‘Lazarus. A sadist? I had a perspective about him. He is soft spoken. He is a great guy. He is kind of like your inspirational High School or College coach. He is going to make you to dig deep. He is going to push you to that edge and push to see who you really are once you strip away the layers. I thought I was done after 2-loops. I got to that point where I was already thinking about my race report, ‘How the Barkley beat me.’ I rose above it; I found that extra to get through that 3rd loop. So, Lazarus does want to see you succeed but he wants participants to not believe they can do it, to push through so much to get to the end. That is why the course is a genius thing… most events design a course to help you finish, they want you to finish. This race is opposite, they do everything to help you fail.’
IC: The Barkley marathons have just finished, once again, only one person finished the full five loops; Jared Campbell. Today I am speaking to Jamil Coury who finished the ‘fun run’ (60-miles) at his first attempt. You survived?
JC: I did, I somehow survived. It was beyond expectations of how difficult it would be. I read the stories, I read the book, I have talked to friends but I was blown away by how difficult this race is!
IC: can you put it into words? I know friends who have gone to this race with high expectations but the course has chewed them up and thrown them out with only 1-loop at the mot covered.
JC: I had only seen about 2-miles of the course before race day. Much of the trail is cross-country, you occasionally have a little good trail but mostly your navigating and struggling to remain upright and move forward. It was interesting at the start. The field is probably 50/50; those with experience and those that are virgins. My plan was to stick with veterans and use them to help me on the first lap. A buddy, Alan had finished 4 fun runs so he was a great person to follow. We probably had a group of 10 in the early stages. At the first book it was like a feeding frenzy; a scene out of the movie, ‘The Hunger Games.’ We all wanted our pages ASAP so we didn’t loose the veterans. It was high intensity. It was like survival, I just wanted to keep those guys in sight.
IC: From following the race, a nail in the coffin was the weather. You had some really horrible stuff thrown at you.
JC: We did! It was calm at the start but then it started raining and it didn’t let up. We then had snow and high winds on the peaks. It really took people out. Either they weren’t prepared or it was so cold that they goy hypothermic.
IC: Your strategy was to follow so that you could get around loop-1. Did that work for you?
JC: Yes it did but I was working too hard for so early in the race. I sort of had no choice… I stayed with the group and made it around without too much issue. It was a good strategy.
IC: How difficult was the terrain? We hear the stories, we see some pictures and of course a movie is imminent about the Barkley. I have also interviewed avid Horton, Nick Hollon and Jared Campbell. They all say it’s your worse nightmare… it rips you up and it has so much climbing. Is it that bad?
JC: Yes for sure. The course is designed to push you to your limits and then find out what happens when you reach that point. You are going through wood, cross-country, you rock climb, you try to traverse muddy climbs, you go through briers that rip you apart and the mud, oh the mud; I think I will have nightmares about the mud. It was just crazy. Plus everything was so steep. I had done calculations and compared it to Hardrock 100. I am used to that terrain but some of these climbs are just like mountain climbing. I used poles on loop-2 and 3 and you are just digging in, pulling, grabbing trees, whatever you can to keep going. You feel like you will fall off!
IC: Stats show for the full race that it has almost 60,000 ft. of vertical in comparison to 33,000 for Hardrock. That’s just crazy… even Nolan’s had 45,000ft. In the fun run you will have around 37,000ft.
JC: The loops are little subjective. They say the loops are 20-miles but they are more 24-25 miles.
IC: What time did you do the first loop in?
JC: We started at 0645 so I guess just a little over 9-hours. I think 5 of us came in together.
IC: Okay, that’s pretty good.
JC: We were going to do a 20-min turnaround but I headed out first. I wanted a head start and I felt they were stronger than me.
IC: Did you alternate for this loop?
JC: No, loops 1 and 2 are the same direction, 3 and 4 or the opposite direction and 5 is your choice but it depends if you are with someone else for the last loop. They won’t allow 2-people to do the same loop.
IC: With 1-loop done did you feel confident to retrace or is it not that easy?
JC: I felt comfortable for parts. In the middle in the mountains it started to get tough. The f1st loop went so quickly with so many little changes, left, right and so on. Plus it was going to be dark. My plan was to get as far as possible before darkness came. Lazarus the RD told us we needed to be prepared for a cold night. So, I took extra clothes and that was critical. I had enough gear. I must say, having been with people on loop-1 it was nice to be alone on loop-2 and use my skills to navigate. It was kind of exciting. I think I made it to book-4 with no issues.
IC: That’s good going. In the races history many don’t even get this far… mentally how difficult was it, so many different aspects; fatigue, navigation, temperatures which caused you the most distress?
JC: After book-4 it started to rain and sleet. I was getting cold and my hands were really cold. I was getting concerned and nervous. I was wondering to myself, I hope I can make it and then I saw lights! The group caught me. I would say that your body just gets sore. All the climbing adds up and you question, can I do this? The night, the conditions, it is just survival. The race has no aid stations, no helpers; you are against yourself and the elements. You are trying to stay alive.
IC: I guess that’s a bonus. Once you are on a loop you have no choice but to go to the end of at least that loop. I guess the problem comes when you get to the end of a loop. Making yourself go back out must be really tough… it’s a huge commitment.
JC: Oh yeah. Interestingly though, because it’s a big loop, the course is surrounded by groomed trail that they call ‘quitters roads.’ Literally you can be back in camp in a hour or so. It’s a huge mental challenge to quit. It’s easy to get out of a situation but it also makes it hard to go on. At the end of loop-2 I was not in a good shape. It was impossible to think of a 3rd loop. I knew it would take so long, I knew all the climbs that I would have to do and I was questioning how could I do it, and how could I get to the books.
IC: So you’re sitting with warm clothes, food and thinking of lap-3, what was happening around you, how many were left in the race.?
JC: Jared was already out on loop-3. We had seen him on the reverse loop at one of the book stations, 2nd I think, so we were near the end of our loop-2. Jared was hours ahead. I was with about 3-4 other guy’s. We had our little pack. As we approached the end of loop-2 we all discussed our plans. Nearly everyone was going to take a 1-hour break. I got back to camp but my crew would not let me stop. I was coming up with all sorts of excuses… my foot hurts, my ‘this’ hurts and so on. Deep down I didn’t want to quit but that is the Barkley game. I just kept doing what I was supposed to do; eat, caffeine, dry clothes and then I kind of just got moving again. I left with John Todd.
IC: Tough call eh, must have been so tempting to fall asleep and stay warm?
JC: A plus for sure was the weather, it was really improving, and it was something to look forward to. It really got me back out there to see it. I wasn’t sure if I would make the loop but I thought, get out, enjoy the day and see what happens.
IC: Did you do the final loop solo?
JC: I was mostly with John and Alan. We left loop-3 together and we just headed out and sort of took it as it came. We made the first book together and then we teamed up and worked book-to-book. Every now and again I took my own line but we always met up at books and we worked as a team, especially later. We were moving so slowly. We were going to be so close to the cut-off. We had a 40-hour cut off to hit and in comparison to our 9-hour 1st loop, the 3rd was taking 16-hours. The night and the poor weather had taken so much… we never made it back after that, we were depleted on calories. We each would lead on sections and do navigation, it was a push though for the last hours, last books. We knew we would be close.
IC: And your finishing time?
JC: We did 39:56, so we had 4-mins to spare…
JC: Yep, very close.
IC: That must have been a pressured final hour?
JC: Hell yeah, the last book we had to get to had a climb called checkmate, it’s a super steep climb. We got to where the book should be but we couldn’t find the book. We kept walking past it and we had precious minutes to spare. We were panicking. The book was under a rock; it was in front of us but hidden. It sure added some drama. We ran the final 2-miles into camp. I think everyone in camp was more nervous than us!
IC: for sure, I was following on line and it was captivating, really touch and go.
JC: It was quite the experience. Nice to be under 40-hours.
IC: That would have been tough had you not made it.
JC: I was happy to get 3-loops. Under the time limit is a bonus.
IC: And you have the 3-loops are you tempted by 5?
JC: I am, yes!
IC: Something sick in that decision I think!
JC: Yes. Beforehand I was doing the math and I thought I could do 5. But the reality was different. I didn’t do the course justice. I didn’t prepare. Jared had a 40,000ft vertical day in training over a 23-hour period getting ready for Barkley. That is insane! I am looking forward to doing proper training and heading back next year. Knowing the course helps too. I enjoyed being alone and navigating, I look forward to more of that.
IC: The 52-hour record for the 5-loops, do you think that will go down or do you think Lazarus will try to keep making the course harder?
JC: Apparently this year’s course is the toughest they have had. Only really a 5-looper could answer that. We had 13-books this year too which is the most they have had. It’s tough to say, Jared was in great shape and he did almost 58-hours. For me this year it would be tough to imagine 5-loops.
IC: Yes, it’s a different ball game. The mental and physical jump is massive. Can I ask about the course, Jared for example is a great runner and a great hiker? Is this course about being a great hiker?
JC: It’s a mix. You definitely need to be comfortable on steep and technical terrain. You need to be comfortable on rocks, trees, bushes and kind of efficiently moving around this ever-changing terrain. Hikers do really well. You just need lots of time outdoors on tough terrain.
IC: Is it possible to say what percentage you ran in comparison to hike?
JC: It was lots of hiking… I don’t know percentages. I certainly could have run more on loop-3. We definitely walked runnable sections due to fatigue. You can’t think too much, you just need to do what you can.
IC: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to attempt Barkley?
JC: Vertical and vertical. Go across country, don’t use trail, go rough trail and practice navigation. Also get used to carrying a pack, you will need a pack with additional clothing, food and water. Also get used to night and how to function in bad conditions. Be specific. I am certainly going to do lots and lots of vertical; Nick Hollon, Jared and many others confirm this.
IC: Finally, entry to Barkley is infamous, how do you get in?
JC: Exactly, you need to know people, talk to them, you need to be told how to get in. It is what it is. It’s a unique part of the event…
Audio with Jamil Coury will be uploaded to Episode 59 of Talk Ultra available April 18th.
Jared Campbell will be on a future edition of the show discussing his 2014 victory
You can listen to Nickademus Hollon talk about Barkley HERE
The Barkley Marathons is a 100-mile run and a 60-mile ‘fun run’ held annually in Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tennessee in late March or early April.
The course itself, which has changed distance, route, and elevation many times since its inaugural run in 1986, currently consists of a 20-mile (32 km) loop with no aid stations except water at two points along the route and the runner’s parked car at the beginning of the loop.
Runners of the 100 Mile version run this loop five times, with loops three and four being run in the opposite direction and loop five being runner’s choice. Runners of the 60 mile ‘fun run’ (considered to be harder than Hardrock) complete three circuits of the loop.
With 54,200 feet (16,500 m) of accumulated vertical climb, the 100 mile run is considered to be one of the more challenging ultramarathons held in the United States, if not the world.
In addition to running, competitors must find between nine to eleven books, the number varies per year, and remove the page corresponding to the runner’s race number from each book as proof of completion.
The cut-off time for the 100 mile race is 12 hours per loop, and the cut-off for the 60 mile version of the race is 40 hours overall, which averages out to approximately 13 hours and 20 minutes per loop. Since the race’s inception in 1986, only fourteen runners out of about 800 have completed the 100 mile race within the official 60 hour cut-off (Mark Williams 1995, David Horton and Blake Wood 2001, Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer 2003, Jim Nelson and Mike Tilden 2004, Brian Robinson 2008 (55:42:27), Andrew Thompson 2009, Jonathan Basham 2010, Brett Maune 2011, Brett Maune 52:03:08 (new course record), Jared Campbell 56:00:15, John Fegyveresi 59:41:21 for 2012, Nick Hollon 57:39:24, Travis Wildeboer 58:41:45 for 2013, Jared Campbell 57:53:20 for 2014).
In 2006 nobody finished even the 60 mile ‘fun run’ in under 40 hours. The best women’s achievement is Sue Johnston’s 66 miles (106 km) in 2001.
The race is limited to 35 runners and usually fills up quickly the day registration opens. Potential entrants must complete an essay on “Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley.” The race starts at different times each year and is signaled by the lighting of a cigarette.
The course was designed by Gary Cantrell. His idea for the race was inspired upon hearing about Martin Luther King, Jr‘s assassin James Earl Ray escaping from prison, and making it only 8 miles (13 km) after running 55 hours in the woods. Cantrell said to himself “I could do at least 100 miles.”
Thus, the Barkley Marathons was born.