The Barkley Fall Classic Race Report – Brendan Gilpatrick

Race: The Barkley Fall Classic

Runner: Coach Brendan Gilpatrick

Race Date: 09/17/2022

Location: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Results: 6th Overall

Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/7828124823#kudos

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. Chance to run in a place with a long history in ultrarunning.
  2. The unknown. With not knowing the course until the day before there is an added element of adventure to this race.
  3. Beautiful flowy single track running through the woods.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

There is always a chance of poison ivy with the off trail navigation portions of this course. Post race it is important to go through a couple rounds of Zanfel to help prevent that from being an issue.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

You do not know the course until you get the map the day before. Once you know the course route on Friday it will give you the insight into how you should approach pacing this event. The exact distance is not 50km and it varies year to year but it is often longer than advertised.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

Taking an hour off my previous time and finishing in the top 10 and walking away from the race feeling good.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

A relaxed slow and steady effort on the difficult climbs with names will set you up to run the park trails and anything in between at a much better effort.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

I had arm protection for the long section of briars but I think it would be worth carry leg sleeves or a very light pant layer and taking the few minutes it would take to change in and out of those. Race the course and the clock not the other competitors. The difficult parts of this course stop the strongest runners in their tracks so it is extra important to focus on your own effort as the race progresses.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Know the park trail map ahead of seeing the race course. I did not take my map out at any point as I had reviewed the map of the park dozens of times. Knowing the color of the blazes for these trails will pay dividends as you navigate the race as there is minimal signage.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

While there are not really big sweeping views the single track trails of the park are fun and fast. They typically either go up or down through series of switchbacks so be prepared for little to no flat running.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

400 starters, 108 finishers for the 50K this year. That being said if you separate the difficult off trail climbs from the rest of the course runners with 50km-50 mile experience have a good shot at being able to finish.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Very well organized. The race captures “fatass” style racing from early trail running and combines it with a large local community involvement. Aid stations are run by members of the high school and middle school football teams.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

There is typically at least 20 very capable/experienced trail ultra runners. That being said it is a big field so no matter where you are performance wise you will always feel like you have competition. More importantly the course is hard and really offers you a chance to compete against yourself and the desire to quit or take the shorter marathon finish versus continuing on for the full 50k course.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Signup early this race always sells out. If you are truly passionate about doing it get on the waitlist and train like you are in as that list moves fast. I met a runner who tagged along with a friend was was racing and was on the waitlist and got in the morning of due to no shows.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

Aid stations carry water and Sword drink. There is typical trail race snacks but no gels. Gels are not permitted. If you rely heavily on your own nutrition practice carrying it in a way where you could be self-sufficient for the day if you needed to be.

Weather and typical race conditions

Typically it is hot (65-70 at the start to as high 85-90 as the day goes on). Chance of rain seems slim this weekend but has happened so bring that gear so you are safe.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

I would recommend the following as it worked well for me:

  • 1L kathdyn soft flask with filter (if streams are running race day you now have extra water sources if you have a filter)
  • Gloves for the climb through briars. Could go a step further and have carry arm and leg sleeves. The woman who won took the time to change in and out of these through the section where these are needed and gave her an advantage.
  • Gels in soft flask for the day, powder nutrition in another soft flask for the day. I had enough on me to run without aid if need be.
  • Sunglasses to avoid briars to the eyes.
  • A cheap simple watch to keep track of the time on course as no GPS watches are allowed.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

I would recommend you get dropped off at the finish and then potentially your family or friends could see you go through the prison area. There is no crew aid for this race but seeing my wife in the middle of the race was a bonus even though it was just a wave. If family and friends are waiting at the finish make sure they don’t lay around in the grassy field there are chiggers and they will have their own bites to bring back from Barkley.

How’s the Swag?

You get a compass and whistle as well as a course map printed on fabric. The finishing medal is different than most and they recognize if you have multiple finishes at this race. I would recommend picking up a cheap whistle/compass combo that is lighter and smaller and takes up less room race day. They are both required.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

10/10. Now if I could only get a shot at the Big one.

Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

Brendan Gilpatrick is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with him, check out his coach profile.