What a day we had Saturday! What a race.
This event was definitely harder than I’d expected but there were some wonderful things about it too. The Barkley Fall Classic is a 50k ultra marathon that is run in the same area as the original insane Barkley race. Although it’s nowhere near the toughness of the original course, (there’s only 1 signature Barkley climb in the Fall Classic) there’s an abundance of climbing and descent in this one too. The scenery was gorgeous and we spent the day slogging it out in a speckled green landscape with filtered sunlight shining through the forest, passing sheer rock faces and scenic little streams.
The main challenge of the day was climbing the Rat Jaw. It was hot. It was steep. It seemed impossibly long for such a short distance. And in a slightly twisted way, it was fun. The ascent is an incredibly steep climb that is covered in saw briars. So steep, that you must use your arms to pull yourself up the course for a ways. It’s also the only part that wasn’t in the forest and when the sun is high, you definitely feel the heat on this section. I was determined to get to the Rat Jaw. Partly, I wanted to prove to other people that I was tough enough to do it. Mostly, I wanted to prove to myself that I was tough enough to do it. I did it but I don’t think one ever feels victorious after going through it. Just lucky to get it done and get out alive.
Another similarity between the two races is that the mileage is “fluid”. Although it looks very precise when you see that an aid station is within 7.5 miles, you quickly come to realize that it might be more like 9 miles. So, even though this was officially a 50k (30 mile) race, it turns out that the mileage was a bit longer than that. Try closer to 37-38 miles. My favorite quote about Gary, the Barkley’s colorful race director, is that:
“Gary offers you a great deal of precision with absolutely no accuracy.” So true, so true.
I’m proud to say that I didn’t fall off a mountain the whole day.
I was not an official finisher because I didn’t get to the fourth aid station by the time cut off and had to time out. Really, my body wouldn’t have been up to the extra miles at that point. But I did complete more than 26 miles – and I’m pretty happy with that. For my first ultra, I’m happy with what I accomplished on that course.
I also learned a few things about myself: I’m not as strong as I thought I was. I’m tougher than I thought I was. And apparently, I mutter melodramatic quotes the more exhausted I get. The two that come to mind are:
“Do not go gentle into that good night” and “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (Kelly Clarkson song and all).
As I shuffle around today like a geriatric after a double hip replacement, I realize that I’m hooked on ultra-running. I love the trails. I love the challenge. I love surpassing my limits and finding just a bit more to push with. Who knows, maybe I can be an official finisher next year?