Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Barkley

The Barkley Marathon is this weekend. I have several friends entered and will be rooting for them to go...some of the distance.
The Barkley is not as secret as it once was. Upon becoming an ultra runner, one quickly learns of "The Barkley".
He's been at the Barkley, completed two laps..he's a Barkley runner some murmured trail talk, looking at the unassuming skinny runner ahead. Newby ultra runners are in awe. Then someone asks the question, "what is the Barkley?"

The Barkley is one of the toughest running races in the world. Some may argue and say it's not really a run. It's definitely a race, with 60 hours to complete the 100(ish) mile distance. 
Pretty generous time allowance, right? Only nine runners have completed the distance in race history.

The Barkley consists of 5 20-mile loops with no aid except for water at two points. The cutoffs for the 100 mile race are 12 hours per loop. The 60 mile "fun run" has a cutoff of 40 hours, or 13:20 per loop. To prove you completed each loop, you must find 9 to 11 books (varies) at various points along the course and return a page from each book.
It has 59,100 feet of climb (and 59,100 feet of descent), more than any other 100 mile race, more than the 33,000 ft. of climb at Hardrock and more than the 45,000 ft. at Nolan's 14. 
Gary Cantrell is the Race Director. The idea for the race germinated after James Earl Ray escaped from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in the late 1970's and only got 8 miles in 55 hours. Cantrell couldn't understand how someone could only get 8 miles in 55 the idea of the Barkley was born.
It's interesting to note, as I read Frozen Ed Furtaw's book about the Barkley, Tales From Out There, that the Barkley was a shorter distance in the early years, and there were many finishers. However, it has now eveloved into the 20 mile loops, with the distance set at 100 miles. And just nine finishers.

And all male.

I guess I am a feminist, if you would want to stick a label on me. I believe women can do pretty much what men can do. Sure, men might be stronger/faster/etc, but Diana Finkel almost won The Hardrock 100 outright last year. We have the same cut off times as the men do. I have more cajones than some men I know.

There have been four women who have finished the Fun Run (3 Loops), but none since 2001.

I've been a bit aggravated by some comments about the Barkley and women in this past week. One comment, via email, was:
"A lot of things have to go right for a person to finish the 100.
No woman has ever come close to finishing, will this year be different, I doubt it."

Well, fair enough. I don't know who is on the entrant list for the Barkley, but the odds of someone finishing-male or female-is pretty slim.

Then I was listening to a podcast, to a man who is running the Barkley this weekend. He was discussing this  same email, and he then made a statement that he didn't feel it was sexist. In fact, here is his statement, transcribed: "I think it is a statement that the Barkley is on the very ragged edge on what the most capable male athlete can accomplish. And given the physical differences between male and female, it's shy of the boundary of what the most capable female can accomplish."  Now he does go on to say, that he is sure there is very likely is a female somewhere in the world who is capable of accomplishing the Barkley.

Arrgh. I don't know why gender has to be brought into these types of debates. It's a very tough race. More people have summitted Mt Everest than has finished the Barkley. Maybe there's been no females that have been that interested in finishing the race!

So maybe it's time for the females to come out of the woodwork.  Start to work on those odds. Start with one loop and work up to a Fun Run. Invade that little testosterone-ridden camp.Wear pink. 

So who wants to start training with me?


  1. That's very irritating! Gender has nothing to do with it! Women are proven over and over again to be better at endurance then men. I completely agree with you that sex shouldn't be brought into this conversation and it's sad that it was. Go show 'em Trail Goddess! I'm no where up for something like that but I would be your cheerleader!

  2. I once told Gary (Laz) that my worst nightmare is to be the first female to finish the Barkley. He laughed at me, of course, probably thinking I knew nothing about the difficulty and history of the race. So, I'm with you, Kim! But I'm not even sure how I would begin to train for such a monster. I live only three hours away from Frozen Head, but I'm even afraid to go there to have a look around, lol. Some trash talker I am to Gary, lol.

  3. See, I always thought of it as we are smart enough to not even try ;)Men and their ego's...

    That being said...Barkley is on my bucket list...

  4. I mean this will all due respect to the opposite sex and intend zero sexism in this comment. . . There are undoubtedly women out there that CAN finish Barkley. The question is though, of the women that CAN finish, how many have the DESIRE? There are far fewer women than men in the sport of ultrarunning so the number of possible finishers is already reduced. This race is as sadistic (and tough) as they come and requires more suffering than most (including me) desire. So will a woman finish? . . . someday (and I hope this year), but if I were a betting man I wouldn't be tossing much money to the bookie. I personally know a few women that have as good of a chance as any of the top men, but they simply don't have the key ingredient - DESIRE!

    Maybe Kimba in '12?

  5. I'm with you. 100% I'll be doing that now. I follow your blog/you've never met me, but next year I will be there. I am crazy determined when I set my mind to something. I'll be wearing pink compression socks and a pink outfit. 2012 Barkley: LETS DO THIS LADIES.

  6. Also if you have the RDs email address and would like to share it with me that would be great.
    This is my email if anyone reading this would be kind enough to share:

  7. I can see the appeal of The Barkley - being on that short list of finishers would be an incredible accomplishment.
    The insane terrain, likelihood of bad weather conditions, saw briers and blisters don't sound like ANY fun at all. And truth be told, I like a little fun when I'm running in the woods. So I'd agree with Adam C - you really have to have the desire for this event.
    My money's on you Kimba!

  8. wow. i'm both attracted and repelled to this race. attracted because i want to stomp on any challenge but WOW, this one is a doozy. how about i just cheer you on for now?? you CAN do it!

  9. KIMMMM! Just was keyed to your blog -- I love it, and it reminds me of how much I've missed the Mo' these last few years. I'm thinking this June looks good for a visit -- if you're running, I'll pace you overnight! (I'm still good at staying awake, if not so many miles)

  10. Girl Who's Been ThereApril 6, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    You girls like raw chicken? Like having your arms and legs and maybe your face scarred by briar thickets taller than your head? Like to be lost in the woods alone all night, in cold pouring rain/hail/snow/sleet and sucking mud? Then have at it, girls! Big talk is easy in mid-April. Funny how the enthusiasm wanes, and prospective Barkers (male AND female) disappear into the woodwork by December.

  11. Whoaza! I've been saying/urging/pleading--yeah, teasing too--allah my favemost tuffchix to do precisely this for years! I "helped" (I'm not sure she'd eggs-zackley agree with this though) crew Sue Johnston when she, yes, established the still-current women's course record: 3-and-nearly-a-half loops. [No other gal to date has ventured out on a 4th loop.) So I'll now offer my crewing services in the future to ANY gal that, yes, ventures out on a 4th loop.
    -Rich "Barkley scRitch" Limacher
    PS: Ya gotta love a gal who digs Warren Zevon. You WILL be singing these lyrics: "Send lawyers, guns, and money. Dad! Get me out of this!!"

  12. Thomas,
    I am running Massanutten this year, so no Mohican!
    And Rich-I will see you at MMT, so maybe we can discuss the Barkley!

  13. So did you get in to Barkley 2012?

  14. I did not. I did not apply. After getting selected for Hardrock, I could not fit any more big races in for 2012. So the Barkley has been shifted to apply for 2013.


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