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The Backyard Barclay: a BC riff on the iconic Barkley Marathons

This BC event, like Laz Lake's infamous race, saw no finishers in 2022

Photo by: Marissa Tiel

On a damp and grey Saturday morning, a small group of runners huddles around a map. There are minimal details on the page in front of them beyond streams, topography lines and the locations of four books along the forested escarpment separating Port Moody, B.C. from neighbouring Coquitlam.

The runners make diligent notes on their own paper maps and then stuff them into plastic bags for the adventure ahead. They will attempt to complete the Backyard Barclay: two loops in alternate directions of a four- to six-kilometre route in four hours, or one loop in 2:15 for a fun run.

The Backyard Barclay is a low-key event put on by Club Fat Ass and hosted by James Clarke in Port Moody, B.C. Photo: Marissa Tiel

The format is modelled after the infamous Barkley Marathons–the notoriously difficult Tennessee ultra that has stymied some of ultrarunning’s great names, including B.C.’s Gary Robbins.

Both races take place in similarly miserable conditions. While the Barkley Marathons is a 100-miler that involves prickly bushes, steep elevation change, ice-cold rain and navigational nightmares, the Backyard Barclay features a mix of developed, well-used and less official trails that often go from muddy to muddier, as well as a section of off-trail adventure described by event organizer James Clarke as “classic B.C. coastal second-growth conditions.” In other words: steep, thick and muddy.

Sean Lavin follows the leaders through the forest in Port Moody, B.C. Photo: Marissa Tiel

“People just get hilariously lost,” says Clarke. One time, a group of runners ended up in neighbouring Coquitlam, another closer to the centre of Port Moody.

It’s the fourth time Clarke has hosted the event with the support of Club Fat Ass, whose motto is “free events for active people.”

Backyard Barclay 2022. Photo: James Clarke

While you pay $25 for an annual membership, the fee is waived for those who host events. And many do. Events are hosted across the Lower Mainland, though the club’s most popular (and longest-running) is the Fat Ass 50, a 50-kilometre event on New Year’s Day.

Shanna Knights leads the pack in the forest in Port Moody, B.C. Photo: Marissa Tiel

There are few rules for participants beyond agreeing to the club’s creed: no aid, no wimps (“I agree to suck it up and not whine”), no course marking, and to be kind to Mother Nature as well as your host.

The Backyard Barclay isn’t Clarke’s first kick at hosting a Club Fat Ass event. He’s also hosted hill repeat events and a fell-style race up Mt. Beautiful and back. The events fall solidly into the category of Type-2 fun.

Photo: James Clarke

Though today’s crowd is small—all event newbies—they make their way quickly through the backyard gate and off into the woods for the first section of the course. After collecting pages from the first book, they’re still smiling. But hours later, after trudging through the course, there are no finishers. The course wins once again.