Truely, there are many other inspirational stories from the veterans of the Barkley, but I will begin with these. I reference them here so they might similarly be a source of inspiration to others.
Quote 1: From Joseph Lea's Blog Mile Zero
Joseph Lea ran in the Barkley this year for the first time ever. On April 1st he posted a quote by an anonymous author under the heading "Waiting for the Barkley Start."
It's a brief passage, but insightful:
"When your body starts to betray you and you feel totally defeated mentally, remember this: You are not this body. You are not these thoughts. You are a beautiful and perfect soul deeply connected to a much larger universe. And running five loops at Barkley is but a drop in the ocean of all of the Self's potential achievements. So. You will keep going.
Try, as best you can, not to identify with the body or with the thoughts. Get connected to something much, much bigger than the small self. Let the mind empty of everything else."By the end of the weekend, Joe had successfully completed the Barkley Fun Run - congratulations to him and the other eight runners who accomplished this feat in 2011!
Quote 2: From Dr. David Horton in Running Through the Wall
Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon is a collection of stories from ultrarunners gathered by Neal Jamison. In this book there are two chapters about the Barkley: a chapter by Blake Wood about his five-loop attempt in 2000, and one by David Horton about his attempt the following year.
In the chapter by David, he describes the 2001 Barkley and how he and Blake Wood "decided to work together" to try to be the first Americans to finish the 100-mile event.
David's account is understated but compelling. He describes how the first three loops were "uneventful," but at the end of loop four, both men were feeling much worse for wear. As David put it, he was expecting at that point that their race had ended, but when he asked Blake if he was ready to go out on loop five, his companion replied that he was, and they set off on loop five together.
In the previous loop the men had discussed books they enjoyed, and Alfred Lansing's Endurance about Ernest Shackleton's survival at the South Pole and Antarctica was found to be enjoyed very much by both men.
In their discussion, they marvelled at Shackleton's toughness. "It helped take out minds off our own discomfort," David wrote.
In loop five, David reports how terrible he began to feel:
"I felt horrible. The thought of another lap was horrendous. I said 'Blake, I really don't want to go on. I really don't feel like doing this. I really, really want to stop.'David Horton and Blake Wood became the first Americans to finish five loops of the Barkley that year. An amazing and inspirational account.
"Blake was quiet for a little while, then he said to me, 'What do you think Ernest Shackleton would have done?'
"That was like taking a knife and sticking it in my heart. I was crushed. I knew what Shackleton would have done. He knew what Shackleton would have done. Shackleton would have gone on! Shackleton didn't have a choice. When you are in a situation like that, you go on.
"Kind of like Shackleton, we were in a special situation. We had the opportunity to make history: to be the first Americans to ever finish the hardest 100-miler in the world. We stood quiet for a few moments, then, just like Shackleton, we went on."
A common theme
What these two quotes have in common is the theme of perseverance and persistance in the face of extreme circumstances.
What the race takes that turn from being "unremarkable" or even enjoyable to being a real slog - when the rubber hits the road and you really have to hang in there with everything you have; when everything in your heart and mind is telling you to stop - what are you going to do?
I'll be asking myself this in my upcoming races. My thanks to these men for providing the inspiration to myself and many others - we will continue to cheer you on in your efforts!