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2020 Barkley — Will Anyone Ever Finish The Race Again?

In the world of ultra-marathoning, no race is more fabled, feared or filthy as the Barkley. Inspired by the frantic escape of a notorious murderer, limited to a select group of participants and defiantly averse to support or celebration, Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell’s annual event is unlike anything else. No one has successfully finished the race since 2017 — and it’s safe to say no one would be surprised if the 2020 installment once again breaks the hearts of everyone involved.

Typically completed within a 60-hour period in late March or early April of each year, details of Barkley are proudly, defiantly hard to come by. Good luck getting much information from the “official website,” which seems to have last been updated around the same time “Moonlight” upset “La La Land” at the Oscars. Instead, for details on the race that “eats its young,” most folks seem to look to Keith Dunn, a loyal Barkley supporter who (unofficially?) seems to post the most reliable information about Barkley.

On February 28, Dunn tweeted: “Seems there are a lot of people hanging around a yellow gate the last couple days. #BM100,” seemingly signaling that race time was closing in. But in true Barkley spirit, he then said about a week later: “I’ve already tweeted the final results for this year. There will be no finishers.” So, don’t get your hopes up.

Which means, of course, that the racing community is indeed getting its hopes up. “It’s almost time for the one (!!!!) sporting event I follow,” tweeted Canadian race fan Rachel Schwarz (@rachelschwarz). “Every year I’m glued to twitter for a few days of hitting the refresh button and seeing if anyone escapes the jaws of the Barkley Marathon alive.”

Promising that they’ll be watching, Pieter Meere (@PieterMeere) replied: “My wife and I have taken a few extra days off for the #BM100. Yes, both last weekends,” adding: “We do expect a lot of finishers, mild conditions, singing in the woods, gnomes helping runners in need. What could possibly go wrong in Frozen Head?”

The response, of course, is that plenty can go wrong. Limited to 40 runners, entry details are typically top secret but include some combination of an essay, a $1.60 entry fee and additional requirements. After receiving a “letter of condolence” telling the athletes they’ve made the cut, the person least likely to finish one lap of the race is deemed the “human sacrifice,” and when Cantrell lights a cigarette, the race begins. Although certain variables are subject to change, the race currently consists of a 20-mile unmarked loop — no aid stations, two water points, runners going back and forth on the loop, night and day.

Out of more than 1,000 starts, the 100-mile race has been completed within the 60-mile cutoff by only 15 runners. In 2017, Vancouver’s Gary Robbins finished six seconds after the 60-hour cut-off time — although a wrong-turn likely would have disqualified him anyway. Could this be the year he finally conquers Barkley?

“Gary [Robbins] has to finish this year and Courtney [Dauwalter] will be the first female finisher next year,” predicts a fan named Jonah (@jeunomatic). “She will team up with Jared Campbell for the first 2 loops. Campbell’s comeback year will see him beat Maune’s record by some 30 mins. You heard it here first.”

Campbell is best known as the only person to ever finish Barkley three times — a 2019 attempt at a fourth finish fell short. Brett Maune, meanwhile, holds the course record with 52:03:08, which he set in 2012.  As a third straight year threatens to end Barkley without a finisher, such performances seem increasingly impossible. Nevertheless, there appears to be hope — albeit, from the most unlikely source.

“Apparently laz has gone on record as saying there will be a finisher this year,” tweeted Dunn last week. “I’m on record as saying there won’t be. History suggests I am right.”

At this point, anything further is speculation — and seems to reflect more on the glass half full/glass half empty nature of the commenter than any sort of actual, tangible insider information.

“There will be 2 Finishers and the first woman,” tweeted a fan named empariyon (@Andreas42628876). “I feel it, yes … there is a spirit 2020.”

“I’m with you Keith,” replied Greg Doran. “But something always tells me Laz is not to be denied.”

Perhaps (most likely?) jokingly, Dunn suggested something that may threaten to become a reality if Barkleys keep going down without any finishers — albeit, most likely over the founder’s dead body. “I mean,” he tweeted. “laz could make the course easier . . .”

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Big’s Backyard

Big’s Backyard Ultra ’18 ReCap

Big’s Backyard Ultra: the ceaseless race has ceased and, after three days and four nights, the results are in; as ever, only one runner remained.

Big’s Backyard Ultra 2018 Re-Cap

For those unfamiliar with the race, click here for info, as well as an interview with one of the course veterans. Click here for full results.

This year’s winner is the returning Swede Johan Steene, whose unlikely victory followed a delayed flight and a long overnight drive in a rental. Johan arrived fifteen minutes before the race, and ran 68 laps for a total of 283 miles.

The sensational Courtney Dauwalter finished in second, with 67 laps and 279 miles.

Just as lap 68 was about to commence, Dauwalter turned to Steene and whispered to him. The two embraced and Steene set pace into the darkness alone to complete his final and victorious lap.

Early Tuesday morning, four days after the race commenced, Steene reflected on his ultimate triumph: “As long as we are at least two remaining there is a feeling of purpose, that this painful game has a meaning. That illusion disappears in a blink when only one remains. The actual winning needs to be the sole focus if that is what you’re after. That focus was feeding me and let me put all other things aside. At the moment when Courtney congratulated me and remained in the coral as I jogged away alone into the Tennessee night I didn’t feel joy. I felt empty and without purpose. You cannot carry the illusion by yourself. It takes at least two to play. Thanks Courtney Dauwalter for taking us this far. We are good at playing this game.”

Stauwalter, Steene, as well as Gavin Woody, have all crushed the course record set by Guillaume Calmettes last year, at 59 laps. After an arduous struggle, Calmettes tapped out due to injury on lap 54 this year. Another course veteran, Harvey Lewis, also dropped out due to injury, in lap four.

This race has quickly become a favorite in the running community. For its strange set up, its “jeerleaders” shouting disparagements continuously, and for the much loved pit bull, Big, the proprietor of the race and Laz’s companion. “[Big] is the only pit bull in the world that hosts a contest where humans fight to the death,” Laz said.

This year’s race was so incredibly energizing, and for so many reasons. To witness the victorious persistence of Johan Steene, who in 2014 left the race prematurely, and who showed up this year’s event already exhausted, was a galvanizing testament to shear will.

To observe Calmettes trample on in pain, cane in hand, was dreadful, yes. Yet it was far more enlivening to witness his composure, and the drastic dash of his last efforts, all to the cheers of his compatriots.

Courtney Dauwalter is a force of character, and one of our sport’s major figures. She is an inspiration to all of us, and especially to women –– for so many of her wins this year are overall wins, overthrows of records of both genders.

Far more light has yet to shine from that star, yet we applaud and congratulate all seventy of this year’s runners. And as do they unto each other, for the endless quarrel that is Big’s is not a race against fellow runners; it is an individual’s race against his or her mind. It is a race against the notion of his or her limits.

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Big's Backyard Ultra

Big’s Backyard Ultra 2018

Big’s Backyard Ultra: inconceivable endurance, seasoned regulars, and an idiosyncratic racing format: this distinctive ultra is a sight to behold.
This Saturday, October 20th,is the (in)famous Big Dog Backyard Ultra, in Bedford County, Tennessee. An ostensibly simple race, Big Dog has been described as one of the most mentally and strategically complex races in the world – contestants run a 4.1 mile loop every hour, day or night, nonstop. The last man or woman standing is crowned the victor.
The race is not so much about competition, since contestants are tied at first at the beginning of every lap. Big Dog is a course in psychological endurance and forward thinking; go too fast, and you’ll wear yourself out precipitously; go too slow, and you might miss the cut-off for the next race. The event is hosted by Lazarus Lake, of Barkley Marathon lore. In fact, the prize for winning Big Dog is a spot in Barkley.
IRun4Ultra got a chance to speak with Guillaume Calmettes, last year’s winner, before the race. For his 2017 victory, Guillaume ran 246 miles. To put that in perspective, that’s 59 loops, and 59 hours, of running…
Click here [link] to listen to our conversation about the race, Guillaume’s life in Los Angeles, and the role that running plays in Guillaume’s life.
Also of interest: click here to see Guillaume’s inspiring running stats, or here to see his results from last year’s race.
 
 

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