for Frozen Head is for temperatures of between 10 C and 20 C, with thunderstorms possible on Saturday.

Calmettes reports there are apparently two new climbs on the course this year, with 14,000 feet (4,267m) of elevation change per loop. Trust Laz to always have something up his sleeve.

Speculation about starters continues to swirl. Besides the usual suspects Coury and Calmettes, we’ll be interested to watch Karel Sabbe, the Belgian dentist who set a self-supported FKT on the Appalachian Trail last year, and Morgan Mckay, the OCR crusher from Ottawa, among others. We’ve heard rumours about other veterans returning, including some previous finishers.

We’ve also just learned that Nicky Spinks is among the starters. The British ultrarunner ran a double Ramsay Round last year, has also run a double Bob Graham Round, and crewed for Damian Hall at UTMB last year.

Let’s hope to add to the numbers of finishers this year.

Check out the latest buyer's guide:

Stylish running gear you’ll want to wear all day

Performance and style come together with our best picks for stylish running gear