Like many people I’ve been enthralled by Eoin Keith’s Ultra running exploits since I first discovered this crazy sport. Whether it’s his Spine Race wins in crazy weather or his FKT from Mizen to Malin, he makes you want to push yourself and try things.
My wife and I are doing the Liverpool to Manchester 50 Mile Ultra very soon (oh god it really is very very soon) and we flip-flop between terror and huge excitement over the adventure. It’s her first run further than a marathon (but she has 22 of those) and my first further than 50k. I’ve thought about little else for the past few months.
Again, like many people, one of the main triggers for us being interested in MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail) Running was the wonderful documentary “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young”. Anyone who visits us overnight is forced to watch it and is always shocked by how much they enjoy it.
It’s not just that it’s considered one of the hardest races in the world, it’s the wonderful mythology that’s built up around it which makes it so exciting. That’s mostly due to the personality of Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake) who organises several unusual and special races. In addition to Barkley, check out Big’s Backyard Ultra, A Race for The Ages and the 500km Vol State Road Race.
Despite the various documentaries and YouTube clips, none of us have any idea how difficult it must be for the competitors. We’ve only seen the start/finish line and a few famous places like the prison, the tower or ratjaw. But the fact that some of the toughest competitors in the world give up after one loop of five gives you some idea of what they are going through.
Once Barkley grabs you and you begin following various Ultra runners on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and blogs, you discover people like Jamil Coury, The Ginger Runner, John Kelly and Gary Robbins. Jam-Jam has done Barkley a few times but never finished. He’s going again this year. Follow his vlog. Gary, oh god Gary. If you don’t know his story, go over to The Ginger Runner site and give Ethan a few quid and watch “Where Dreams go to die”.
Gary is also going to be back this year. You should follow his vlog too.
Then yesterday Eoin announced that he’s doing Barkley this year. OMFG. I’m struggling to contain my excitement about this. Over the past 22 years, only 15 people have finished the race. No Irish person has. I’m not even sure an Irish person has taken part.
I think Eoin will finish. Not just because he’s an amazing athlete who has the mental toughness to see it through, but also because he comes across as a very intelligent runner who won’t make silly mistakes.
The only thing that could make this year’s race more perfect is if Carol Morgan was competing too. No woman has ever finished Barkley. I can immediately think of two who could - Amelia Boone and Carol. I’d love to see them both try.
I know I’ll be checking the news about his progress as he works his way around Frozen Head State Park. Possibly even whilst I’m out on my 50 mile cake-walk :-) Today I learned a new phrase: “botanical pace”. That’ll be us. I may have to put a temporary halt to my boycott of Twitter to follow #BM100 over the weekend.
Update 1: I just listened to Ethan’s excellent interview with Jamil from last week. A lot of it covers his prep and hopes for Barkley. They also mentioned that Guillaume Calmettes who won Big’s Backyard Ultra 2017 is doing Barkley and you can see how much he has prepared on Strava.
Update 2: The race is underway and Eoin has finished one loop. But I also just discovered that Stephanie Case and Maggie Guterl are running too. If I’d known that, I’d obviously have included them in the growing list of “bad-ass women who can totally finish Barkley”. Fingers crossed for them all, it sounds like the weather conditions are horrendous.
Update 3: Well Barkleys 2018 is over and no one finished it! Unbelievably bad conditions meant that only one person even managed the fun run (Gary Robbins).
What an amazing effort by everyone. One of the last people out on the course, but DNFed, was Guillaume Calmettes. I listened to a superb Billy Yang podcast interview with him yesterday, driving home, whilst the race was still on. Give it a listen. He’ll be running Last One Standing in Florence Court in Northern Ireland in September.
I can’t wait to read Eoin’s Barkley race report whenever his broken shoulder heals. I still think he’s the man to finish it in 2019.
Update 4: A set of short videos have been uploaded to Eoin’s Facebook account. And I almost missed Alexis Berg’s new video about Barkley as I thought it was in French! La Barkley Sans Pitié is really worth a watch.
Update 5: Does Jamil ever rest? He has his video up after just a few days:
Update 6: Annnnnnd some course footage and commentary from last year’s only finisher John Kelly, who was crewing this year.