Liz takes on the Barkley Marathons

Liz takes on the Barkley Marathons

Note: Prior to reading Liz's re-cap of her recent Barkley attempt, we highly recommend getting to know the Barkley Marathons through the following documentaries: "The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young" & "Where Dreams Go To Die."


I used to have my own blog, until I filled my life with so much running, graduate studying, and overtime work that it was unsustainable. Instead, guest posting and podcasts are my favorite creative outlet!

What I haven’t gotten a chance to summarize, even in all the Q&A’s I’ve done with Maggie Guterl and Courtney Dauwalter, is what another shot at Barkley meant to me. Everyone loves a good gear round up (don’t worry I have one of those!), but Barkley has a special place in my heart.

Rewind 5 years: Meeting my husband in 2016 and getting a summer of introduction to Barkley was eye opening. We watched the 2012 documentary “The Race that Eats its Young”, which Luke has a few background appearances in. Met Rob Youngren and Dewayne Satterfield (famous Huntsville "Barkers" with many loops to their names), and even went out to the Barkley Fall Classic to cheer on a large local contingent. 

Needless to say, I was blown away. After that first run at Frozen Head, and several camping trips later, a shot at Barkley *one day* was all I wanted. 

In September 2017, I finally got to attend the Barkley Fall Classic and surprised myself with a win (after spending 20 minutes getting lost with a LARGE group of people). That win granted me a shot at the 5 Loops in March 2018, which was a spectacular failure. Even with all my training, I was at a loss for navigation and didn’t have any of the right gear for spending many hours in the cold rain. I retreated, got better, and returned to the Fall Classic in 2019 to start the process all over again. With the exception of the one-year-pandemic delay, that brings us quickly to the present: Barkley Marathons 2021.

The hard work, tough terrain, navigation, dark nights, and fear were things I wanted to conquer for myself. I proved I could fail here before, so in 2021 I wanted to fail “better”. I wanted to fail, only because I timed out – a failure in and of itself – but not by requesting that Taps be played and quitting outright. 

So, off we went at 3:04 AM, after the remembrance for all the Barkers we had lost. Recently the Huntsville community lost Dewayne Satterfield to a rare cancer at the age of 56. I wanted to make him and Huntsville proud, and I hope someday I can pull together a finish for our little town that always showed up for the cigarette lighting.

Loop 1 was nearly a dream - cool and rainy, a good group navigating well to each book and spirits really high as we all kept up with nutrition, hydration and moving well in the runnable sections. We were slightly disappointed to come in at 10:45 already knowing was a slow enough time to put a full 5 loop finish nearly out of grasp, but plenty of time to pull off a fun run (A fun run is when you complete 3 loops - and it's no walk in the park!). I did a quick sock change, packed up some cold weather gear and a fresh supply of Spring Energy, Tailwind Mix, bean burritos and Pop Tarts. Courtney, Maggie and I were rearing to go, and pulled out of camp under 10 minutes after touching the yellow gate only 20 minutes behind Jared and Luke.

Loop 2 started warm and dry, and we continued in the opposite direction we had just arrived from. Having never started a loop in this direction, I was excited to pay attention, remember anything I could for future loops and making sure I could help navigate and pull my weight. We quickly dwindled to a group of four as night fell and the temperatures dropped into the 30s. The thing about the Southeast is that a “damp cold” like you find at Frozen Head gets deeper into your bones than anything else I have experienced. I was prepared with extra gloves and windproof/waterproof layers over wool (best choice for that weather IMHO) and my only complaint was losing one waterproof glove – so I traded the one I had left between hands. 

Navigation got more and more complicated as the thick fog settled and we had a few unsettling trips, falls and lost minutes looking for books. I took one hard fall off a 7-foot rock wall that took the wind out of my sails for a moment, scared the beejesus out of our group, and just added to the “What in the world are we doing out here?” element that many people refer to as Type 2 fun. 

One our way to the final book and the penultimate off trail section, we simply “missed.” In the fog and between four compasses, we succumbed to group-think and dropped off the wrong side of a ridge. Leading us to descend some unpassable washes and cliffs, spending nearly 2 hours lost before finding some familiar terrain. It was in that moment that I was most proud of myself and our group – no one quit. There was a simpler, “candy ass” trail option out of our predicament, but we agreed to push on through another brutal climb and the final book in order to collect our pages. We had done the math and knew we would likely run out of time.

It was worth it. That last climb with our little team [Maggie Guterl, Courtney Dauwalter and Jamil Coury] was brutal and fun. The book was an easy find and we started our way back to camp. I ended up with the best working headlamp for the descent (as we had been out much longer than estimated) and the women stuck together for the 13 switchbacks back to camp. 

I guess I could say I improved 100%, ha, but timing out by 12 minutes and hearing 4 repetitions of taps was still devastating. The Barkley won again.

A few weeks later, the briar scratches have started to heal, my running volume is climbing as I train for my next 100 miler, and I’m already planning for my next Barkley Marathons - 2022 is gonna be my year! ☺ 


Shirt (for a whole 27 hours!) – Smartwool 150 Long Sleeve

Pants – Saucony Bullet Capri & Salomon Wind Pant

Socks – Drymax – Smartwool - Stance – and Lily Trotters on deck for recovery!

Shoes – inov-8 Mudclaw (could you name a more perfect shoe for Barkley!)

Pack – Patagonia Slope Runner & Ultimate Direction Waist Belt (best weight distribution for me, I can’t run with all my gear just on my shoulders)

Nutrition – Lots and lots of caffeinated Tailwind and Spring Energy. Two refried bean burritos and 4 PopTarts. Mac and cheese was on deck for third loop!

Headlamp – Black Diamond Spot

Poles – Leki Micro Trail Pro

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