My body apparently dropped a note in the old Life Suggestion Box requesting that I explore alternative activities to running. The suggestion is under consideration given recurring and depressing minor injuries, but I haven’t thrown in the proverbial towel just yet. Distance runners are notoriously bad at giving something up. And I like to run.
I am still allowed to say that I am a runner. Four half-marathons in the past several years with a PR of 1:37 plus a 10k in just over forty-two minutes and a 5k under twenty is competitive for someone my age. But running is a humbling sport, and I am constantly in awe of the truly crazy runners whose performances defy imagination. Like Kilian Jornet who once ran the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run with 33,000 feet of climb in under twenty-four hours. Or Yiannis Kouros who once ran a thousand miles in just over ten days. Pure craziness.
But of all the daunting races on the planet, the Barkley Marathons is probably the toughest of them all. I first watched the wildly entertaining documentary about the Barkley several years ago, and if you have Netflix and ninety minutes, you might enjoy watching the insanity, too. Five consecutive marathons with over 50,000 feet of total climb and descent in a sixty-hour time limit in the unforgiving terrain of the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee with less-than-ideal weather conditions under the oversight of a sadistic and taunting race director: That’s the basics of the Barkley. The race that eats its young.
It was once believed that nobody could complete the five loops of the Barkley, but fifteen human beings have now proven it is possible in the thirty-plus years of the race. But just fifteen. The race proudly stands at the limits of human endurance.
At Christmas, my wife gave me a book about the Barkley written by Frozen Ed Furtaw, one of its long-time competitors. Frozen Ed titled it, “Tales from Out There,” with “out there” serving as a consistent phrase to describe the nature of the race. The Barkley is “out there” as a race for sure, but more significantly the firsthand accounts claim that the real challenge of the Barkley is the actual experience of being “out there” all alone in a battle with your body, mind, soul, and spirit.
Sometimes in life being “out there” in the wild is forced upon us but more often than not we have ways to avoid such challenges. You won’t see me entering the Barkley, but I do hope you find me with the courage to sign up to go “out there” in other ways in this old life. You never know what will happen out there. But there is really only one way to find out.