Barkley vs Self-Transcendence 3100 (Monsters vs. Aliens?) Mark Dorion

Posted on the Ultralist:
Date:    Sun, 5 Jun 2011 20:48:32 -0400
From:    Markd145
Subject: Barkley vs. Self-Self-Transcendence 3100 (Monsters vs. Aliens?)

Several experienced ultrarunners have asked me, in recent months, to compare the Barkley (infamous wilderness mountain race in Tennessee) with the New York Self-Transcendence 3100 mile (5000Km).  I have made it past 50 miles in the Barkley race (still just a DNF) while being on the course for 33 hours, and have managed 54 miles in 15 hours on the 3100 course (after a 39 mile run on the loop the day prior).  I believe Ray Krolewicz has put in some serious miles on both courses, and I welcome Coach K’s three pennies on the topic.

Anyhow, I can’t really COMPARE the two events, but can point out some of the unique aspects that make them two of the very toughest ultras in the world.  One thing (I think) that makes both more challenging than any of the various mountain 100 mile races is that there are no pacers.  At the Barkley, crews can stand at the firetower (roughly 13 mile mark of the loop) and say Hi as their runner passes by, but can only help the runner while they are in the campground between 20+ mile loops.  In the years I have been out to help at the 3100, friends/ crew people could accompany a runner for 1.5 miles (per day), but thereafter would be warned that that was enough, and they should jog in the opposite direction or on their own.  One incredible thing about the 3100 is that while there are 10-15 entrants traversing the .55 of a mile loop, it is quite possible to go laps and even hours without passing or being passed by another runner.

Mark Dorion by Prabhakar Street

Of course there have been far fewer finishers of the 100 mile at the Barkley than there have been for the 3100 mile (I believe the Barkley 100 has been offered for aproximately 22-23 years, the 3100 for 15 years).  That said, more Americans have finished Barkley than have completed the 3100 mile (I know of quite a few Americans who have claimed they would enter and finish the 3100, but who as race time approached had second thoughts).  At the Barkley, a runner has to carry all provisions and gear for a loop (anywhere from 8 to 15 hours) through the wilds, while at the 3100 a runner has to be able to stay motivated and moving for 18 hours or so per day, day-after-day, for 41 or more days.  Just as even the toughest of the tough– folks who have finished the Barkley 100– say that they had to fend off loneliness and negative thoughts while “out there”, so 3100 mile entrants have told me that there were days where it was extraordinarily difficult to fend off boredom, despair and– yes, loneliness!

Runners who have never tried any kind of fixed time or road ultra on a short loop tend to ask, right off the bat, “isn’t it boring?”  Of course those who have actually DONE such an event (24/ 48 hours/ etc.) know that boredom is usually the least of one’s worries.  At the 3100 mile there is lots of action going on around the loop most days– handball/ basketball and soccer games, people picnicking, kids on the playground, cyclists passing by alongside the path, live music, squirrels and other wildlife, enthusiastic lap counters and race officials, the wonderful and varied aromas of the meals and snacks delivered throughout the day, etc.

In Frozen Head State Natural Area (home of the Barkley), a runner may go hours and hours without seeing another person or even animal.  A tired runner can imagine all sorts of things hidden in the shadows of trees.  Hallucination is a part of both events for tired racers.  At the Barkley, the 100 mile finisher will have at best a few short 30-40 minute naps during the 56-60 hours they are in the race.  In the 3100 mile, a runner gets used to 4.5 hours of sleep per night and maybe a short 15-30 minute midday nap while moving forward for at least 17 of every 24 hours.

I believe the full scope of these two events is far beyond what most of us mere mortal ultrarunners can even imagine.  The runner who completes either must really be prepared physically and– more importantly– mentally.  I have seen a similar “in the zone” look in the eyes of those on their way to completing the Barkley with those who keep up the required 59+ miles/ day average to finish the concrete collossus course of the 3100 mile.

I welcome anyone else’s take on these two incredible challenges.  By the bye, the 3100 mile starts on Sunday June 12th (one week from now) under the big shade trees between Edison and Jamaica High Schools in Queens, NYC.  The top runners will average in the vicinity of 70 (seventy) miles per day.  I will post information on this year’s entrants, race statistics, etc. later.

Best aloha to all ultrarunners around the world,

Mark D
El Paso, TX, USA

Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race website

Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race Blog The home of multiday running news and events.

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