“we never achieve great things by setting small goals.

and success is never guaranteed;

it must be earned.”

–Gary Cantrell (aka laz)


To provide just a small sense of what, exactly, I have gotten myself into by accepting the invitation to run the Barkley Fall Classic, I include here a few descriptions from the race directors Steve Durbin and Gary Cantrell (laz). If you haven’t already viewed the documentary film, The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young, I highly recommend it. The BFC is a shorter version of “The Big Boy,” but covers the same course and includes similar psychological torture. 

I begin with Laz’s introduction to the BFC, his characteristic charm shining through:

“every race begins with a vision.

as a race director, we do not have the idea of simply measuring out some distance and having runners come and cover it on foot.

we have a picture on our mind of the experience the runners will have.

and there are often other, subsidiary goals we hope to achieve.

i felt like this year we came very close to getting it just right.

we wanted people to get a taste of the barkley…

a step outside the comfort zone,

and some moments of doubt.

we wanted a finish that was attainable for anyone,

but easy for no one.

looking into the faces at the 22 mile cutoff,

it felt like we had achieved that.

i admire the heart everyone who made it to that decision point,

and chose to go on.

collecting a barkley marathon is no mean achievement.

but, willingly going on to chimney top to chase the croix de barque

when you could opt to end the suffering and still get a finish

is something special.

about 1/3 of the people who had the guts to toe the line

collected the big prize.

those who came up short….

well, now you know what you have to do.

we also succeeded in raising significant funds for wartburg’s young athletes.

and, i like to think that the athletes who worked the aid stations

found something inspiring in the “old people”

who faced hard challenges

and hard choices…

and made the choice to endure whatever it took to achieve their goal.

because that is what sports, and life, is all about.

we never achieve great things by setting small goals.

and success is never guaranteed;

it must be earned.

congratulations to everyone who had the courage to answer the starting cigarette.

respect to anyone who faced down the big rat, and got a finish….

and my hat is off to the special few who *EARNED* the cross.

to those who failed (even the ones who lost their nerve on the way to the starting line)…

the only thing more impressive than finishing a race like BFC

is returning from failure,

and doing what it takes to achieve success.

if it was easy, what would be the point?

thank you for sharing your great adventure with me.

the mixture of joy and pain in your faces,
as you flew past me on the homestretch
will inspire me forever.


Here’s a general “About the Barkley Fall Classic” statement from the Ultra Sign-Up website:

“The Barkley Fall Classic is designed to give the runner a taste of what the Barkley Marathons is all about.

It contains all the elements; beautiful trails thru the rugged Brushy Mountains, surprising new elements to the course every year, with the course map not revealed until the night before the race, numerous hard climbs and descents (including some of the signature hills that have made the Barkley a thing of legend), and a very personal challenge to face down the demons that wait for us at our very limits of endurance.

The BFC is a 50 kilometer race, with a ridiculous amount of climb and descent (with the attendant reward of numerous scenic vistas.) The course is designed to challenge the runner mentally, as well as physically. Course markings only exist at major turns, leaving the runner to rely on their confidence that they have not made a wrong turn, or missed a right one. Long sections of very runnable trail follow on the heels of strength-sapping sections of hills… requiring the successful BFC runner to run, when every fiber of their being cries out for taking things slow to recover. The most devastating climbs hit at the runner’s weakest moments. Everything is arranged to play on the doubts and weaknesses that exist in all of us. The BFC’er must not only beat the course to finish, but they must conquer their own darkest fears….

As a final challenge, there is a 22.1 mile cutoff of nine and a half hours. Those who reach that point within the time limit are presented with a terrible choice. They can, with a word, choose to end the suffering and run an easy downhill grade for another 7 tenths of a mile, to record a marathon finish…. or, they can strike out into another 9 miles of brutal climbs and descents in an attempt to complete the 50k. Unlike other races with “drop-down” choices, those who choose to continue can no longer log a marathon. At the BFC it is all or nothing.

At the BFC, success is not guaranteed. It might even be considered unlikely. Fully a third of the aspiring entrants will come up with some reason to not be at the line when the starting cigarette is lit. (and who can blame them? at the BFC your very best is not good enough. It takes something a little more than that). More than half of those who have the guts to toe the line will not finish the 50k. The Barkley Fall Classic is not for everyone. If you are only looking to impress your friends, there are a lot of better 50k’s to choose from. You should pick one where you are sure to finish, if you don’t screw up. If you are looking for a chance to find that something extra inside yourself… that something that you do not know for certain is there… the BFC is for you.”

And here’s Steve Durbin’s description. In comparing his description with Laz’s, and in considering their email and facebook correspondence and statements, I have come to the conclusion that Steve is the Good Cop to Laz’s Bad (but lovable) Cop.

“Once again, it seems a lot of people got nervous and dropped out for no good reason this year…

Out of 308 total registrants, only 214 toed the line, and about half of those finished the 50km and secured the Croix de Barque… arguably the most coveted award in all of sports.

The 2015 edition of BFC added Gunny Sack hill, Deja Vu hill, a trip down and back up the Testicle Spectacle, down Meth Lab Hill, inside the gates of the old prison for a quick run through Brushy Mountain Prison, including a look inside the prison cell of the infamous James Earl Ray. Runners then exited the cell blocks into the prison courtyard and down to the building housing THE HOLE… where they put the baddest of the bad when they acted out.  Can you say ‘total darkness’? From there the course rose 2000′ in about a mile, up the Big Rat, a horrendously foul ascent laden with saw briers up to 10′ tall.

So, go ahead and click on the Registration link above and get yourself in the best shape of your life.  13000’+ of climb… thrills… chills… and spills.  As they say… bring your big girl panties.


2015 RECAP

Too easy… 2014 was the first running of BFC, and it was a big struggle to be able to host this event. It looked as though it may not happen, or that our signature hill… Rat Jaw would be eliminated.

The folks of Morgan County helped us and we held BFCI. 164 finishers out of around 230 or so.

Promises of a tougher, cooler course ensued…

BFCII looked awesome on paper, but perhaps a little too tough, so laz and me decided to allow for a marathon option for those who did not reach the 22 mile aid station in 9 1/2 hours, OR those who reached it, but chose to head on in and forego the final 9 miles, which includes the wicked ascent up Chimney Top. After all, we can easily design a course that can’t be finished… but we want one that anyone is capable of finishing, but you’re going to have to train, and then work for it.

Judging from the comments, and the way Facebook lit up, I’d guess we got this year’s course right.

Of course we aren’t going to rest on our laurels… BFCIII will be the coolest yet.

Don’t miss the return engagement, coming September 17 to a Frozen Head State Park near you.

Something good out of something “bad”?

BFC has now donated $17, 700 to Wartburg High School Athletics, and $6,080 to Frozen Head State Park.

Plus together we raised money for the American Legion of Morgan County, and the Cattlemen’s Association in their fundraiser for Agriculture Scholarships.

WBIR TV – Knoxville did a pretty slick feature on BFC before the 2014 event.”

Apparently, stating that “BFCIII will be the coolest yet” translates to “toughest yet.” Laz has been taunting us recently with his course additions (apparently the course is still somehow exactly 50k; past runners will tell you it’s much longer, one suggesting that one BFC mile = 1.5 real-world miles.) If I understand Laz’s cryptic messages correctly, then we can look forward to a river crossing as part of the new course. We won’t know for sure until the night before the race, when he gives us the course map. It’s tough to know who to trust. Durb tells me that, as long as I train hard, I will be fine and absolutely love the course. Laz tells me I’m going to find god and salvation on the other side. Past runners’ race reports suggest I’m going to be in hell. My guess is the truth is somewhere in between.


Frozen Head State Park, home of The Barkley Marathons and the Barkley Fall Classic. Photo credit Tennessee State Parks website.