2019 Barkley Marathons

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

We’ve all at some point or another had those lyrics stuck in our head, and we’ve all probably had a number of situations where they were quite appropriate. I think a key word that really gets overlooked, though, is try. You don’t just sit there and have what you need fall into your lap.

The abridged version

I returned to Barkley this year to see what it would be like to run it with the perspective of an “alumnus” (Barkley’s term for a previous finisher). I wanted to see what I could still do and how my different mindset would affect that. I also just wanted to be back out there. However daunting, painful, and terrifying Barkley might be, I just love running through and exploring those mountains. That sense of adventure on the first loop when first turning off the actual trail to go crashing through the wilderness is something that I have not been able to replicate.

In the end I got an answer that maybe shouldn’t have been all that surprising, but that did come sooner than I expected. After loop 2, with a good amount of time left and feeling pretty strong physically, I realized that my mindset and motivation this time around had no chance of getting me through what I knew I would face on loops 4 and 5. I had found the answer I was looking for. I was also no longer having fun at that point. With nothing left to discover and no enjoyment out of it, it did not seem worth it to me to bear the physical and mental toll that I knew would come from continuing.

The greatest hesitation came from thinking of all the people who supported me in even making another Barkley attempt possible. My family making me food and preparing other things I would need for the race, John Fegyveresi (Fegy) coming down from Boston with his wife Christine to crew for me, people in the local community sharing their resources and knowledge of the mountains with me, sponsors working with me to get the right gear for the race… the list goes on. I owe a huge thank you to all of them, and I did not want them to feel as if their efforts had been wasted. But in the end those are sunk costs, and I’m also fortunate to be able to say that all of those people and companies understand and support my decision.

For some, that synopsis is probably enough. For those who want more detail, read on. And if you’re an aspiring Barkley entrant, know that reading reports like this one can be even more valuable than reading ones from a finish, like mine from 2017.

Are we there yet?

I arrived in TN at my parents’ house nearly a full month before the race, with a moving truck filled with nearly all of our remaining stuff. The plan was to head over to the UK to get things prepared for my family to come in April, come back to the US to spend some time with family, then make the return trip to the UK with Jessi and the kids. Barkley happened to fit right in with that time back in the US, and my parents happen to live right across the highway from Frozen Head.

Unfortunately there were some delays in processing my family’s visa applications, so I ended up spending nearly the whole month in TN. The silver linings are that it of course gave me some more time with my parents and also gave me plenty of time to explore in and around Frozen Head, finishing off my Frozen Head Strava project and capping off my 2019 Barkley Marathons training.

Nothing like a nice family hike up to the top of Meth Lab Hill / Testicle Spectacle.

In a way, it kind of seemed like I was hanging out at the park waiting for everyone else to show up. It was quite fitting given the difference in my mindset and approach this year: letting the race come to me rather than bringing my whole life to it.

Quick, they’re coming!

I had avoided all of the long drawn-out stress previously associated with Barkley preparation, but when the time came it was down to business to ensure everything was ready. Fortunately things came together pretty quickly since I was mostly using my same plan from 2017 and John Fegyveresi was returning to crew me along with support I’ve received from my cousin Joe every year I’ve run it (my Barkley crew over the years has had John, Joe, Julian, Jessi, and Jodi, my main “tour guide” my first year was Jamil, and I mostly tried to copy Jared with my gear and approach. Oh and of course my own name starts with a J too…).

Once camp was set up, race check in started. Jodi managed to get his bib and directions before the line formed, so we huddled around to figure out the course changes. It turns out that I had done what might be harder than finishing. I predicted laz. I have the emails to Jodi and others to prove it; I predicted what he would add and what he would remove. OK to be fair I gave three possible additions and he used two of them. As happy as I was to have predicted the unpredictable, it didn’t help me much since I had never been in those areas (you’re not allowed to go in them other than during the race). And I guessed one of the sections when running along a trail a week earlier, looking down and to my left and thinking, “you know, laz could add that climb and it would be the new hardest one on the course.” That climb is now known as the meat grinder.

Maggie, Jared, and I crowded around Jodi deciphering the new directions. Photo: Karine Isenor

I went with my entry fee, two packs of Camel cigarettes since I bought the wrong kind the first time, to get my own bib and directions. Not long after that I had the old sections of the course copied from my old map, then double checked the new sections with Jodi, and was ready to go without even having to go see the master map. For once, I wasn’t rushing at the last minute to finish getting ready.

Little was at least happy to see me back when I checked in. Photo: Howie Stern
Sorry bud, there are no Pokemon on this map. Just lots of hills. Lots and lots of really steep hills. Photo: Karine Isenor

In 2015 and 2016, we had late starts. Both years I hardly slept the night before, starting the race already at nearly 24 hours without sleep. In 2017, we started at 1:42 AM, leaving me again with almost no sleep before the race. This year I got a solid 8 hours, waking up only once in the night and getting out of bed about an hour before he blew the conch for a 9:20 AM start. My mind had predicted the course changes and it was as if my body had predicted the start time. Things were lining up quite nicely.

I got ready, and excitedly headed up to the gate for the adventure to begin.

Jodi, Fegy, and me just before the start. Photo: Karine Isenor
This is probably my favorite picture from the race, as it so clearly shows the shift in mindset. Look at every single other face in this picture. Then look at me and Jared. Who’s ready to have some fun?! πŸ™‚ Photo: Karine Isenor
Although Karel there in the background went further than both of us put together this year. Photo: Blue Mountain Road

Where’d everyone go?

Loop 1 started as usual: a group of about 10 charging up Bird Mountain, some chatting and exchanging banter and some clearly nervous and already worried about getting “scraped” (e.g. 2015 me). We made it to the 1st book and the attrition began. We shot down Jacque Mate, the first descent, and then there were 8. We made the next big climb all the way up Jury Ridge and then there were 6. We took off down the meat grinder. For a brief moment we checked our bearings on the way down and I looked around and saw that we were down to 3.

I was shocked to see that Jared was not one of those 3. Oddly enough, we were descending to the same book as when we were separated in 2016, that time from me getting clothes-lined by a briar. He mentioned after the first descent that he had rolled his ankle, but he pressed on with us up the climb and I assumed it was one of those rolls where you just walk it off. Turns out, it was a pretty nasty sprain. I’m absolutely amazed he was able to finish an entire loop after seeing it.

We continued the rest of the way down the meat grinder, at one point reaching high enough speeds that I reached out to hook my arm around a tree to slow down. It worked, but I realized about an hour later that the tree had put a nice little gash in my forearm and in the process ripped my special race-issue watch off of my wrist. For the rest of the race I had absolutely no idea how we were doing on time other than when Guillaume would update me. I’m just glad laz opted for the $10 watch. the $20 version with the sturdier wrist band may have stayed on and tried to take my hand with it.

We headed back up and over Bald Knob and started one of the few actual trail sections of the course, heading up to The Garden Spot. Before I knew it, we were 2: just me and Guillaume. It was not surprising to me at all that Guillaume and I found ourselves on a similar loop 1 pace, but just like in 2017 when Gary and I found ourselves alone at around the same time, I did not expect to be in such sparse company so soon.

It felt entirely different to me, though, and was a potential role I had been looking forward to. In 2015 I was the one hanging on as Bev and Alan Abbs and then Jamil led me around the course. In 2016 I got the solo experience. And then of course in 2017 I had the partnership with Gary. Now, I was the alumnus and I wanted to try to pay back some of the help I had received in my early years. In exchange, Guillaume would teach me French. πŸ˜‰

I quickly found out, though, that Guillaume did not need anything in exchange for his French lessons. He is quite the capable navigator, and with his 2018 experience plus his thorough research of the course, he was at times leading me. On the new sections we rather quickly fell into a pattern: I would find the general location of the book, and then he would almost immediately find the right rock that the book was tucked behind. For the lead group on loop 1 that’s often not a trivial task, as the books have to be hidden away from anyone else who might randomly happen to pass by, and from animals who for some reason like to chew on them.

We both knew the value of working together, and as long as we were moving at a similar pace we agreed to continue. He was also great company. The only problem was that he has an accent even harder to understand than Gary’s (says the guy from east Tennessee πŸ˜›). In all fairness, almost anyone is impossible to understand when you’re running through leaves and have pouring rain falling on top of your hood and toboggan (it just doesn’t feel like a Barkley race report for me if I can’t get at least one toboggan reference in).

We moved along with caution on some of the new sections, but never with any navigational mistakes. And for those who think Barkley is orienteering, we paused to consult our maps just once. I never even pulled out my compass. The course almost entirely follows quite clear terrain features. Granted, I have the benefit of now being intimately familiar with those features, but basic navigation skills and a knowledge of the lay of the land go a long way.

The one-two punch added back in this year of Little Hell followed immediately by Rat Jaw is tough, but for some reason I’m always energized by Rat Jaw. It’s one of the few places where you can let your mind rest while your body does all the work, and it’s the only place where you can look forward to spectator support. With our arrival being in the afternoon of a beautiful day, it was especially strong this year. We surged to the top, bolted back down, and finished the loop without incident.

Love me some Rat Jaw. Photo: John Price
Nearing the top. Yes my knees, lip, and arms are bloody, and that makes for good pictures, but all those are minor annoyances that heal quickly. The biggest challenge at Barkley is not visible to pictures (but if it were, you’d better believe Howie would capture it perfectly). Photo: Howie Stern
Finishing loop 1, with the new chute and my crew set up in the transition area. Photo: Stephen Redfern

Rain, rain, go away

We finished loop 1 in 8:31. I had planned on spending less than 2 minutes in camp, but after spending a bit of time trying to unsuccessfully convince laz to let me use one of the remaining watches and double checking my water supply after what turned out to be a hot first loop, it turned in to 6 minutes. It was kind of funny to see a barricaded transition area, with the pit stop at the gate being something my crew and I thought would be our secret, unique plan just two years earlier.

Guillaume had a quick turnaround and we were back out together, just barely succeeding in our goal of making it down the meat grinder before daylight disappeared. We moved a bit slowly at first, though, both of us being dehydrated from the first loop and taking time to get fluids back down and refill at creeks.

Shortly after night fell and we had enough water back in our bodies, we had far more than we wanted on the outside. We thought the rain would last no more than 3-4 hours. It was constant for the rest of the loop. Well, except when it turned into sleet at the higher elevations.

Maybe if that had been our expectations, it would have been different. But as it was, I feel that I at least wasted a lot of energy wondering when the rain would stop instead of just focusing on the race. After the muddy climb up Rat Jaw (think of starting to go down a big water slide, but then realizing your keys came out as you were getting on and trying to claw your way back to the top), I just wanted to get back to camp.

The rain lasting longer into the night also meant that it overlapped much more with colder temperatures, and also brought with it the worst of the many possible Barkley weather conditions: fog. Like everything else that loop, from dehydration, to rain and mud, to cold and wind, we dealt with it without disaster. But the small things really started to add up, and before I knew it a loop I had planned for 10.5 – 11 hours turned into over 12 and I came in at 21:02.

The decision

As I charged down from Chimney Top, trying to escape the fog and the sleet (the fog was thick enough that even running on the trail was difficult), I had time to let my mind think about things other than staying on course. In miserable conditions, that can be a dangerous thing when heading in to camp. I tried to put a bit of distance between myself and Guillaume so that I at least wouldn’t infect him with any negative thoughts or energy during his pursuit of a finish. At first, I decided I might need a short nap. Then, the thought actually entered my head of whether it was worth it to continue. In previous years this thought would have been unfathomable, and I had given my crew clear instructions to not let me quit in camp unless a large object was sticking into or out of me.

I did not do that this year, and as I sat in the warm bathhouse in the middle of all the gear and food my crew had laid out for me, I put that thought out in the open. They did what any good crew should: try to convince me to at least go back out, but without forcing me. I sat there for a bit, then I tried to nap, then I went to the van and napped. Jared came by and chatted with me about it, a very welcome and appreciated surprise. I called Jessi to talk to her about it.

There are very, very few people, though, who could at that point relate to how I felt as much as Fegy. He finished Barkley and then he returned, thinking he was going in just as motivated but then finding out that he lacked the same fire that the race requires. To succeed at Barkley you have to be 100% all in and want it so badly that it hurts more than the 5 loops you have to go through. This whole experience put me in even further awe of Jared and Brett, in being able to come back and repeat their finishes.

As I thought through things, I realized that I just wasn’t all in. Not right then. As much as I wanted a 2nd finish, it didn’t carry the same level of motivation as the first. I’m moving with my family to another country this week. We’re finally in the process of building out our startup to where “tech team” isn’t just a synonym for “John.” I have a lot of exciting races and other things planned for the rest of the year that I don’t want to be burnt-out or injured for. In 2017 if someone had come to me mid-race and said, “Alright here’s the deal. You can finish, but afterwards you’ll be so mentally and physically wrecked that you won’t be able to do any races the rest of the year.” I would have said yes. This year, nope.

And while the goal had diminished in relative value, I was cursed with the knowledge of what the goal would still require. I knew what loops 4 and 5 would take: how much they would hurt physically, how deep I would have to go into some very dark places mentally. I had complete confidence that I could go back out and do a 3rd loop, and at the very least start a 4th, but this time around I did not believe I had the right mindset to make it all the way. At Barkley if you do not believe that you can, then you cannot.

So I had found the answer I was looking for: how the different circumstances altered my motivation and how that motivation affected what I could do. It was not what I wanted the answer to be, but it was what I needed to know. Going further would teach me nothing else and would bring me no added joy. If the best possible outcome adds no value, then the only other obvious reason for continuing is to have fun. The 10 hours straight of night-time 35 degree rain had thoroughly ended the fun for me. I actually like running at night, and in the cold, and in the rain, but not all 3 at once! I would rather run in the snow at sub-zero temperatures than in 35 degree rain (especially on slippery slopes… at least colder temperatures would have frozen the mud).

As mentioned at the outset, the final remaining hesitation in quitting came from thinking of the people who had supported me in me being able to give Barkley another shot. For the ones that did make real sacrifices, I still do kind of feel bad. But I also knew that once my mind had blown through all of its internal motivation and was starting to seek external sources, that it was over. As I’ve mentioned in a number of posts before, external motivation alone just can’t cut it for something like Barkley.

After about 3 hours in camp, I finally accepted the decision that had seemed inevitable since my return from loop 2. I brought myself to tell laz, and then tapped myself out. I was the one who had ended my race; I was the one who should put the final stamp on it.

Former top 9th grade trumpet player in east TN, finally back in action. If only I had stuck with that instead of ditching it for cross country, this would have sounded better and been much less painful. Photo: Howie Stern

Like most things I’ve learned at Barkley, making this decision and being at peace with it is pretty big for me. I’ve always been that guy: too stubborn to quit or move on even when continuing is clearly fruitless or even counter-productive. Time is just too valuable of a resource to spend large amounts of it on things that aren’t yielding a high return.

Is this the end?

I don’t know. I probably won’t know for a long time. If I can figure how to approach the race the same way I did this year with training and preparation having minimal stress and no negative impact on my family, but then race with the same fire for it that I had previously, then maybe. I don’t want to take a slot or ask anything of those who support me if I know I don’t have the motivation to finish, and I certainly don’t want to revisit the days of Barkley training being an all-consuming focus like it was the first year I got in and before I had 3 kids. At this moment, I just have too much other stuff going on for that fire to be as strong. Maybe this failure itself will contribute to re-stoking it, but time will have to tell on that.

Unless you see me back out there again, please let’s just leave it at that for now. I have at least decided that if I ever do do it again, in order to help meet those two goals of causing minimal life impact and ensuring I have that internal fire, I’m simply going to not answer any questions about whether I’m doing Barkley (as opposed to this year, where I tried to cleverly answer without actually answering). I try my best to answer anything anyone sends me, but from here on this is going to be my exception.

Enough about you, what about the course and conditions?

Brett Maune’s 5 loop record at Barkley is an incredible, nearly unbelievable achievement. I don’t think it’s impossible for it to be broken, but it’s highly highly unlikely. I just hesitate to call it a “course” record because of how much the Barkley course changes every year. Essentially everyone who has won the race has a course record (so Brett has two of them).

Some years the changes are relatively small: move a few book locations, go one more spur over, add this minor climb, etc. Since Brett’s record there have been two years I would consider to be major changes: 2014 and this year. Only Jared and I have finished since 2014, with only his 2014 finish having more than 30 minutes to spare.

This year’s course changes initially did not look too horrible on paper. I felt confident that I could navigate them and one of my least favorite sections (Testicle Spectacle / Meth Lab Hill) had been removed. Once out there, it was an entirely different story. The terrain, the footing, the obstacles… all things that can’t really be seen on a map, were about as horrible as it comes. Talus too deep to get a foothold on, blowdowns and briars too thick to get through, slopes too steep to run down quickly and recover some of the time lost climbing them.

Then, the ordering was important. Rather than having the big climbs spaced out with a “small” one in between, they came 2 or 3 at a time. It didn’t allow any sort of physical or mental recovery by switching between uphill mode and downhill mode. I’d also be lying if I said that during my decision to quit the thought didn’t cross my mind of going counter-clockwise and climbing up the meat grinder and navigating down Little Hell. So overall I would say that yes, this year’s course was unquestionably harder than previous years.

As for the conditions, they initially looked like they would be fantastic as far as Barkley conditions go. In reality, they were sneakily bad. The first loop was forecast to be slightly warm but cloudy, and instead we found ourselves in full sun and temperatures that hit 80 degrees. That immediately switched over to a night where the cooling temperatures and rain that was refreshing at first and forecast to last for 3-4 hours turned into all-night precipitation with freezing temperatures, fog, and wind on the peaks and ridges. So there was never that acute, apocalyptic storm, but sometimes it’s the weather that’s just not as expected or just a bit off that can be more dangerous to the psyche and more difficult to prepare for. Overall it was neither the best or worst conditions that I’ve had out there.

Could the 2017 version of me have finished on this course and with these conditions? I’ve thought about that a pretty good amount, and I really still don’t know. This year’s course was tougher, but we had worse conditions and a worse starting time in 2017 (I’m actually quite happy that I finished in a bad year as far as conditions go). We also made some mistakes in 2017.

So I think that without any navigational errors, 2017 me could have possibly finished this year. There are so many variables at Barkley, though. There has typically been some small buffer to allow for at least one of those variables to be at least somewhat suboptimal. That buffer, and any margin for error, is getting thin to non-existent. I’m a data scientist, and I’m used to giving all of my answers in terms of probabilities, but the chance that absolutely everything at Barkley aligns perfectly is one probability that I don’t want to try to calculate.

Gear and nutrition

If you want to see this laid out with some pictures, Canadian running did a good job putting some together for the gear:
https://runningmagazine.ca/trail-running/what-john-kelly-wore-to-race-the-barkley-marathons/.

I could almost copy and paste this from my Franklins 200 race report (ok, actually I partly did do that). It was essentially my gear and nutrition dress rehearsal for Barkley and I was happy with how everything performed. Most of the companies below are ones that I do have relationships with, which you can view in full on my PartnersΒ page. You can also find discount codes there for XOSKIN and Hammer if you want to try them out.

Up top, I had on the same XOSKIN form fit short-sleeved shirt as my base layer for the entire race. As the temperatures fluctuated I added an XOSKIN long-sleeved shirt over it, and then added an Ultimate Direction ultra jacket once it started raining (much better than a grocery bag!).

For bottoms I had XOSKIN lightweight compression shorts with La Sportiva shorts over top. I also wore XOSKIN calf sleeves, toe socks, and regular socks. I’ve found the double-layer approach of toe socks underneath regular socks works well for me on races of that distance and with that much steep terrain that causes extra friction. I used zero lube, and even with the rainy night I had no blisters or chafing.

I wore La Sportiva Mutants throughout the race. My plan was to change into either another pair of Mutants or a pair of Akasha after loop 2, but obviously we didn’t get that far into the plan. Taking away a lesson from Franklins 200, I had a pair of Akasha that were a half size bigger to accommodate foot swelling.

I wore my trusty Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 4.0 for the entirety of the race as well, the same line of vests that I’ve been using since my first Barkley four years ago. It held everything I needed snug and secure and fit comfortably throughout. I did want to turn the straw pass-throughs on the shoulder straps into extra pockets (I’m not a fan of straws) so my mom was kind enough to sew the bottoms of those pass-throughs shut.

I also used Ultimate Direction’s FK Gaiters and FK Trekking Poles, and both worked great. I specifically remember having a near fall where I ended up stepping full-force right on the middle of the pole and thinking “wow I’m sure glad that didn’t break.”

My nutrition plan at this point has gotten consistent enough that it’s honestly pretty boring (which is how nutrition should be – not consuming any mental energy during the race!). It works for me, so I’m gonna keep using it. For each loop I had a bottle of chocolate Perpeteum, a bottle of water with a Fizz tablet in it, a flask with a mixture of raspberry and peanut butter chocolate Hammer gel, a couple of Hammer bars (oatmeal apple and coconut chocolate chip), some homemade food like salty maple nut energy bites, my aunt’s sugar cookies, and my mom’s snickerdoodles. Between loops I had some higher calorie items like pizza that are harder to carry and that would have a chance to digest on the initial climb back out of camp. I also had Endurolytes, anti-fatigue caps, and tissue rejuvenator as needed, usually every 1.5 – 2 hours.

Lighting was with a Petzl Actik NAO+, which gave great vision and battery life that was honestly much better than I expected. I changed it with a few hours left in the loop but that was just because I was already switching out some other gear and didn’t want any risk of needing to stop again to swap. Guillaume actually had the same headlamp and showed me some stuff I didn’t even know about that can be programmed into it from a phone.

I also carried a Katadyn BeFree with me, which I had hoped I wouldn’t need but I’m sure glad I had it. After that hot 1st loop it was invaluable in getting rehydrated from all the streams. It was lightweight, quick, and convenient, and also a much better approach than my 2017 strategy: “if I get giardia it won’t be until after the race so that’s fine.”

44 thoughts on “2019 Barkley Marathons

  • April 2, 2019 at 5:40 pm
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    John,

    Thank you for another great race report. There is so much to this race and so much to absorb from race reports like this. It’s honest accounts of any race or situation that really help someone else learn from your time out there. Thank you for sharing, for being an influence and just always being positive even in negative situations. I feel you are the same person in “real life” as you are when you write your reports.

    Jeff Watterson

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    • April 2, 2019 at 7:15 pm
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      Thank you very much, it’s great to hear things like this. And I do hope I’m the same person in real life. πŸ™‚

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  • April 2, 2019 at 5:47 pm
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    Great race report. Good luck with the move. Maybe you can try Fell Running??

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    • April 2, 2019 at 7:13 pm
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      Thank you! There will definitely be plenty of adventures to have over there.

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  • April 2, 2019 at 5:47 pm
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    I’m a fan and love reading your stuff John. Do you think your imminent relocation to the UK had anything to do with the sudden shift in motivation you experienced? Simplistically, what self-respecting internal governor would let it’s body beat itself up as bad as you did in 2017/2016 when there’s so much stress and uncertainty waiting on the other side. If there’s ever a time for self preservation in one’s life, it sounds like your smack in the middle of it. At least that’s how I’ve felt on the eve of big life changing relocations. Anyways, huge respect for all you’ve done at Barkley and otherwise. And if you ever convince Gu to make a FHSP stream water flavored Gu or ripped plastic bag-based singlet, I’d be all over it.

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    • April 2, 2019 at 7:19 pm
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      Thank you, and yes I think that’s certainly a possibility. These types of things usually require pushing through that stuff, but the subconscious mind can be a powerful thing and can definitely cause inescapable physical results.

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    • April 2, 2019 at 8:31 pm
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      Thank you, always great to hear that it’s worth the effort to share.

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      • April 3, 2019 at 11:20 am
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        Thanks for your effort. Out there as well to share πŸ™‚

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  • April 2, 2019 at 7:54 pm
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    A great read ! All the best to you and your family with the time in the UK

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      • April 4, 2019 at 7:19 am
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        Hi John, thanks for a well written blog, a lot of things in here for a new ultra runner to learn from. Welcome to the UK, I hope you and the family all love it here. How long until you’re having a go at the Bob Graham round, I’m sure you spoke to the wonderful Mrs Spinks at the weekend, there’s nobody better to help you have a go at the historic challenge. Good luck with the move and any future challenges, oh and if you need a data analyst then give me a shout.

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  • April 2, 2019 at 8:46 pm
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    Awesome report John. Thank you for sharing. I am an ultra runner and avid consumer off all things ultra. My favourite image ever is that in The Race that Eats it’s Young of you starting Loop 5. The pain you were in there was clear. That stare!. If anyone has truly looked inward and dug deep. It’s you. Also I run a tech start up as well so I know that your Barkley grit will serve you well! Best wishes in your new adventure.

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    • April 2, 2019 at 10:54 pm
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      Thank you! Yes I have actually conjured up some Barkley experiences already to push through some tough times in building the startup… but hopefully we’re over the hump on those.

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  • April 2, 2019 at 9:54 pm
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    For someone just getting into ultras, these reports are incredibly motivating and valuable, John. Thank you for taking the time to write and share them. They help me recognize and process my own internal motivations, along with all the practical recommendations you make. I can’t say enough about how helpful they are. Best of luck for the rest of your 2019 races!

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    • April 2, 2019 at 10:55 pm
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      Thank you, it’s really great to hear that. Best of luck, and enjoy, as you get started on ultras.

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  • April 2, 2019 at 10:10 pm
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    Amazing write up. This one is on my list. Love your background in Ironman and ultras. Mine is the same. Currently taking on RAAM Solo in June. Impressive write up! I appreciate your focus on family and the balance! Keep up the great work! See ya on the trails

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    • April 2, 2019 at 10:57 pm
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      Thank you, and RAAM will certainly be quite the adventure! Enjoy it, and hope to see you on the trails or on a bike sometime.

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  • April 2, 2019 at 11:07 pm
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    Again, another great report and another demonstration of the shining example you set for other athletes. Knowing your “why” is so amazing, and to be so honest that you were simply not having fun is amazing. Also loved the comparison photo – you and Jared versus everyone else at the start!

    Slightly disappointed that there was no Krispy-Bo though, TBH. πŸ™‚

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    • April 3, 2019 at 10:44 am
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      Thank you, and haha Krispy-Bos have to be earned πŸ˜‰

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  • April 3, 2019 at 6:20 am
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    Great writing! Fun time at Barkley? I am curious whether you spend any time training naked? Specifically, it seems possible to me that losing your watch might have been devastating to your race. I know that you often post on Strava (thank you!), but I don’t know whether you spend much time training without any watch at all. Maybe not losing the watch during Barkley, but thinking about losing your watch, and then trying to convince Laz to let you have another one after lap 1 was a factor in you losing your fire? I don’t know Laz, but it sounds like you know him quite well, and from what I have read, there probably was somewhere between zero chance and zero chance of Laz giving you another watch. Why did you even ask him knowing he would likely say no and that it might demoralize you more? I ask in part, because I think it would probably be better for me to train without a gps watch more often and go by feel, although I love having the gps record to look back at afterwards.

    I love the photo of you and Jared smiling before Barkely (The photo resonated with me because a friend just commented to me after looking at a pre-photo before a 5-mile race that I looked too serious.) Mindset does often end up being critical, and little things can often end up screwing with the mind big time. Although not having any idea what time it is, or how long you have been climbing up a never-ending hill, probably does not qualify as a little thing.

    Thank you for another great race report. I also wanted to thank you again for organizing the Farm to Founders 50k earlier this year. I had a great time. Your adventures and writing are inspirational. Best of luck in refinding your fire!

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    • April 3, 2019 at 11:44 am
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      Thank you, and thanks for coming out to Farm to Founders! It was a great day.

      No, the watch had nothing to do with anything. I know my effort level, and a watch has nothing to do with motivation to push through later loops. Of all the things you have to deal with at Barkley that is a little thing, and laz saying no you can’t have another watch is akin to a little briar scratch. If someone is going to get demoralized by that they shouldn’t be there. And yes, he said I could have another if I could get one from another runner. It’s perfectly within the rules to receive aid at camp. Also I wasn’t asking him; that’s my crew’s job.

      Thanks for sharing the feedback and thoughts, and best of luck with wherever is “out there” for you.

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      • April 4, 2019 at 11:24 am
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        Thanks for your response! I am happy to hear that the watch was not a factor. I imagine that there were lots and lots and lots of briar scratches.

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        • April 4, 2019 at 11:50 am
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          Haha always lots of scratches, but they’re just that: scratches. They heal.

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  • April 3, 2019 at 8:58 am
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    Hi John, Many thanks for posting these reports, it’s fascinating to read about the race. How does your body feel after 1-2 loops compared to when you do ironman races? I’m never likely to do an Ultra but I have done a few Ironman races, so just trying to get some perspective. FYI I live about 40 miles south of Bristol. Welcome to the UK. πŸ˜‰
    Will

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    • April 3, 2019 at 11:47 am
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      Thank you, and I guess overall the feeling is somewhat comparable, just different things that hurt. Going the night without sleep also makes a big difference and adds to the recovery, and of course effort level plays a huge role. My effort level was for 5 loops, and I stopped at 2, which is much different than if I had been putting out an all-out 2 loop effort or an all-out IM. The difference in recovery between even 95% effort and 100% effort is huge, at least for me.

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  • April 3, 2019 at 10:20 am
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    Thanks so much for sharing that. An amazing read.

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    • April 3, 2019 at 11:48 am
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      Thank you for taking the time to read, glad you found it worthwhile

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  • April 3, 2019 at 10:27 am
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    Thanks for sharing John. Your vivid recollections of the conditions and your mindset before and during the race brings us at least a taste of what it’s like “out there” (at least as close as some of us may ever get). I also greatly appreciate your honesty in regards to your family and how training and the race itself could possibly interfere with what is most important in life. That is the true measure of a man. Hope to cross paths with you someday. Best of luck to you for the future!

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    • April 3, 2019 at 11:58 am
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      Thank you. It’s as vivid as I can make it, although clearly not everything can be recalled and it is is difficult to not let thoughts get influenced by later thoughts or inputs. Thanks again, and all the best for your own adventures!

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  • April 3, 2019 at 10:51 am
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    What’s REALLY toughest..
    .
    1. A 5th loop at Barkley
    2. The drive home in DC area traffic on a rainy Wednesday night in winter
    3. Flying with 3 pretty young kids across the Atlantic to their new home (and I include the getting ready and time in the airport as part of this…ha)

    (FYI, I “geek out” about the Space Shuttle every time I go to Udvar-Hazy, as well…like I spend HOURS there every time I go, just because the collection is so amazing..the Enola Gay, the SR-71, the Concorde, Space Suits!)

    I normally don’t comment but love the blog for all the running and non-running adventures. Looking forward to updates across the pond.

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    • April 3, 2019 at 12:11 pm
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      Thank you so much for commenting and on the feedback. Haha I fortunately never really had to do #2… that’s the other thing all the running and biking was for! And I’ll have to get back to you on #3. πŸ˜‰

      Thanks again, and you’ll have to enjoy Udvar-Hazy enough for the both of us now!

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  • April 3, 2019 at 4:06 pm
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    Thanks for penning this John, This is such a great write-up and it’s so motivating and inspiring just following all of you attempting the Barkley every year. I’ve read all your blogs and the blogs written by others like John (Fegy), Jared, Brett and so on and I just take a whole lot of positives when I read them. Even though you didn’t succeed in your attempt this time, there’s still so much of positives to take from the outside for people like me who’s looking to taking on some challenging 100milers in the near future. I especially love the camaraderie between all of you at Barkleys, for instance you crewing for Gary & Jodi last year and Fegy for you and it’s like a team of tough men and women against the course, where the veterans work so well together plus guide the virgins; a tiny bit of similarity between the people (experts and newbies) playing blackjack in a casino the entire night (all against the dealer and the unknowns a pack(s) of cards can throw at you). Looking forward to following you on your future endeavors and wishing you a great deal of success at each one of them.

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    • April 4, 2019 at 11:47 am
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      Thank you very much! At one point in life I was a card counter actually, but there are no such shortcuts are Barkley. πŸ˜‰

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  • April 4, 2019 at 5:26 am
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    Hi John,
    Namaste from India. I am a big fan. I followed Barkley updates for the first time in 2017 and that was and awesome year with you and Gary. This year when I got to know that you and Jared both are running, i was super stoked to follow updates and was very hopeful that both of you will be finishing Barkley and there will be strong competition between you both. However, things didn’t turn out as expected for both of you. It’s still an achievement to stand in front of yellow gate and start a race. Best wishes to you for future.

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    • April 4, 2019 at 11:48 am
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      Thank you, and all the best to you as well. The only predictable thing about Barkley is that it will be unpredictable, which I think is a large part of what makes it exciting to people.

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  • April 4, 2019 at 7:37 pm
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    Thank you for all the details! I think this race seems so appealing because it is that white whale of a race. You don’t exactly need that next thing to look for because it is always changing and nearly impossible!

    From a family man perspective, how did you manage training? With 3 young kids of my own I find I’m sacrificing lots of sleep to get my miles in so I don’t miss too much family time. What do you do and what’s your balance?

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    • April 5, 2019 at 12:58 pm
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      Thanks! You can find a number of posts here on my training. A big part of it was training as my commute and just fitting things in at any hour possible. One day I hope to do a specific post on that. Part of managing things is to have a blog rather than trying to respond in detail to every single question. πŸ˜‰

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  • April 5, 2019 at 6:40 pm
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    Hi John, as someone who rarely makes sincere comments online, I just wanted to say that your writing/perspective is fantastic–across all sorts of different topics–and I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share it with everyone. Inspiring stuff.

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    • April 5, 2019 at 7:12 pm
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      Thank you so much, it really is great to hear things like that and makes writing things worth it

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  • May 8, 2019 at 1:02 am
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    Let alone running I can barely walk… but I’ve become fascinated by the Barkley as a cognitive scientist. I don’t keep up with it all the time but periodically read things and found my way here this time. This was a very good read. From how you were describing it I thought you might be scientist or engineer and then you said it towards the end. For what it’s worth I think you made a good decision :). There is a different kind of strength in knowing when to stop going forward. I lived in the UK for a few years and they were good years. Thanks for sharing your experience. All the best wishes for your new endeavors.

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    • May 9, 2019 at 12:06 pm
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      Thank you very much. I do enjoy the mental aspects of endurance sports as much or maybe even more than the physical aspects. Glad you enjoyed, and all the best.

      Reply

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