By Maggie Guterl
If you are reading this, it is likely not the first time you have heard of the Barkley Marathons. You may have even followed along a couple of weeks ago and saw how it all played out. Spoiler: The Barkley won again! You may have even asked yourself, “Why do these people keep trying?” No one has finished this race since 2017 and since its inception in 1986, only 15 people have ever finished! And for that matter, no woman has ever finished! Is this race just impossible at this point?
I am here to tell you that personally, I think IT IS POSSIBLE. It’s possible for me and any one of the ladies I was with on those two loops and many that weren’t out there this year. At the Barkley, there are things you can control and things you cannot. I always try to focus on the things you can control because doing anything else creates way too much anxiety.
Things you can’t control:
- When the Barkley will start
- What kind of weather will we have
- What the course will be
How to deal with the things you can't control:
- Be ready for a night or day start (You will have less than an hour to choose your gear)
- Be ready for all the seasons and all the weather, always!
- Study what you can and learn navigation
Things you can control:
- Your training
- Your nutrition
- Your mindset
Training for Barkley
In December, I got serious. I hit up my long-time coach, Michele Yates of Rugged Running, and told her my goal. The same goal we aimed for in 2018, 2019, and 2020: The Barkley Marathons. We mapped out a balanced plan of strength work, speed work, and hill work. I followed it religiously. I put in the work.
Nutrition for Barkley
I am lucky enough to have this figured out by now. Since I rely on Endurance Fuel during training for pretty much all my calories, I didn’t want to compromise on that during the Barkley. My solution was to make sure I brought 1400-1800 calories worth of Endurance Fuel per lap. Total calorie aim was 2800-3400 (in hindsight probably would have needed to up that for beyond 3 or more laps). In my pack, I had three 500ml flasks filled with Endurance Fuel. In the back storage pocket, I had an additional two flasks with just the powder ready to go and then two extra sticks of Endurance Fuel should the opportunity arise to fill more empty flasks.
During the first lap, I did in fact consume all that Endurance Fuel (and all the additional calories I brought for that matter). So the second lap, I grabbed an additional two sticks of Endurance Fuel. Chugged a bottle of Vanilla Rebuild Recovery. Shoveled in 3 spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and was on my way.
During the Barkley, time flies and it is easy to forget to eat or drink. I found that having liquid calories allowed me to catch up faster if I forgot to eat and drink. And on that second night in the cold, rain, and wind when our hands stop working, I was grateful to just have to sip my calories and not have to try and tear open packets of food.
So for me, Endurance Fuel proved to be the ideal fuel for this type of venture! I wouldn’t change a thing with my nutrition for next year and I am happy with how the method of carrying extra worked out.
Mindset for Barkley
This isn’t learned in a day but rather sets in over time as the training wears on. For me, it has been settling in since I started this whole journey in November of 2017 when I began training for my first Barkley. I did let the anxiety of the unknown get to me this first year. So many unknowns. Each year though, I learned to embrace the excitement of not knowing what time of day it will start and what sort of weather we will have. I realized that is what makes the Barkley so unique and it is part of the challenge.
Although I have yet to finish, the ultimate reward you could say, I have learned a ton, been pushed outside my comfort zone, and got to share the course with some amazing athletes over the years. This year was no different and I shared the course with some badass ladies. Courtney Dauwalter (1st timer or virgin as they are called), Liz Canty (2nd time, first was 2018), and not lady, Jamil Coury (over 16 cumulative Barkley laps to his name!)
What Actually Happened Out There?
We can make a lot of excuses for the weather which for sure had a lot to do with the slower times, maybe even being issued a metal pocket watch as the only option to tell time with also contributed in some small way, but the reality is there is always something. We were just cruising and not making too many big mistakes. Eventually, on the second night on the second loop with only one more major climb to go, we made some huge navigational mistakes in the fog and got off course which cost us enough time to put us over the cutoff of 26:40. We rolled into camp and tagged the yellow gate 12 minutes over time. That ended our Barkley journey as we were not able to continue on to loop 3.
Q&A With Liz, Courtney, and Maggie
Tailwind: What were you most nervous about going into Barkley?
Liz: Navigation - More confident than 2018, but being away from the course for 3 years is stressful. Luckily, I live only a few hours away so getting familiar with on trail landmarks and general features of Frozen Head was easy, but I barely remembered book locations from my first time. Looking forward to 2022 and all the extra notes I have written.
Courtney: Copying the map and doing the pre-race bearings. I didn’t know what this process would look like and pictured a high-stress environment of people scrambling to get their maps prepared before the race started. It turned out to not be so intense and I was lucky to have Maggie there to help with the process.
Maggie: A lot less than in previous years but I would say it is always the navigation. Would I remember things from previous years? Would things look familiar? Do I know enough? The answer to that is no. Navigation will be something I am going to focus on this year.
Tailwind: Was everything what you expected or were there any surprises? Was anything harder or easier to manage than you thought it would be?
Liz: I knew the weather was coming and I knew some of the newer course hills were going to be killer. I can honestly say I wasn’t surprised by how tough the loops were, though they were even tougher when you left Laz’s expected directions to wander about...
Courtney: I think I was surprised by how much fun I had out on the course. I knew it was going to be hard and that adding navigation to the mix makes for more mental strain than normal, so I think I expected to just be suffering the whole time. Instead, we were laughing a lot as we slid around in the mud and found books under random rocks.
Maggie: The hills felt more manageable than in past years which just proves that my training was on point. I had way more in the tank when we were done. I have been in the fog before during Barkley. I underestimated how hard it is to follow a simple ridge when the visibility is 10 feet. I was not prepared to know what to do in a situation where we got off course. Cold and probably lack of sleep played into the bad decisions which just reinforces that you have to know ahead of time what to do. They say the fog is your biggest enemy at Barkley and I underestimated it.
Tailwind: What would you do differently next time?
Liz: Have some extra Tailwind on me! Real talk, Maggie saved me from a quad cramp atop Rat Jaw when I had no salt tabs/extra Tailwind and a Lemon Endurance Fuel fixed me right up. I was confident in my training, but I wish I had more of my compass bearings accessible (I had them on a page in my waist belt, not on my map) and a better compass set-up (I kept getting frustrated with it around my neck).
Courtney: Choosing one thing is hard! A different pair of gloves and one more layer would have been great. I also learned a lot about the type of navigation required for this challenge and could prepare more specifically for that.
Maggie: I will never be that person that goes out there without the right gear again. A few times during the second night, I got really worried that hypothermia would do me and everyone else in and that we would have to actually take quitters road back to camp (except for maybe Liz who wore a Merino wool shirt. Good job, Alabama!). Also more navigation practice!
Tailwind: How did you carry your Endurance Fuel and how much did you bring with you each lap?
Liz: I had three full flasks of Endurance Fuel (1500 mL) on me for the start of each loop, and about 600 more calories in a baggie in my pack. Meant to meter that out better, but ended up dumping it all in one flask for a super strong kick….
Courtney: Three full flasks of Endurance Fuel (Lemon or Naked) at the start of each loop, and four stick packs to refill bottles at the two water drops out on course. Between Loops 1 and 2, I drank a Vanilla Rebuild Recovery that was delicious!
Maggie: Seven to nine stick packs worth in either prefilled flasks or as extra sticks. That equates to 1400-1800 calories of Endurance Fuel plus a bottle of Rebuild Recovery consumed during the Loop 1 transition.
What was your most memorable moment Out There?
Liz: As much as I want to say it was me falling off the cliff, I was incredibly proud that we all made the choice together to finish off our loop even knowing we would *most* likely be out of time. There is an easier on trail route we could have made back to camp, but we pushed onward to the last book and finished as an (almost) complete team, sharing headlamp light.
Courtney: Spending 27 hours with a small group of fantastic people in less-than-ideal conditions was really cool. I’ll remember how positive our group stayed and how well we meshed. And I’ll definitely remember how funny it was watching us fall a million times as we went down muddy hills and claw our way up steep pitches.
Maggie: 100% sharing times with friends and witnessing all the ridiculous ways we fell down in the mud, off cliffs (yes, Liz), and got tangled up in trees. I mean this race is absurd so you really just have to laugh sometimes. I also loved getting to be there for my friend Courtney’s first Barkley attempt and watching her just crush those hills. Excited for all three of us to make another go someday again.