Last Updated on January 22, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
For a solid decade I have suffered from FOMO.
Fear. Of. Missing. Out.
A term commonly thrown around the endurance world, FOMO is essentially what happens to runners when they see other people participating in really cool races and want to join in too…nevermind the fact that their own race schedule might be overbooked. FOMO doesn’t care. FOMO also doesn’t care if there is no time to properly train for said races. Or that your bank account will be squeezed bone dry if you sign up for another race. FOMO makes you oblivious to the fact that a race might so far out of your current physical league, it will most likely leave you injured. No, FOMO wants you to forget all of the pesky details or the fact that there is always next year (never!!) and instead wants you to stare at the shiny medals and swag you’ll get for finishing, as you hit that damn “register” button already.
FOMO is a real dick.
With age comes wisdom and blah, blah, blah, you’ve heard this all before. In 2017, for the first time in my entire running career, I actually buckled down and focused on an “A” race. I put in the work. I trained my tail off. And guess what? It worked. I showed up to race day prepared, I felt strong, and though I didn’t quite reach my goal (100 miles in 24 hours) I still had a stellar performance and placed second overall. The satisfaction I felt from the payoff of my hard work was far more rewarding than any of the medals I’ve earned by faking my way to the finish line, under trained, in the past.
Of course, I spent the rest of the year after that race faking my way to finish lines I wasn’t prepared for, that FOMO caused me to register for, but hey, the lesson remains the same.
Last September, I stayed up until 1:00 am EST (and thanking my lucky stars that I happened to be in central time zone that night, ha) to fight with thousands of other people as we crashed Ultrasignup.com in order to secure my spot in a race that actually scares the shit out of me:
The Barkley Fall Classic 50K.
I remember clearly an early spring day back in 2011. I was standing on the edge of a soccer field that I don’t believe I’ve been back to since, talking to a friend named Logan, whom I haven’t seen in probably just as long. We were helping coach a youth RRCA running clinic, and as we waited for the parents to drop their kids off, he told me about an article he had just read in Runner’s World. It was about this insane race in the middle of the woods in Tennessee. You had to bring a license plate as part of your race entry, the course wasn’t marked at all, and you had to fight your way through pricker bushes with thorns the size of a man’s thumb in order to find a book, and then tear your specific page out in order to prove you had been there. It sounded ridiculous, so I assured Logan I’d check it out. I conveniently had just grabbed that same issue out of my mailbox on the way to the field, and later that night, read the piece titled “Notorious”.
There were no pictures in this article, other than a few artistic illustrations, yet my imagination ran wild as the scenery of this diabolical race was painted ever so clearly in my mind. At the time I was a die-hard road runner, and the marathon distance was the furthest I could ever conceive of running, nevermind this 130 mile monstrosity on trails. Yet still, something about this race struck a chord deep within me, in that place where your wildest dreams and unrealistic desires reside. From that moment on, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of the Barkley Marathons.
But of course, fascinated is as far as I ever got with that. Even now, as a trail obsessed ultra runner, I’m nowhere near a strong enough athlete to even consider tackling the Barkley, and even if I was, I have absolutely no idea how to apply (it’s a highly guarded secret by those in the know.)
But the Barkley Fall Classic, a 50K (though notoriously much longer than 31 miles) that runs much of the same course as the “Big” Barkley, I can do.
Which brings us full circle. It’s rare that a race has truly intimidated me. Sure, I’ve tackled some races that I knew would be difficult…or might even downright suck. But I never doubted my ability to drag myself across the finish line. And yes, I’ve DNF’d (did not finish) my share of races as well, but I’ve always been content with those because I knew I didn’t show up as prepared as I should have been. The Barkley Fall Classic is one of those races that makes me wonder if, even after nine months of training my ass off, I’ll be capable of completing the challenge.
How hard is it? In the words of Gary Cantrell, aka “Lazarus Lake”, one of the Barkley race directors:
550 runners were accepted for entry to the (2016) BFC
226 of those either withdrew,
or never showed up at all.
of the 324 who answered the starting cigarette;
73 dropped out
132 either chose, or were relegated to the marathon…
and 119 took home a croix de barque (50K finish).
37% of the starters.
As you can see, the Barkley Fall Classic doesn’t really leave any “I sort of trained for this” wiggle room. It doesn’t allow “you live at sea level” legs to fake their way up and down 20,000+ feet of elevation change. Which leaves me to wonder, can I train hard enough in the next 9 months to be able to have the strength to tackle those insane climbs and sustain the gnarly descents? Am I capable of building up the speed and endurance to make the strict cutoff times? Do I have the discipline to focus on giving everything I have to training for this race?
Do I have what it takes to be among this years 37%?
Here goes nothing.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.