Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Lessons from The Barkley
photo by Mike Bur
"There was a day when the Barkley runner need go no further than the trailhead to get out of the comfort zone.
You all know about the comfort zone.
That's where most ultras take place.
Running ultras is all about staying in the comfort zone.
All our strategies revolve around staying in the comfort zone.
All our advice is about staying in the comfort zone;
"Walk every uphill"
"Don't take any chances"
For all the talk about exploring human potential, and seeking our limits, Ultrarunners tend to play it safe.
They line up "challenges" they know they can finish.
And run them carefully
Well within their "limits".
We believe that success is never failing.
At the Barkley success is about over-reaching our abilities,
and living to tell about it.
Sometimes success is getting your ass out alive.
Some people "get" the Barkley. Some don't.
But the Barkley is all about leaving the comfort zone.
The Barkley is about taking our chances with failure.
True success is not the absence of failure,
It is the refusal to surrender.
--excerpt from 2010 Barkley report by Lazarus Lake, Barkley RD
When I read Laz's report last week after inov-8 teammate JB Basham became the 9th finisher of the Barkley Marathons, I started thinking---a lot---about why I run ultras. I have always admired Laz's insights on the intersection of life and ultrarunning. He has a wonderfully poetic way of expressing what many of us think about, and he does a great job of getting us to question our prior assumptions.
When I forwarded this to my buddy Mike Bur---a Last Great Race finisher and Barkley 2.5-looper-- his response was this:
"Normally, we can control many of the aspects of any given event. Part of the Barkley experience, particularly for the virgin, is surrendering that control and availing oneself to the unknown -- that's what holding you back, in my observation."
Yes, I took the bait that Bur left so deftly in the email. I started asking myself if I truly had the guts to let go and surrender to the unknown. It's interesting to look at my race plans for 2010 and see the races I have lined up---all are events I have run before, have comfort in by knowing the course, and all are well within Laz's definition of the comfort zone that I *think* I am leaving when I race... but don't really.
Hmmm...so what does that say about me as an ultrunner? Bur knows. As a Barker and a Hardrock finisher, he knows that after 8 years of running tough races like Grindstone, Hellgate and Highland Sky, I haven't even begun to stretch myself. That doesn't mean that I have to run the Barkley for that next test, but I am inspired by the spirit of the event like no other. I have read everything I can about its history and traditions, and deeply respect the unspoken "rules" that keep it mysterious and mythical. Its mere presence on the ultra calendar is a reminder that I need to get off some of the candy ass trails I love so much and take a chance on failing.
If you need some inspiration on stretching yourself as a person and as a runner, read a bit about the Barkley. I am grateful there is an event out there that honors the old time ways of our sport and challenges its participants to strive for excellence (even if it takes many years---and failure), and to let go and live.
"You don't have to go to Barkley to "get it".
"it" is nothing more than putting something on the line
taking a chance and trying to do something you do not know for certain you can do.
There is no success
if failure is not in the mix.
And this is why the "sick-o's" keep applying and re-applying at Barkley. This is why there are so many requests for so few slots. This is why those lucky 35 strap it on and march into a hellish ordeal with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.
Because we are never so alive as when we put it all on the line. And at Barkley the only guarantee is that you will be pushed beyond your limits. Everything is on the line."
Endurance Planet's podcast interview with JB Basham--very good
A repeat of Endurance Planet's podcast of "The Marathon No One Could Finish" based on Blake Wood's essay in Running Through The Wall---also very good.
Matt Mahoney's Barkley page with photos---addicting