Barkley or the Olympic Trials?

Greetings iRunFar Nation! I know we’ve been mixing things up a bit here lately with last week’s column coming a day early on Thursday and now, what the heck, a Tuesday column! But, such is the life of a diuretic ultrawriter. :)

Last month, I queried my “friends” on Facebook about what they thought was more difficult, finishing the Barkley Marathons or qualifying for the United States Olympic Marathon Trials (USMOT). Not surprisingly, like many things in our sport, the responses were bifurcated and no clear winner emerged. So, as with many things in my life, I was left to decide for myself and here is the deal:

  • Barkley requires ridiculous endurance and a certain amount of luck.
  • USOMT requires ridiculous speed and a certain amount of luck.
  • Barkley means you have to battle day and night with the elements and a certain degree of inflexibility on the part of the race organizers.
  • USOMT requires that you battle with the race organizers and deal with the elements they give you.
  • Barkley says it’s my way or the highway.
  • USOMT says, well, this is the highway!
  • Barkley punishes the capricious and rewards the patient.
  • USOMT punishes the patient and rewards the capricious.
  • Barkley says you need to understand that the start time is variable.
  • USOMT says you need to understand that the finishing time is variable.
  • Finish Barkley and you’re done for a year.
  • Finish USOMT and you’re done for a week.

In the end, of course, the question is as silly as the asker as we all know the comparison is ridiculous. That said, how great is it to know that a discussion like this can even take place? When all is said and done, testing ourselves against ourselves is what keeps us coming back for more. It makes us stronger and more complete. As bizarre and out there as the Barkley is there are some who have made a lifetime of it. And, as pure and simple as the marathon is there are some who have yet to master it. It is that mystery, that hope of finding some deep something within us, that extra thing that makes us go out for that “fifth loop” or that final “10K” that keeps us going after it day after day.

Until Friday!

Bottoms up!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
This week’s beer of the week is easy. Since Bryon has enjoyed a few of these this past weekend we must, with this Tuesday edition of the Taproom, pay homage to America”s Oldest Brewery, D.G. Yuengling and Son in Pottsville, PA. Their Traditional Lager has been an East Coast staple since 1829 and never fails as a go-to beer.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)
I’d like to frame this (civil) conversation by reiterating that this comparison is ridiculous. It’s not our intention to instigate a fracas about which goal is more difficult, but to flesh out the challenges inherent for accomplishing these two incredible… and incredibly different goals. With that in mind, please share where you can add positive insight while taking the time to be respectful of others.

  • Which challenge do you enjoy more: walking the razor’s edge of effort or enduring days of unspeakably harsh environmental conditions?
  • Whether you’ve started the Barkley or made an attempt to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon (successful or not on either goal), we’d love to hear what there the biggest challenges you faced in trying to reach your goal as well as the rewards you got out of making the attempt.

[Editor’s Note: I’ve got to thank AJW for this bonus Taprooom piece as I’m down for the count. – Bryon]

Andy Jones-Wilkins: finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.

View Comments (49)

  • It's nice to see Yuengling Lager get some love. Good stuff!

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  • Is there some sort of ethical reason beer companies don't sponsor ultras or has it just not been tried? I for one, daydream of the "Lagunitas 100"

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  • USOMT is guaranteed to produce three "winners" a Olympic year to represent the country. Barkley is never guaranteed to produce even 1 finisher.

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  • The logical extension of this discussion is to make Barkley the USOMT - well, maybe just one lap... :)

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    • +1

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  • Yang-Lang. That panther piss is filtered through fly ash. Only one step above Race Car (American Lite) beer and two above Rolling Rock. Oh well, I have certainly partaken a time or two, most memorably while at a Tom Petty concert. When I go back to my hometown in NE Ohio, I reach for a Great Lakes Brewery product. The only good thing to ever come out of Cleveland. Elliot Ness Amber, Dortmunder Gold, Edmond Fitzgerald Porter...all solid choices and available most anywhere Yung-Lung is sold.

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  • I have run (?) the Barkley fun run in 2001, it was the hardest thing I have ever attempted.

    I have also run a 2:48 marathon a long time ago...no way could I even be considered to run the Oly Trails!

    The training for the trials is much harder....I'm sure the running of the trials hurts a lot more. Barkley is an intense stay awake hike....

    I agree with Jeremy as per Ying-Ling...check out Santa Fe's Java Stout, by far my fave beer this year! ...but I think my own extra IPA that is brewing now will be this year's tops ;-) I should have some at Hardrock, visit the Avon early evening ;-)

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  • Truth! "It is that mystery, that hope of finding some deep something within us, that extra thing that makes us go out..."

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  • Coors was the sponsor of Leadville for many years. There were always bins of iced cans available at the pre- and post-race ceremonies. Now don't go and get all snobby on me and wonder why it couldn't have been a microbrewery sponsorship... :-)

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  • Good ol Laz took away the ability to carry an altimeter this year on the course.

    This just made Barkley an orienteering course using map and compass only.

    A good answer to this question would be how many of the people who qualified for the trials could finish 5 laps at Barkley? Then ask them which is harder?

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    • Aaron, while those sort of simple questions no doubt have an appeal, I think reversing the group in focus shows such questions end up making the group being asked the question the lesser group.

      For example, ask any of the Barkley finishers to go run the Olympic Trials Marathon qualifying time. Rather, have them try to run the OTMq pace for as long as they can and I very much doubt any of them would make it 5k just like I doubt many of the OTM qualifiers would complete a single lap of Barkley. It's pretty darn unlikely that someone from either successful set could accomplish the other goal in a short time frame. Anyone who succeeds at one of these goals has likely spent a good number of years honing very specific skills. That's what makes this interesting... it's comparing lychee to cumquats. :-)

      Respectfully,

      Bryon

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      • Good thoughts Bryon. I think most people are smart enough to realize this is a comparison of two things on such opposite ends of the spectrum that you can't really even make a comparison. Most guys like me (working his butt off trying to run a sub 2:19 marathon) wouldn't even be interested in attempting something like Barkley... its so far off the radar... but I have a ton of respect for anyone who even gives it a shot! I'd rather run mile repeats all day than run a course like that. Its all running, but still totally different worlds. I'm impressed with the civil manner of the conversation so far and that it didn't turn into a typical letsrun thread! :-)

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      • two words for you bryon: max king

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        • James, I was pondering the OTM qualifiers today and Max King is an obvious standout selection for someone who could crossover to take on the Barkley challenge. I don't know the talents of the vast majority of the OTM qualifiers, but the cross country/steepler guys would have the quickest shot transition. Still, I think it'd be a decently long transition (i.e., years) not so much to build leg strength and the like, but to gain the experience necessary to take on the crazy shit that goes on in a nearly 60 hour event.

          The (short) Barkley finishers list is made up of some of the best long trail folks out there, folks that have run countless Hardrocks, etc. Brian Robinson did the long trail triple crown in less than a calendar year... and he still only had four hours and change to spare when he set the race record... after DNFing on lap 5 the previous year.

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          • It took me almost as long to do 3 loops at Barkley (~60 miles)in 2001 (39:52) as it did to do Hardrock in 2001 (40:14). Barkley is just plain stupid hard...

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  • Your best beer of the week yet! Hooray Yuengling!

    AJW, what are your thoughts of DNFing at Barkley?

    Trying to think of an ultra sponsored by a brewery, but can't come up with any. That needs to change.

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    • Pateros Creek (Fort Collins craft brewer): Quad Rock 50. Brownie, you won't be allowed to leave until that last keg is killed.

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      • No surprise the Fort gets a micro sponsor. Just make sure there's some brew still left by the time I finish.

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    • The two years I ran Steamboat 50 it was sponsored by Coopersmith's and Odell's respectively.

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      • Further evidence that Fort Collins is the beer-drinking capital of the running world.

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        • Well, it certainly ain't anywhere in Utah!

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          • Hey Bryon,

            The Antelope Island Buffalo Run is sponsored by the Buffalo Run Home Brewery (mine). I'll have a nice pilsner and a nut brown ale at the finish line this year.

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          • I take that back. Maybe Utah is the on-the-down-low, off-the-books, nano-brewing running capital of the running world! ;-)

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  • I remember at Miwok a few years ago they had Lagunitas with special Miwok labels. That's is sort of like a "Lagunitas 100" all I remember was it was damn good!!!

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  • AJW, you write: "And, as pure and simple as the marathon is there are some who have yet to master it."

    First of all, as Theloneous Monk used to say, "simple ain't easy".

    Secondly, you make it sound like some have mastered the marathon and some are still working on it, and I *know* you know better. NO ONE, not even Patrick Makau (the current WR holder) has mastered the marathon. As with everything in life, we are all students and there is always room for improvement.

    That all said, I'm a big fan of your column. Keep the ultra-philosophizing coming!

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  • It really seems to depends on your inherent and developed skills. Even elite ultrarunners quake st the Barkley, and the record is held by a noted hiker, not runner. That challenge seems to require more orienteering skills and mental fortitude than actual running ability. Someone more adept to running might have the ability to qualify got the

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  • ..for the USMOT, whether or not they decide to utilize their skill

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  • Depends on if you're a man or woman - no female finishers of the Barkley and same cut-off as the men. While the OT times are different for the women to qualify (2:46) compared to the men (2:19).

    Using the 10-11% rule that generally applies to track, the equivalent women's OT time to the men's would be around 2:34 suggesting that for women to qualify for the OT is easier than for men (even if you disagree with 10-11% as the right figure, 2:46 is just under 20% on the men's time). And for women to finish the Barkley is harder than for men given they don't have any extra time.

    Even though I don't consider what I just wrote to be controversial, I'm sure it will annoy some people.

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    • So I'd say for women, the Barkley is a much harder target than the OT. For men, I'd say the Barkley could be achieved by a larger proportion of ultra runners than qualifying for the OTs would.

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  • I think there's probably males and females that could get a qualifying time for trials and put in a good showing at Barkley. If I had to put money on a female that barely qualified vs a male that barely qualified, I'd go with the female on a first attempt- the male would outrun everyone, get lost, and be discovered 6 months later wandering through Tennessee truck stops trying to find there way back to Wartburg. No one should even try though, because by DNFing, you never get Christmas cards from AJW again.

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  • Hey everyone, I just want to thank all of you for keeping this discussion so civil and positive. I'm a bit beat up/ill at the moment and will admit I braced a bit when I went to first look at the comments this morning as well as right now. Instead, y'all have boosted my spirits during a bit of a bad streak streak on my end. So thanks again!

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  • Bryon, get well soon. Two day a week Taprooms could be tough to sustain. But, I'll have a good, non-controversial one on Friday:)

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  • The Barkley.... yikes... That just looks to be a whole new definition of brutal. I must say, looking at the two it is the one I would rather attempt. The one picture with the caption showing "1500 feet of vertical in .6 miles at a 50% grade" made me crack a sadistic smile.

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  • maybe we can get Mike Wardian to give the barkley a crack and see what he thinks is harder. Then again he will probably have run a marathon the day before.

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    • Good idea! But I think he'd run a marathon the day AFTER he runs Barkley.

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