Barkley Fall Classic: a race that changes your perceptions


The pain still lingers in my legs and in my soul, as I sit down to recount the challenge and adventure of last weeks Barkley Fall Classic.  I am not one who writes super detailed race reports, so keep that in mind as I try to sift through the agony and pride this race has produced.

It all starts off with a 12 hour drive from New York state to Tennessee.  I was lucky enough to have the love of my life Gia accompany me on this adventure.  She was upbeat the whole drive which took the race jitters edge off.  We went down Thursday so that I could relax.  Needing wifi for her college work, we stayed in a hotel (which I have to admit, I am not upset about at all).  Well the hotel lost our reservation, but lucky for us, had a room available still.

Fast forward to packet pickup Friday afternoon… I was looking forward to this, especially after getting lost on the way there.  Thanks Siri!  When you walked in, you could see the excitement on everyone’s faces.  You could also see who was faking excitement.  Could you blame them?? Even if half the lore of this race was true…. It would still be a hellish struggle of a day.  Alas, that is what we signed up for.  I was stoked for packet pickup because I got to see a couple of fellow Orange Mud Ambadassadors … Chad Hause and Johne Lehne.  Two quality guys that have completely earned my respect last weekend.  Hugs were given, hand shakes were plentiful, then “See you at the start”‘s were muttered.

Surprisingly, I got some decent sleep…. well, better sleep than normal before a big race.  Saturday was upon us and we were ready for the challenge.  Were we??  I could feel my stomach filling with nervousness as it does every race morning.  Like every other race morning, I ignored it.  The drive to Frozen Head State Park was a solemn one at that.  Gia tried to perk me up… all I felt was impending doom.  Once at the race start, we ran into John and Chad and the nerves settled.  It was pleasant to know some faces in the crowd.  Mulling around a bit I met some facebook friends, which was great.  Couldn’t help but see fear in some of the racers eyes though.  Not gonna lie… that was unsettling. With the light of a cigarette, we were off…




Down the paved park road we went.  Some were joking around, some were very silent.  When we got to the trail head… that’s when it got so very real.  So for the rest of this story there will be no play by play.  Instead, I am going to talk about the points that stick out in my mind.  I am doing this for one reason:  if you wanna experience this amazing challenge of an event, no story or portrayal will really do… sign up, put your big boy/girl underwear on, and run it.  They don’t have words for some of the emotions you feel on this course.  So let’s really dive in:

Switchbacks. Like them? you sure won’t after these.  I’m talking relentless. I’m saying they seemed never ending.  Just when you thought “sweet, that has to be the last one”… Nope… You are wrong… Now keep running and feel dumb.

Yellow jackets. When you are exhausted but slogging along, what is your favorite thing to do?  If you answered  “run for your life”… you win a prize.  The beauty of the yellow jackets is that you don’t see them coming.  Is it gonna kill you? Not unless you are terribly allergic.  It’s really the surprise factor I think.  Plus, your friends get a good chuckle while you are running and flailing about wildly.  Don’t worry John… I laughed at you too brother.

Testicle Spectacle.  I’m not gonna lie.  I kinda had fun on this one.  Don’t get me wrong…. it was kinda brutal.  There were briars here and there…but there was also a little shade.  My quickly evolving plan was to get into a pistol squat and slide when it was wicked steep.  Worked beautifully.  So call me a liar if you want, but it was kinda fun!

Brushy Mountain State Prison.  Best part of the course for two reasons. 1…. I like history.  2… It was the flattest part of the course.  Plus someone at the aid station gave me a soda and it was the most delicious thing ever!  As a history nerd, the prison just plain rocked.


Rat Jaw.  I don’t think there are enough curse words to express the way this part of the course can make you feel.  It is pure evil genius really.  Steepness, “never ending”, briars.  We were super lucky by the way. Cause some of the briars were mowed down. This section was easily the most hated in my book.  People were just laying about like dead bodies.  They were just exhausted…hopefully rallying.  I would rather go down and up Testicle Spectacle 3 times than do Rat Jaw once.  A little part of me died on Rat Jaw. Luckily it was a weaker part of me.  It can have it. I don’t need it anymore.  Anyone who made it up that mother effer is a stronger person now… and you can take that to the bank!

Cutoff Aid Station. I’ve never been so happy to see an aid station.  I knew coming in, that I missed the cutoff.  I wasn’t even mad about it.  Sure there were a bunch of things I could’ve done differently to make the cutoff. I had to take the “marathon” finish.  Now I know what it takes.  I got to shake Laz’s hand here.  That was awesome.  So I left, this checkpoint with under a mile to go and my head held high.  Huge thanks to Becca “Mother Fucking” Jones (her words, not mine) for the roughly four mile jaunt of laughs at the end of the race.

The Finish.  Never felt better to have something be over.  It was brutal.  It also changed me… made me tougher.  Taught me weakness and pain… and how to deal with both.  I am looking forward to going back sometime and crushing it… pain and all.  I admire anyone who towed the line that morning… finish or no finish.  Starting that endeavor showed fortitude. As you may already know… I had to airplane the finish.


Huge thanks to Orange Mud, Carson Footwear, and The Fartlek Running Company for letting me represent their companies to the best of my ability…. and their wonderful products. Thank to John Lehne who ran most of the race with me… never letting me give up, and sharing the pain cave.  Thanks to Becca for making the last few miles a laugh.

Thanks to Laz, Steve, the volunteers, and everyone that made this epic event possible.

Finally… Thanks to my other half, Gia Sabatini, for putting up with my craziness.