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What’s tougher: running the Barkley Marathons… or training for it?

SuuntoRun — 14 August 2017

It’s known by running enthusiasts as the hardest footrace in the world. Gary Robbins has come achingly close to finishing… twice. After failing on the 5th and final loop of The Barkley Marathons in 2016, he was determined to train harder and smarter for the 2017 edition of the event – then, a wrong turn in the final minutes put a finish out of reach yet again.

But as we approach the Barkley’s off-season, let’s take a look not at the race – but the training. Soon Robbins will release a short film detailing his Barkley experience – in anticipation, he’s shared a short piece focused on an incredibly difficult full overnight session where the goal was to reach 20,000ft (6,100m) of climbing in around 11 hours. See how his session unfolds – then keep reading for some more insight into his ‘off-season’.


Watch this advanced preview of Where Dreams Go To Die documentary now.


If this video doesn’t make your legs hurt, then this will: Robbins just finished the Nolan’s Fourteeners, fourteen 14,000 peaks in 100 miles, with a 60-hour cut-off time. Less than 20 people have ever completed the route.  


A post shared by Gary Robbins (@garyrobbins) on

"Adventures were had, and we got it done. Nolan's 14 finishers in 56h39m, with the best adventure partner imaginable." –@garyrobbins 


We’ve collected some of Gary's thoughts and feelings on the recent adventures, what’s upcoming, and what’s not just worth the time (hint: hypoxic training). Read on.


You didn’t have the easiest time on Nolan’s! 

After trudging through fourteen plus hours of fog, wind and rain we found ourselves hypothermic and in a bad state. We actually had some snow flurries on Oxford (8th peak going south to north) and we realized we couldn't safely continue. We made the hard call to drop off the mountain and to call it a day. We skipped Belford (maybe one mile away) because of the state we were in. We dropped about five miles down to a trailhead and had our families and crew meet us there. After warming up and being reminded by my lovely wife that we still had 31 hours left to get this done we made the call to get back in the game. We turned around and headed all the way back up to the saddle we'd dropped off maybe five hours earlier. 


Nolan’s Fourteeners are like a Barkley, with less vertical but way more altitude…

Exactly. It’s only been done a handful of times. I’ll be coming straight from sea level into that! But we had access to our support crew – we can check in six or seven times over the course of the traverse. 


The altitude is the biggest issue. 

Yeah – I live at the coast. But my partner in the coaching business studies this stuff – he says I have to spend 12 hours a day in a hypoxic chamber if I want any benefit from it. No time for that! 


You have a few events of your own you’re organizing. 

I run a race series back home and I’ve got events before and after the Nolan’s attempt. The biggest is the Squamish 50 – it’s the biggest ultra in Canada, with 1200 participants from 20 countries. 


Do you compete in them yourself? 

I just don’t have the time. I want to make sure it’s a great event for everyone who comes. I don’t run in the events because I need to run the event – I congratulate every finisher who comes across the line. During the Squamish 50 I’ll get about 8 hours of sleep over three days. 


You’re an organizer with some epic terrain close by. Any chance we’ll see a race like the Barkley, in your backyard? 

You know, we have the terrain for it – it could rival the Barkley on paper. But it’s damn near impossible to get the permits, and I don’t feel the need to replicate something so unique that Laz has created. 


Take us back to your recent adventure on Nolan’s – how did you finish?

It rained for another 10+ hours up high but eventually the weather broke, before it broke us, and we were rewarded with a clear night on our third to last peak (La Plata) and a beautiful sunrise while ascending our second to last peak, the highest point in Colorado, Mt. Elbert at 14,433. I shed a tear on our final peak, Mt. Massive because I really couldn't believe what we'd just accomplished. It wasn't what we'd set out to do time wise, and I'm pretty sure we just completed the least scenic version of Nolan's ever, but the sense of accomplishment that overwhelms me today is the absolute definition of euphoria. 


So there’s no question you’re doing Barkley again. 

I’m 100% returning for a third attempt in 2018. 



Main image and video by The Ginger Runner