RUN­NING NEWS Cana­dian trail star Gary Rob­bins to re­turn to Barkley Marathons in April In 2016, Rob­bins was hum­bled by the no­to­ri­ously chal­leng­ing race in ru­ral Ten­nessee and did not fin­ish

Canadian Running - - News -

It’s per­haps the tough­est ul­tra­ma­rathon in the world. Only 14 run­ners have fin­ished the Barkley Marathons since the famed 100-plus-mile race be­gan in 1986. Cana­dian Gary Rob­bins looks to add his name to the list of alumni in 2017 when he will con­test the ul­tra­ma­rathon in Frozen Head State Park in Ten­nessee for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year. The 2017 race will be held on March 31 to April 3, known among the Barkley com­mu­nity as “Fool’s Week­end.”

The North Van­cou­ver res­i­dent set a Cana­dian course record in 2016 at the no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult race. Barkley is five loops of ap­prox­i­mately 20 miles (32k) each, though the dis­tance varies year to year be­cause of course al­ter­ations. The race is be­lieved to have mea­sured up­wards of 130 miles (210k) in past years.

“Look­ing back, hon­estly, my phys­i­cal and men­tal state could not have been any more re­fined,” he says, re­call­ing last year. “This year, I’m hop­ing to show up as trained and healthy as pos­si­ble so I don’t need to change much on that side. The two big vari­ables will be nav­i­ga­tion and sleep.”

Rob­bins made it to the fifth and fi­nal loop of the 2016 Barkley Marathons, mak­ing it far­ther than any other Cana­dian be­fore him. He ex­pe­ri­enced in­tense hal­lu­ci­na­tions and was forced to drop out af­ter mak­ing a cru­cial nav­i­ga­tional error. Jared Camp­bell, who Rob­bins says will be on his sup­port crew in 2017, be­came the first three-time fin­isher of Barkley in 2016.

“I was far too close to reach­ing the im­pos­si­ble [fin­ish­ing] last year to not want to make it to the end this year,” he says. Run­ners must com­plete the five loops in less than 60 hours leav­ing lit­tle time be­tween laps to rest and re­fuel. (Each loop has a 12-hour limit.) The course fea­tures a stag­ger­ing 18,000 m of climb­ing.

The trail race is fa­mous for its unique quirks, in­clud­ing an en­try fee of us$ 1.60 and a li­cense plate, among other items. Last year, Rob­bins brought race di­rec­tor Gary Cantrell, known as Lazarus Lake, a New­found­land and Labrador plate as that’s where he was born. This year, Rob­bins will bring a Bri­tish Columbia li­cense plate along with a set of “com­fort­able white socks.” Each year, the race di­rec­tor makes part of the en­try fee a prod­uct that he is in need of.

An­other change for 2017, ac­cord­ing to Rob­bins, is that run­ners will be sup­plied a cheap stop­watch rather than ones that are self-sup­plied. Run­ners are not per­mit­ted to use gps watches as they must nav­i­gate the course us­ing a com­pass and map and col­lect pages of books scat­tered around the course to prove that they com­pleted the nec­es­sary kilo­me­tres.

“I have plenty of experience with maps and com­pass skills,” Rob­bins ex­plains. “But what hap­pened last year was that I was spend­ing too much time con­fused. I’ve learned de­fault sys­tems and un­der­stand­ing how to make nav­i­ga­tion like sec­ond na­ture.” A big part of the con­fu­sion was caused by the lack of sleep Rob­bins got in 2016 in the lead-up to the race. He slept only 90 min­utes in the 27 hours be­fore the race be­gan as the ex­act start time varies across a 12-hour win­dow. “There will be less anx­i­ety this year,” he says, cit­ing the com­fort in hav­ing raced the event be­fore.

Rob­bins has been train­ing with the Greater Van­cou­ver Ori­en­teer­ing Club to pre­pare for the 2017 Barkley Marathons. He has done ap­prox­i­mately 12 ses­sions with the group. An­other as­pect of the race will be nu­tri­tion, which Rob­bins says he was happy with in 2016 as he had a “mag­ni­tude of op­tions.” He will be able to trim down and re­fine what he brings in 2017; his crew is ex­pected to in­clude his wife, Linda, his son, Camp­bell and Ethan New­berry, also known as Gin­ger Run­ner, who will be mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary on Rob­bins, among oth­ers.

Though Rob­bins is not able to spec­ify the de­tails of the ap­pli­ca­tion process, he says that he sub­mit­ted the nec­es­sary doc­u­ments “at the ex­act minute you were sup­posed to.” In ad­di­tion to the ini­tial ap­pli­ca­tion, there is a fol­low-up “exam” that con­sists of a dozen or so “unan­swer­able prob­lems re­lat­ing to math and physics.” Race alumni also must bring a pack of cig­a­rettes for the race di­rec­tor.

Rob­bins’ train­ing will be en­tirely foot-based by the mid­dle of Fe­bru­ary to pre­pare for Barkleys with plenty of sup­ple­men­tal train­ing in the form of climb­ing and ski moun­taineer­ing in the mean­time. He has not raced on the trails since the 2016 Barkley Marathons in an ef­fort to re­duce po­ten­tial burnout.

The North Van­cou­ver run­ner’s pre­lim­i­nary travel plans in­cludes a seven-day trip to the area, Wed­nes­day to Wed­nes­day, in the lead-up to the race.— TH

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