The following 2021 Barkley report by Barker Noé Castañón is re-printed with permission. The original version was posted on Facebook on March 21, 2021.
You get what you deserve!
The 2021 Barkley Marathons: True, even from the beginning I knew that the 2021 Barkley Marathons would be a challenge. But to get there was even more! Here the tale……..
Like most of the races the 2020 Barkley Marathons edition was cancelled, so all the entrants were rolled over for the next year. At that time Laz Cantrell, the race director set the date, Thursday, March 18th at anytime between 12:00 am to 12:00 pm. The time and months passed by and I forgot that date, for some reason I didn’t check it again. What a huge mistake!
A month before the race I reserved the plane and rental car thinking that the event would be on the following Saturday, March 20th. Hey, most races start on that day and Barkley always started on Saturday too, so I did it that way! And what happened next changed everything, that become my pre-race nightmare!!
On Tuesday, March 16th, at 1 pm. Tano Isola, an excellent athlete from Argentina posted on the group: “Help to find public transportation or ride from the city to the park”. I replied him in private: – Hey Tano I could give you a ride, I’m arriving to town at noon on Thursday. Immediately he responded: – No way, the race start on Thursday. You are wrong!!!
For a moment I was paralyzed. I felt that my heart was coming out from my throat and just said loudly, NOOOOOO!!!!! At that time I was at work and was supposedly leave on Wednesday night. I needed to act quickly. I need to go now!!!
Fortunately I had the luggage ready from Sunday but had to see if I could reschedule flight and rental car. Ugh, this weekend is the spring break, hopefully I can…….
After some hours on the phone the plane and rental car was ready, but this would be taking me like 22 hours to be from San Francisco, CA. to Knoxville, TN. I had to do some cities stops. I went to Miami, Chicago, Charlotte and finally Knoxville. That was not easy!!!
On days before I was checking the weather of the area. Well, it seems like sunny days on the weekend, just a terrible storm on Wednesday and Thursday. Ha, ha, who cares Saturday is what it matter. Poor bastard, I didn’t know my fate!
Ok, go back to business. Finally, I arrived to Knoxville on Wednesday about 6pm. Since it was the Spring Break there was no cars available at the airport. I had to reserve one from those places that you don’t know if they fix cars, or sell pizzas or what. It was already raining and Uber took me there. What was my surprise to find out that they didn’t have a car for me!
– Sorry, we don’t have cars available. If the customer is not here exactly at the time they say we rent it to the first person who arrives, and pay more….
– Whatttt, you can’t do that. I had my reservation. I said!
– Yes we can, do you see those small letters on your contract? So we don’t have a car for you, bye!!!
What the hell!!! Now what I’m going to do?? The rain was not getting any better and I was getting wet outside trying to see if Uber or Lyft would take me there. Nope, they won’t! So I started looking if taxi companies would do that. That took me like two hours. You know…. “please press one!” No one were accepting to take me to the Frozen Head State Park, where the Barkley would be starting. This is like 40 miles away in the middle of the forest!
The clock was ticking and I was not finding anyone to take me there. I was starting to realize that I wouldn’t make it and better look for a hotel to rest. I was soaked wet, hungry, sleepy and tired from the trip!
Finally after trying and trying, at about 8:30pm one driver accepted to take me out there. I know it was not cheap, but that was my last chance, so I agreed. Like an hour later we were in front of the park to find out that the park gate was closed and locked. Oh Lord!!
– Ok my friend I did my part, get out of my car.
– Dang, on this storm??? Is raining cats and dogs and the campground is like a mile away. This cannot be happening to me!!
– Sorry, he said. Bye!
He left me out there and I had to walk to the campground all wet on the middle of the rain. You friends should see me like stupid walking a heavy luggage and two back packs on that storm. What a misery!
I was close to the place when a ranger was driving a truck on my way and asked me:
– Hey, what are you doing here this late. Are you a runner?
– Yes, the gate was closed so I had to walk.
– Do you need a ride?
– If you don’t mind, I answered.
– Well, I can take you but you have to be on the back. I can’t take you inside the vehicle.
– Whatever, I’m already wet!
Minutes later I was in front of of Laz and the staff. They cheered me on and Laz said:
– Noe, you made it to the Barkley!
– Sorry Laz, I’ve been having a rough day. I apologize for being this late.
– No worries, you’re here.
I immediately got my number and draw the route on the map. That was past 10pm, I guess. Later they asked me where I would be sleeping. – I can sleep at any spot. If anyone let me share some corner I would really appreciate it. One gentleman, from the staff let me stay in his canopy. The rain and wind was merciless but I thought I would be ok, so I accept it.
It was like 11 pm, and I put everything to try to rest. Minutes later I found that the rain made a small creek that was passing by near me. Then another, and another. The rain and wind was so intense making the moment hard to rest.
Like about 1am a leak in the roof started. I turned the light on to see what was happening. Oh, no the roof is bound to collapse. There was a big puddle on it and the weight will make the structure to fall. I checked my stuff. All soaked wet. And I just said:
Jesus Christ, this cannot be happening to me now!!
Immediately I went to the area where the staff and Laz were and told them the situation: – I need help to take that water out from the roof!! Quickly some of them helped me to do that, landing most of water on my stuff and back packs. I said “thank you!!” That was past 1am.
One Samaritan was witnessing my situation, had mercy of me and said: – I offer you my tent. You can rest some by the time the conch is sound. – please, I answered. I need to rest a bit! I went to that tent to catch some zzzz and rest as well. Well, but not for too long. The conch was sounded at 2:05 am. The race is bound to start an hour later.
Madre mía, no please, nooo!!!!
I have to mention that I never had chance to buy any groceries, food or something to take it with me, so I started to beg to everyone for snacks or food to share to take them with me during the race. What a life!!!!
At that moment Laz noticed my misery and said:
– Noe, it seems like the Barkley started for you before anyone. And what most admire of you is your sense of how to manage the situation, calmly.
I replied to him:
– Thanks Laz, but it could be worst.
– Is going to be worst! He said, and we both laughed. I was so nervous!
The race started promptly at 3:05am. And the rest is history. The rain, cold, fog and terrain made our lives miserable. We were hammered, humiliated, crushed, shattered, trumped, slaughtered and finally dumped! The Barkley have no mercy of anyone and this edition was not the exception. I got to the campground late. My race was over….
This was my experience on the 2021 Barkley marathons and I feel very grateful for the opportunity to be at Frozen Head. Although my race was hard as expected I improved greatly from my last participation, and what I feel most proud of myself is the fact that I found the books by myself. When many athletes are in groups and helping each other, I had to do everything alone. Yes, I’m a failure athlete for not completing the route on the regular time, nor an elite or fast, but I tried, and I tried with my hearth. Now, I cannot feel anything but gratitude for every moment that I had and I’m having, on this life!
Failure is not the end of the journey,
it is a step on the road to success – Laz
Gracias for reading it!!
The following was added on Facebook on March 24th:
2021 Barkley Marathons
This past Thursday one of the most difficult and iconic races in the world of Ultramarathones, the Barkley Marathons. In this edition we had the opportunity to participate as a runner of Mexico. Perhaps some of those reading this comment already know what this event is for those who don’t, this is Barkley.
- Tour a 32 kms circuit 5 times, totaling 160 kms. And a positive elevation that passes 20,000 mts!!
- The tour is a naughty countryside, that is not in roadways or roads, and each year the route is different, this is so that no one can memorize the area and only do it on repeat.
- The race has a cost of $ 1.60. The athlete who attends for the first time has to carry the original state or country automotive plate. If you already had attendance then a t-shirt with a barkley logo or socks.
- No fixed start time, could start from 12 pm midnight to 12 pm on the selected day. In this case it was at 3:05 am on Thursday, March 18th. Had to be prepared at any time. Laz, the director decides what time it starts, and when a sea shell sounds you have 60 minutes to be ready!
- It’s self-sufficient. You have to carry with you all the equipment you need during the laps, without external assistance. No GPS or any type of technology allowed, everything has to be manual, only one analog clock was allowed to know the time, otherwise it is disqualified who wears any unarmed accessories.
- Since it’s not marked, then it’s not on the road. Follow the journey by reaching certain checkpoints where a book is located (out of 13! ) As proof that you arrived at that place you have to release a sheet with the number that the runner touched, and from there to follow toward the other book using just a compass, a map and instructions. If at a time the runner is lost most likely the competition for him / her is over. It is the obligation of the participant to return to camp alone because no one will go behind one where it is, the forest is thick and giant, the rules are.
- The route instructions are delivered a few hours before it begins, and every year the route varies, this is so that it will always be a challenge, if not only they would do it as repetitions, and if there is a finalist then the following year would be more difficult.
- It’s extreme competition, tests the physical and mental ability of the competitor. If for a moment the participant doubts or thinks it needs to stop, he will do it, because finding books in the middle of the forest, without marking is almost impossible.
- The tour goes through a scary forest, full of thorns and scrubs, trees without leaves and dangerous cannons.. Crossing swamps and pronounced up and down. The atmosphere is spooky, i.e. nothing nice, hostile and on this occasion there was heavy rain, fog, wind and low temperatures.
- In the 35-year history of this event, only 15 athletes have finished in a 60-hour deadline. The competitor has 36 hours to travel 3 laps, or 96 kms if he wants to continue, otherwise he has 40 hours and will be considered to have done a ′′ Fun Run “. Finish a lap it’s an incredible feat, 5 is almost impossible.
- The final prize for the one who finishes, is that Laz, the director of the race gives him a chair to sit down, that is an honor that is absolutely priceless and not to return for another spin!
Participating athletes must have excellent guidance knowledge, have a career resume, or impressive achievements. If the aspirant who wants to be selected has marathons or 50 K, or Spartan roots, the most sure is that it will not be accepted, 100 M would be the minimum, you have to have strong credentials. The Barkley Marathons won’t be the first ultra, nor the first 100 M of the aspirant. The desire to enter is not enough, because there are extraordinary athletes who still have excellent physical condition fail to finish a single lap. Many lose or fail to find a single book. The despair is enormous.
Hundreds of qualified aspirants, athletes from multiple countries who want to have the chance and only 35 were chosen in the 2021. Athletes with incredible records and times, or mentally strong tough runners, as well as some generals to not pretend to be totally selective , but with a good resume, i.e. not being so elitist.
The selection process is very special, because it can be very dangerous, Laz has to be sure that the selected has common sense, both guidance and survival if it could not have fatal consequence and that is not the end.
Barkley is much talked about, and everything left in Spanish is because of the translation that is made of the English language, either by participants or reporters, but it was not made in Spanish by someone who would have already been there.
Only 5 Spanish-speaking runners have participated in Barkley’s history, on this occasion there were two representatives, Tano Isola of Argentina and Noé Castañón of Mexico. They were in the past:
- Iso Yucra, from Bolivia
- Noah Castañón from Mexico.
- Joseph Barberillo, from Spain
- Santiago Pinto, Colombia
- Tano Isola from Argentina.
This year there were an impressive amount of high-level athletes, including elite women. Unfortunately the international camp was affected by COVID 19, assisting only two countries out of a total of 20 athletes. Hopefully next year they will return.
This edition came out without having a finalist, the terrible rain left the ground much harder to access, very slippery to both ascend, and descend. As well as the route was added more positive elevation compared to previous years, causing the first athlete to complete the first 32 kms in 10:30. That’s right, ten hours 30 minutes in just 32 kms. Not to believe it, this is how brutal and dangerous the circuit was!
The event was streamed on Twitter.
The 2021 Barkley Marathons has ended, and again won Laz, the director. No finalist. No one finished! Only Jared Campbell and Luke Nelson managed to complete the FUN RUN, that is three laps (96 kms) in 39 hours!!!
In a few days we will be presenting a video in Spanish about my participation in the event. Hope you like it!
Thank you so much for reading!
Noah Castañon Mendez
Pamakids, DSE & LMJS runner
More Barkley Stuff
If you see any other race reports buy runners or crew, or particularly good recaps, let me know. And as always, if you want to learn more about the Barkley, check out the following:
- 2021 Runners & Results
- Barkley Finish Stats
- People of the Barkley (Barkers)
- Terms & Quick Reference
- Top 10 Barkley Documentaries
Peace, and good luck Out There.