Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Would You Run a Race You Most Likely Wouldn't Finish?

This year's Barkley Marathons have ended with no finishers. Since the inception of the 33 year old infamous race, there have been only 15 finishers.

Knowing that there's a pretty good chance you won't be crossing the finish line. It's got to be an ultra thing. Because we road runners can't even fathom signing up for a race that we most likely wouldn't finish.

Could you? Would you?



Do you know much about the Barkley Marathons? Taking place in Tennesee, the race consists of 5 loops of 20-ish miles. There is an estimated 67,000 feet of climb and descent. Completion of the race must be done in under 60 hours. The race director sets up the course in the Frozen Head State Park and no one knows the course in advance. In fact, no one knows the actual start time of the race. The runners just hang out until the race director blows his conch shell, signaling the race will start in one hour. When he lights his cigarette, it's go time.

Besides running, the runners must find 9 or so books along the course and tear out the page the corresponds with their bib number. No book page means you didn't complete the loop and a DQ. When a runner drops out of the race, a bugler plays Taps.

This is not a race for the faint-hearted, and the participants this year were well qualified for the challenge, including one record holder for the fastest time on the Appalachian Trail and one runner who has finished the Barkley Marathons 3 times in the past. To apply for the race, runners must submit an essay, that is if you know how to apply for the race. Everything about the race is a secret!

Sounds tough? There's a 60 mile "fun run" if you'd rather.


Ok, so most of us mere mortals wouldn't even give a thought to running the Barkley Marathons or the so-called fun run. But what I want to know is: knowing the unlikelihood of finishing this race (or any tough race), what makes runners want to sign up for them? And how do you mentally prepare yourself, not to mention physically prepare yourself for the challenge of running an incredibly difficult race? Would you do a race, knowing that there's a likelihood you wouldn't finish?

I have never signed up for a race that I ever had any thought that I might not finish. I've only DNF'd one race and it was a 10k because I was stupid and went out too fast. The forecast is 100% that I wouldn't finish the Barkley Marathons. So I wouldn't sign up. The goal for me is always to finish a race, even if it means crawling across the finish line.

I'd love to know what goes through these runners' heads. How do you sign up for a race, knowing that almost no one finishes? I get the whole challenge thing but come on, man! So I decided to think about what I would tell myself before I lined up for a really tough race.

Train like you've never trained before. How do you train for a ridiculous race? You read race reports. You read training reports. You read blogs. You network with other runners who've run the race or who've finished the race. It becomes a job for you.

Throw away your expectation of a PR. This is called beat the clock. This is an extreme scavenger hunt. It's every runner for themselves.

Own it. If you're running a tough race, you better have some experience. I ran Big Sur but it wasn't my first marathon. Everyone has to start somewhere, but I don't recommend picking a tough course for your first. When you line up at your tough race, having some experience under your belt goes a long way to getting across the finish line!

Finishing is winning: yes, you have a cut off time to beat. But the ultimate goal? Crossing the finish line.

Be mentally prepared that you may have to drop out. Self-defeating? You bet. You've picked the ultimate challenge because there your goal is to finish and beat the course. Yet you know there's a chance you won't. It's a fine balance between the two.


Would you run a race you most likely wouldn't finish? /via @oldrunningmom #BarkleyMarathons #runchat 

Could you sign up to a race that you know you might not finish? Have you run a tough race, knowing you might not finish?

If you want to learn more about The Barkley Marathons, there are 2 really good documentaries on The Barkley Marathons: The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young (available on Amazon Primeand Where Dreams Go To Die: Gary Robbins and The Barkley Marathons (available on YouTube). Even if you have no desire to run The Barkley Marathons (and trust me, I don't), both of these documentaries are excellent, entertaining, and inspiring.

I'm linking up with Kim and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics and with Debbie and Marc for Coaches' Corner.



51 comments :

  1. I always put a lot of consideration into the races I run. I have run many tough (to me, no Pikes Peak for example) races, but time limits are something I always look at — for instance, running 18 miles last year was daunting to me. Could I do it? Could I do it within the time limit? I thought I could but I wasn’t sure, but I was up for pushing outside my comfort zone — maybe that’s what it’s about for some of these runners?

    But if I was pretty sure I wouldn’t finish? Hell no! Interesting topic, Wendy.

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    1. This really got me thinking about the difference between road runners and ultra marathoners. How does one get there head around running a race that barely anyone has finished?

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  2. Have you seen the Barkleys documentary? It is fabulous. That kind of race is a whole different animal than the races we do and the runners are completely different as well. I think they just wanna take a crack at it.

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    1. Oh yes-- I listed both of the documentaries at the bottom of the post. I'm just fascinated by the whole thing!

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  3. I assume there's a secret society of entrants -- that's what I'd need to get my head in the game and figure how to prepare mentally and physically. Thanks for listing the documentaries - sounds like good viewing.

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    1. No one tells how to get an entry. It really is a secret society!

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  4. While I would never enter a race I didn't think I could finish, I have a lot of respect for every single runner that started the Barkleys race. Maybe for them it's setting a goal to get at least halfway through the race? or 75% of the race? Either one would be an accomplishment!

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    1. I can't even imagine attempting it, so yes, total respect!

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  5. I sometimes wish I had the ultra-marathon mindset! I think it would help me in road running. But with that said, I don’t think I would ever sign up for a race I would not finish. I washed the Barkleys documentary last week! It was fascinating!!!

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  6. I think it depends on the race/type of race. Like you, I would never sign up for the types of races we do without the intent to finish. However, knowing there is absolutely no way I would finish (or last very long), I would do Barkley just to experience at least part of it.

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    1. I hate to admit this, but it just doesn't appeal to me at all!

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  7. Barkley would definitely not be for me! I like attainable goals and am not much for "surprises!"

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  8. I loved the documentary on the Barkleys race and find it fascinating that so many runners want that kind of challenge, but no way is that for me - I have enough trouble with my mental state in finishing a normal road race.

    I wonder what the entrance fee clothing item was this year - have you heard? I love that it's whatever item of clothing Laz needs to replenish, LOL.

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    1. I haven't heard what the clothing was this year. Waiting for a recap to appear...

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  9. I didn't know much about Barkley. Can't believe all the weird secretive things that go on. I guess that is all part of the draw in getting people to want to run it. I guess if I was that good of a runner it might intrigue me for the challenge.

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  10. I've got into an ultrarunner group on FB because of my VERY TAME ultra I am doing ONCE AND ONCE ONLY and there are some ... extreme types on there. And no, I wouldn't. I won't even do a testing race. I know I will finish my ultra because it has walkers and a limit of 12 hours, and a lovely lady I know is walking it so even if I walk it all I will be with someone. No risk there!

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  11. I focus on races I'm not sure I can finish. That's where the appeal lies for me. I think it's just a difference of mindset. Some want to test how fast they can go. And others want to explore how far they can go.

    That said, I have zero interest in Barkley, although I admire how the race organizers created something that genuinely skirts the edge of possibility for even the top ultrarunners in the sport today.

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    1. You think like I do. I have always been about the race and the finish line.

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  12. I've seen one of those documentaries a few years ago. I dont remember which one though. I have no desire at all to do anything like that!

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  13. 67,000 feet. WOW.
    I signed up for my first half not believing I would finish, but that's not quite in this category
    Trails/ultras don't really appeal to me for some reason, but I love reading about them

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    1. I watched quite a few documentaries over the winter while treadmilling. So inspiring and fascinating but I didn't finish with the desire to sign up!

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  14. I watched the documentary a few years back and that race looks incredibly insane! It's way out of my ability level. When I did my first triathlon I had no idea if I could actually really do it come race day. It is fun to read about the insane people who sign up though!

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  15. That's a good question, Wendy - one I actually have thought of before. short answer is no, I probably would not sign up for a race I couldn't finish. My friend asked me to sign up for Comrade's Marathon in S. Africa last year. I didn't think I could finish the 56 mile trek in under the time limit. I didn't want to travel to S. Africa only to DNF, but here is the thing...my friend registered for the race, missed one of the cutoffs and DNFd, but had a great trip and loved the 40-odd miles of the race she did complete. I admire her courage and pluck. She is going to try again next year. I still don't think I want to train for that distance!

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    1. If you go in with that mindset, that's it's all about the experience, I can see why people would do those kinds of races. I don't know if I could do that!

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  16. I've watched one documentary but I think it was on Netflix. I looked for it now and couldn't find it. Or maybe it was Amazon Prime? Anyway, I was fascinated by it but not enough to sign up. :-) I admire those that have completed it but I know I could never do it.

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    1. I wouldn't do it but it sure is fun to follow the people who do! They are a different breed.

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  17. What an interesting discussion topic! I can't think of a race that I would want to enter knowing I wouldn't finish. I do have one DNF from a half marathon where I overheated and got really confused super close to the end.

    The Barkley Marathons are very interesting to me and I enjoyed the documentaries from the comfort of my couch, but I know I do not have that level of fitness/commitment. I love the book pages aspect of the race, though. I wish there was an easier version of that. Lol. :)

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    1. I wouldn't be surprised if another trail race organizer adds the book pages or a similar kind of scavenger hunt to one of their races!

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  18. I love the idea of the Barkley. Would never consider doing it, I know my limits! I'd love to crew though. From what I recall from reading - many of the participants are really accomplished in work and sport. I think they do it precisely because the likelyhood of finishing is so low. A weird mind thing perhaps. They consistently excel and succeed. If they complete this race it elevates them to a different plane. But, if they don't, it is also ok because they at least got there - which is also a massive accomplishment. Or, maybe they're masochists and I'm over analyzing. Fun topic 😀

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    1. You seem so adventurous to me--I could totally see you signing up for this one. But your head would have to be in the right place to even attempt it!

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    2. Somethings are better experienced vicariously. This being one of them.

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  19. I remember reading about this race in RW last year. It is intriguing to attempt something that very few can finish....but this is more extreme than I think I'd venture to try.

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  20. Earlier this year, I won a free entry into a 50 mile race as a raffle prize (I'm a marathoner and ultra runner, but had never done a 50). I posted this exact question to my friends and in a few running communities I belong to: should I register knowing I'll DNF? Their universal response was: Why are you so sure you can't finish? Sure enough, I registered, trained and crossed the finish line last Saturday. I'd ask others the same question I was asked: Why are you so sure you can't do it?

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    1. I love your twist on my question! You really do have to own it, don't you?

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  21. I am in awe of the runners who register for this race! It would simply intimidate me too much to sign up for a race so challenging I would not be able to finish. I definitely have a road runner mentality where my concern isn't finishing, but my finish time. I have done a few hikes (that are nothing in comparison to this) where I wondered how I was going to finish, but not finishing wasn't an option!

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    1. I'm starting to figure out how to let go of that finish time thing--maybe then I can get my head around the ultra mindset!

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  22. The Barkley Marathon is a little too badass for me HAHA, even though I do love a challenge. I'd really love to do an ultramarathon one day but my goal would definitely be to FINISH! I think I need to check those documentaries, they have to be so motivating!

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    1. I watched them while on the treadmill over the winter. They gave me the push I needed!

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  23. I have absolutely no desire to run a race like Barkley, but for the type of runner who does, I get why they would, knowing they probably won’t finish. I assume it’s the challenge of it all.

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  24. We were looking at this race at work. It sounds nuts, but i feel like the ultra runners that take on a 100 mile race, and the mountain runners who take on elevation all the time would go try just for bragging rights lol I know there is no way that would be for me! MY squadrunner team has a few Aussie's that run crazy amounts of elevation all the time, it is hard for me to wrap my head around people who run 60 and 70 miles a week, but they often do it.

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