This Beverley Anderson-Abbs 2015 Barkley Marathons race report is reproduced with permission, with minor updates and corrections from the original.
Table of Contents
It Doesn’t Get Any Easier:
Barkley, My Biggest Failure Yet
The Barkley doesn’t begin when the conch sounds, nor when laz lights his cigarette at the yellow gate, it begins long before, in the decision to submit a request for a spot and the training up to Fool’s weekend. Anything that distracts a Barker from the ultimate goal can have disastrous consequences on the outcome of the race.
In my case this year, there were so many distractions Barkley took on the role of the pressure relief from everything else, including a job offer for Alan; applying, interviewing and being offered a job myself; selling 2 houses; buying a house; and dealing with all the minutia associated with these things, all while packing for, traveling to, and running in Barkley. It seemed like an almost insurmountable task and the pressure definitely played a role in the outcome of the race.
I was well trained and had been using various races as training events leading up to Barkley, physically, I was ready to go. Mentally, I was pretty stressed. We arrived at FHSP on Thursday afternoon and started setting up our tent when a text came through that some additional paperwork needed to be signed on the house we were buying. Alan dashed into town to get WiFi access while I stayed at the park to set up the tent.
I had it pretty much set up with the rain started, hard, so I huddled in the tent until it stopped and I could continue hanging tarps and unpacking other gear. Alan made it back to help with the final work then we went back to town to spend the night at the motel for one final good sleep, waking periodically to the storm outside that would have had us up all night had we been in the tent.
Friday dawned very cold as we headed out to the park for final preparations and check in. We knew there were some changes and we were anxious to see what they were. We did what we could to prepare food and gear, but our crew had dwindled to one and he wasn’t showing up until late afternoon. Finally, the map was put out and we got to see the new sections. Not difficult, but definitely additional climbing on some very steep sections, with added navigation. I spent some time studying the map and directions and making preparations for what I was sure was going to be either a very early start or a very late one.
The First Loop
We went to bed early, hoping for a few hours of sleep. The wind, occasional rain, and fear of missing the conch, made it hard for me to get any sleep so I lay restless in the sleeping bag all night, finally pulling myself out of the tent about 7:00 am. Everyone was milling around, waiting to start. There was some joking that laz had blown the conch and we all missed it, so he was just waiting for 13:20 to pass and he would start playing taps. The morning dragged on. I ran various scenarios in my head and changed planned clothing as the day warmed up.
10:22 – Finally, the conch sounds and we can get busy rethinking everything. I dressed deliberately, taped and lubed my feet and went over what we would need when we came in off loop 1, with plans of spending only 20 minutes in the campground.
11:22 – laz lights the cigarette and the runners start up the road. Two or three take off at a full run; Remy, Eva, and Toshi are immediately way out in front. I settle in to a fast paced hike up the switch backs with a string of 8 or 10, mostly virgins, hanging right behind me. A number of people had made it clear that their intentions were to follow Alan and me through loop 1 then decide what they would do after that. This was not an ideal situation, and although we had said over and over that we would not let anyone else dictate our race, we found ourselves drawn into exactly that as this group tried to stay with us. We caught and passed Toshi about halfway up Bird Mountain, then Eva closer to the top. Remy was out of sight.
The “people train” got to the top of the climb and headed out toward book 1. I slowed down, hoping to get a few people to go off ahead. Eva took off and led the way, drifting to the right, while I headed straight along the ridge. We all arrived about the same time to find the book had not yet been touched. Remy had not found his way here. The book was passed around, pages were torn, and we all headed along the bench to where we would descend.
We started down the hill, Eva leading, and veering to the right, as Jamil and I tried to stay on the ridge, but were drawn over by the crowd pull. We came down into a rocky draw that made the final part of the descent much more difficult that it would have been had we stayed on the ridge. We all hit the North Boundary trail and started the long climb up to Jury Ridge.
I led the climb and we arrived at the Jury Ridge sign and headed down the hill. Alan and Eva were navigating at slightly cross purposes, with Alan trying to go down the side of the ridge and Eva trying to stay on the ridge. The train of virgins spread out between, scrambling and stumbling down the hill to the bottom. We came down to a fairly flat area and crossed the creek.
Looking at the map, I knew we were too far down stream. Matt Bixly and a couple others headed downstream just before Jamil came down the hill and hit the book location dead on. Those of us in the vicinity ran up to it, retrieved our pages and began the long steep climb up Hill-pocalypse…and then there were 9.
Climbing this hill is simply a matter of putting your head down and sucking it up. It is steep and relentless. We started climbing, a few strung behind me, a couple off to the sides, finding their own lines. We got to the cliff and scrambled up to continue the climb up to where we would join the NBT again. A couple of the fast virgin runners hit the trail and started pushing the pace.
Alan and I settled in to a little slower run and the rest of the group strung out, a few between us and the front guys, a few behind. None of that really makes any difference this early, and running that hard only digs your hole a little sooner and a little deeper than you should be digging it. We all arrived at the Garden Spot, book 3 within a couple minutes of each other, retrieved pages and headed to Book 4.
On this section there are a number of roads that don’t show up the map, and if those fast guys were allowed to get just a little ahead, there were some spots where we could choose a slightly different route and lose a few of them heading down Barleymouth. Sure enough, 3 of them zigged, we zagged and got out of sight quickly…and then there were 6.
We got to the top of Leonard’s Butt Slide and quickly took stock of who was with us; Jamil, Eva, Scott Breedan, John Kelly, Mark Laveson, Georg, Alan, and me. This was a far more manageable group. We headed down to Book 4, placed another 100 feet or so lower on the hill than last year, adding to the sheer enjoyment of the climb we would have up to book 5 on Stallion Mountain. The book was easy to find at the park boundary post, and we headed back up to the road, on through bobcat rock, past Hiram’s pool and spa, and up to book 5. This was an uneventful scramble, and we all got to the book together, tore out pages and headed down Stallion Mountain.
Heading down Stallion Mtn was another uneventful stretch and we crossed the New River and headed to Testicle Spectacle. This climb was not part of the course this year and we bypassed it to climb over the next ridge and up on to the one after. John and Jamil stayed on the first ridge and followed it up to where they could contour over to the new book location, beating the rest of us who stayed on the correct course on the second ridge.
The climb was a little easier than TS, but added some distance, not to mention the added climb up and over the first ridge. Once we reached the road at the top we jogged along to the ridge just past Meth Lab, also no longer part of the course, and headed down to Raw Dog Falls.
Pig Head Creek and Rat Jaw came and went, and we lost Mark to the relentless climbing that is Barkley. The remainder of loop one came easily, down one hill, up the next, down a hill, up the next and we were climbing Big Hell. I was leading, setting a pretty decent pace; a few of the group were straggling. I arrived at the book and sat down to pull out everyone’s pages. I handed out pages and was packing the book back in its place as Eva took off running. So much for helping her out.
We all got back to camp within a couple minutes of each other. Greg, who had driven up from Alabama to help us out, had mac and cheese ready, which we gobbled while doing other things to get ready and choking out orders. We wanted to be out in 20 minutes, but that was going to be tough with one guy helping 2 of us. Alan and I set to work getting changed, eating, and repacking.
The Second Loop
I finally looked at my timer and saw we were already 28 minutes into our transition and tried to hurry Alan. We got up to the yellow gate at 35 minutes, a bit long. Eva and Georg had gone, John, Scott, and Jamil were at the gate. We got our numbers and headed off to begin what would turn into a complete cluster f— of a loop.
We caught Eva and Georg before the top of the climb up Bird Mountain and continued as a group. Heading out to book 1, Eva veered to the left too much and we ended up on the coal bench in a thick tangle of undergrowth that was difficult to push through. We finally got to the book, pulled pages and headed down the hill, again pulled too far to the right into a rocky draw. We had lost 30 minutes already. We talked each other up on the climb and kept telling ourselves to go slow enough to not make any mistakes. Since Jamil had nailed book 2 in the morning we asked him to lead the navigation.
We were more than half way down the hill when it started feeling very wrong and more compasses came out. We discovered we were heading in exactly the opposite direction we should have been and suddenly we hit a trail. We were back on the climb to Jury Ridge that we had just done! We climbed back up the trail through seven switchbacks we had already done on this loop, and arrived back at the top of Jury Ridge. This time, we made it down to the book and kept going. We had now lost over an hour. Jamil and John climbed fast and were soon out of sight. I was climbing better than the rest of the group but was torn about being out there on my own at this point, and didn’t think I could catch Jamil and John, so I slowed down.
Garden Spot, Butt Slide, and Stallion Mountain came easily, albeit a little slower than the morning loop, and we were heading down Stallion Mountain. This should have been easy; we had done this section every year, both directions, we all knew it, and yet, we were again headed in exactly the wrong direction. We climbed to the top of the ridge we were traversing to find ourselves…back where we had started… What the heck was going on with this loop?
Back down, we carefully picked our way down Stallion, paying much closer attention to compasses and not relying on anyone. We crossed the New River and headed for the new section of the course again. Georg set a bearing that had us climbing to the top of the ridge at an angle along the ridge and we finally hit the top. He was convinced the book was above us, so we headed up the ridge. No book.
Alan was equally convinced we had bypassed the book and needed to go back down, so we went back down. No book. We need to go a little further up, to the next flat spot. No book. Back a little further down. No book. Back Up…this went back and forth several more times and finally, Georg pointed out there was one more flat area above us, we needed to go up to the that, it had to be where the book was, so we all trudged up to the next flat area to find ourselves on the road at the very top of the climb.
We were now 7 ½ hours into the loop and not even half way through. Alan and I discussed our options, we would still have to go down 500’ or so to get the book we had missed, then Raw Dog Falls, Pig Head, Rat Jaw, Prison, the Bad Thing, Zip Line, Big Hell, and back to camp. Finishing Loop 2 with time to go out on Loop 3 was going to be tight. A Fun Run finish would be even tighter. We’d come with very specific goals in mind and these no longer looked feasible. We made the very difficult decision to call it, head back to camp, and save our already battered bodies from additional damage.
Jamil and John were able to complete 3 loops; Scott, Georg, and Eva completed 2 loops.
Back in California we are taking stock of our situation. We are down to the wire on housing. Alan starts his new job in Sacramento on April 20, our house doesn’t close until the 24th, but is dependent on the sale of our house in Oregon, for which we were just asked for an extension on closing, my new job starts the 27th. Somewhere in there, we have to move all of our belongings. Not taking 2 weeks out to travel to Tennessee would have been the prudent thing under the circumstances, but I am glad we went, in spite of the outcome.
More about the Beverley Anderson-Abbs
Beverley was an accomplished Eco Challenge and ultra runner long before her first Barkley, including four prior top-three Western States finishes. You can find her UltraSignup results here, and see brief snippets of her 2012 Barkley experience in The Race That Eat’s Its Own. She was one of two woman runners:
More about the Barkley Marathons
Good luck Out There!