Thoughts on The Barkley Marathon

The Barkley Marathon is this weekend. I have several friends entered and will be rooting for them to go…some of the distance.
The Barkley is not as secret as it once was. Upon becoming an ultra runner, one quickly learns of “The Barkley”.
He’s been at the Barkley, completed two laps..he’s a Barkley runner some murmured trail talk, looking at the unassuming skinny runner ahead. Newby ultra runners are in awe. Then someone asks the question, “what is the Barkley?”
The Barkley is one of the toughest running races in the world. Some may argue and say it’s not really a run. It’s definitely a race, with 60 hours to complete the 100(ish) mile distance.
Pretty generous time allowance, right? Only nine runners have completed the distance in race history.
The Barkley consists of 5 20-mile loops with no aid except for water at two points. The cutoffs for the 100 mile race are 12 hours per loop. The 60 mile “fun run” has a cutoff of 40 hours, or 13:20 per loop. To prove you completed each loop, you must find 9 to 11 books (varies) at various points along the course and return a page from each book.
It has 59,100 feet of climb (and 59,100 feet of descent), more than any other 100 mile race, more than the 33,000 ft. of climb at Hardrock and more than the 45,000 ft. at Nolan’s 14.
Gary Cantrell is the Race Director. The idea for the race germinated after James Earl Ray escaped from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in the late 1970’s and only got 8 miles in 55 hours. Cantrell couldn’t understand how someone could only get 8 miles in 55 the idea of the Barkley was born.
It’s interesting to note, as I read Frozen Ed Furtaw’s book about the Barkley, Tales From Out There, that the Barkley was a shorter distance in the early years, and there were many finishers. However, it has now eveloved into the 20 mile loops, with the distance set at 100 miles. And just nine finishers.
And all male.
I guess I am a feminist, if you would want to stick a label on me. I believe women can do pretty much what men can do. Sure, men might be stronger/faster/etc, but Diana Finkel almost won The Hardrock 100 outright last year. We have the same cut off times as the men do. I have more cajones than some men I know.
There have been four women who have finished the Fun Run (3 Loops), but none since 2001.
I’ve been a bit aggravated by some comments about the Barkley and women in this past week. One comment, via email, was:
“A lot of things have to go right for a person to finish the 100.
No woman has ever come close to finishing, will this year be different, I doubt it.”
Well, fair enough. I don’t know who is on the entrant list for the Barkley, but the odds of someone finishing-male or female-is pretty slim.
Then I was listening to a podcast, to a man who is running the Barkley this weekend. He was discussing this  same email, and he then made a statement that he didn’t feel it was sexist. In fact, here is his statement, transcribed: “I think it is a statement that the Barkley is on the very ragged edge on what the most capable male athlete can accomplish. And given the physical differences between male and female, it’s shy of the boundary of what the most capable female can accomplish.”  Now he does go on to say, that he is sure there is very likely is a female somewhere in the world who is capable of accomplishing the Barkley.
Arrgh. I don’t know why gender has to be brought into these types of debates. It’s a very tough race. More people have summited Mt Everest than has finished the Barkley. Maybe there’s been no females that have been that interested in finishing the race!
Maybe it’s time for the females to come out of the woodwork.  Start to work on those odds. Start with one loop and work up to a Fun Run. Invade that little testosterone-ridden camp.Wear pink.
Who wants to start training with me?

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