Race Report - 2021 Barkley Fall Classic 50K

9/18/2021 08:00:00 PM

 
Cresting the top of Rat Jaw for the second time.
Wow! What an unexpected weekend! In more ways than one. First of all, it didn't seem like I was even going be be at the starting line. I was meant to do the Triple Crown of 200 Milers this summer with the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 106M sandwiched in between, no time really to go for another Barkley Fall Classic 50K finish. More importantly, I was never selected for the race and had been on the waitlist for almost a year. But things can change quickly, for better and for worse.

Nothing like a quick dip in the creek after a warmup lap.
To kick things off, I did not succeed at my first attempt at the 200 mile distance and first event of the Triple Crown of 200s, the Bigfoot 200 in Washington. I dropped at mile 65 with blisters. I couldn't imagine another 160 miles on those feet. It did not fill me with confidence as I got ready to travel to France in an attempt to earn my third UTMB finish just 10 days later. Thankfully, my feet healed up enough and my tape job kept my feet in good condition for all of the 41 hours it took me to finish UTMB. The day prior to the start of the UTMB, I received an email notifying participants that massive wildfires in the Tahoe area had made the Tahoe 200 race scheduled for September impossible. So when an email with a BFC invite off the waitlist appeared in my email inbox I didn't hesitate to accept. 
Reaching the top of Rat Jaw for the first time of the day.
I only had one goal, make it around Frozen Head State Park and the 2021 BFC course in time to collect my fourth Croix rather than be timed out for a marathon finish, or worse, get hurt and/or timed out earlier. I had never had that concern before, but I was coming off UTMB just a short couple of weeks earlier, and my training this year just hadn't been anywhere near I'd usually be at by this time. Injuries cut my training cycles short, so (on average) I am standing at half the vert and nearly half the miles vs my previous years. It did not matter, maybe I'd get to run with someone and enjoy the day rather than break myself trying to run another PR. After all, you're really never able to beat a PR on this course as it changes every year.

Speaking of course changes, this year's course was a doozy. While we did get the course maps the night before the race rather than on race morning as was the case last year, there appeared to be a small course change (ie the course map had an error). Lucky for me, my buddy Jeff Deaton was in the know, aka a little birdie told him at race packet pickup. Three beers later, I had finally memorized this year's course map with Jeff's help, including that little course deviation early on in the race.

Travel logistics were also a bit more complicated this year. I had sold my Jeep a week before the race and my sprinter van was still parked in LA in anticipation of my next 200 miler attempt in Moab, UT. Since my new to me car wouldn't arrive until the week after BFC, I had to rent a car to travel to Frozen Head SP. Just as lat year, Brian Young was quick to offer his front yard as a campground for weary BFC travelers, including the post race Chili, beers and moonshine. He really is am amazing host that makes everyone feel welcome without asking for anything in return. This year, more than 20 runners got to enjoy his hospitality.

I opted to sleep in the back of my rented SUV, which turned out to not be such a great idea, ie. I didn't sleep but a couple of hours continuing to slide off the sleeping pad I had thrown into the back of the car. Didn't matter, I don't often get much sleep the night prior to any ultra anyway. I had already laid out my gear and supplies for race morning, so all that was left to do was tape my heels and make some coffee.

I rolled up to the start-finish line 30 minutes prior to race start and it was still pitch black. I scanned the area to look for and say hello to a few familiar faces before lining up in the starting coral. I briefly caught up with Liz who had recently moved to Colorado and came back to gun for the win. And I spotted Brett, another local Huntsville runner. We lined up near the front of the starting line, but I had no intention of sprinting from the start as is often the case a this race as runners jockey for position to avoid getting stuck in a conga line up one of the many single track trails in the park. Luckily, I had become somewhat familiar with the park's trails, so I knew the first section would be mostly on a wide jeep road all the way to the top of the first of six climbs. I won't be sharing a description of the course here as that would take away all of the fun for future runners, but I will say that this year offered up the most challenging weather conditions, yet. I'd take heat over rainstorms and the resulting mudslides any day on the BFC course. It also felt the longest of the courses I'd run over the years along with more vert than before. Exactly what one hopes for when toeing the starting line at the BFC.

For the next nearly 11 hours, Brett and I would basically run together or at least be within each other's earshot as our day's ebbed and flowed. I was thankful to have company for a race I knew would take me a bit longer than usual, but we agreed that we would not hold each other back in case either one of us wanted to take off and push. That never happened, we just managed to run mostly comfortably without ever waling any runnable sections. I did, however, make a point of not running any inclines at all and pushing the pace a little on the downhills. As the course deteriorated on both the climbs and the descents, our pace forcibly slowed.

It became a challenge just to maintain any kind of momentum and all one could do is laugh at it. Laugh at the comedy that played out among all of us runners as powerline cuts turned into muddy slip and slides, resulting in uncontrollable "mud glissading" down the powerline cuts and pulling yourself up these same mud slides on an actual decommissioned power line. We just "assumed" it was decommissioned, which it was, but it had only been for a little over a week! One local "angel" had actually ensured that the power company turn off this line that would have otherwise been a live powerline on race day. You could say we all got very lucky! It was an easy mistake. There had been a few other decommissioned powerlines along the course that we were able to sue over the years, but this one looked much newer and shinier and we should've probably wondered why that was. Thankfully, no runner was electrocuted during the running of this race:-) 

I made it to the decision point and how tempting it may have seemed to hear Laz ask whether I wanted to take the marathon win, I told him the same thing I had every year prior: "no freaking way!" 

Brett and I continued to make our way towards and up the final climb, which took f-o-r-e-v-e-r. When we finally arrive at the top and started running the ridge line, there were still a few more climbs before the final 5K descent. Hike up run down, hike up, run down. Most of the trails in this park are not familiar with the concept of switchbacks. Eventually, the up and down ended and we finally descended. I was "smelling the barn" ie. I was ready to get it done. My legs felt pretty good, so I let it rip. I may have passed about 10 runners over this final stretch and was elated to finally cross that finish line just before dark. I collected my fourth croix and headed pretty much straight for the local rancher association hosting the cookout for the event, ordering a couple of veggie burgers and a couple of pepsis to replenish the energy lost during the day. Brett finished just behind me and when it was all said and done, a total of 170 runners out of 460 managed to earn a 50K finish on what was likely one of the toughest days in BFC history, yet still not anywhere even remotely close to what Big Barkers deal with, in case anyone is wondering:-) I've only crewed and that as enough to learn that much. 

Hopefully, I will be back next year to earn my fifth croix...

Collected my fourth Croix at the finish line, hardest earned one, yet.

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