by Alyssa Godesky
Planting the Seed
My journey to the Barkley Marathons starts in the summer of 2018. I was living and training in Vermont, getting ready for my FKT attempt on the Long Trail, and I had just picked up a hitchhiker at the trailhead after my long run (sorry Mom, but I promise it was safer than it sounds!). As I drove him the 10 minutes or so into the town of Bennington, we were chatting and I shared my plans for the summer. “Are you doing it to create a Barkley resume?” he asked. Very quickly, I assured him that I wasn’t, and in fact wasn’t interested in doing the Barkley. We chatted a little bit about his interest in the race, exchanged instagram handles to follow one another’s adventures, and I dropped him off to pursue a shower and a meal.
I wasn’t lying to him - to that point I truly had never considered myself doing the Barkley Marathons. Navigation, off trail travel, relentless terrain — nothing I really had much experience in.
Fast forward a couple months, now sitting post-FKT with swollen legs, no toenails, and a heart and brain that were dreaming big and thinking of that conversation with the hitchhiker. Achieving the Women’s Supported FKT on the Long Trail got my wheels turning as I looked at the list of other record holders on that iconic trail - several of them had gone on to also become Barkley finishers. Hmmm. I decided to enter a two day navigation race on foot - The Stockville. The entire story of my first Stockville is here, but the cliff notes version is this: while massively unprepared for most of what I encountered that day in terms of bushwhacking and navigation, it opened a whole new world to me. I had a lot to learn, but perhaps I already had the most important tool in my belt: that I enjoyed doing it. And if I knew one thing that has been a steadfast lesson in my athletic career, it’s that if you enjoy what you are doing, no matter the outcome, the process of working towards a goal will be worth it.
Getting to the Barkley
If you are a fan of the race, you know that getting to the Barkley itself is by no means as easy as deciding you want to run and registering. From a secret entry process, “weight lists,” and malleable truths around every corner….getting in is not simple. For me, it’s been a three year process, finally getting in for year four - kind of like my own Olympic cycle I guess! One of the hardest things about this has been balancing this goal with my other racing goals as a professional triathlete. When you decide to do the Barkley, it has to be the #1 goal. The training it demands, the preparation it requires….it simply has to be #1. The past few years have been a roller coaster of highs and lows as I inched closer and closer and tried to maintain top fitness with being able to pivot into Barkley if it was coming to fruition. This year, I had a feeling it could be my year, and I decided to put all my chips into the Barkley basket, asking coach Hillary to train me as if I’m going. If not? We’ll worry about that later.
Training for the Barkley
When I asked Hillary to do that, it was an easy ask. Actually carrying out the training that was then prescribed, in order to race a race I wasn’t actually into yet? That was freaking hard! Putting in some of the hardest training days I have ever done without a firm promise that it would pay off for a chance to race was a mental tightrope. After doing a lot of really hard things in the past few years, I feel more aware than ever about the fact that those training blocks where you really have to dig really deep, pulling yourself out of the wells of fatigue each day, aren’t something I can face year after year - in fact, that is why I try to space my FKT attempts every other year! I’m not sure if it’s the age of my physical body, maturity, shifting priorities in life, or all of the above. But I can tell that I won’t be able to do that forever, and I definitely worried I was spending tokens for nothing this year. There were many nights where I laid awake because the simple weight of gravity pressing my body onto a memory foam mattress was so painful after the miles I did that day, and that gave me plenty of time to think about all of this.
Compartmentalizing all of those thoughts, and getting myself to face each day with a positive attitude, using the old “fake it til you make it” to cover up the physical and mental fatigue, was a big part of the training. I had to find enjoyment in the 6.5 hours hiking up and down the same .25 mile stretch of trail. I had to be a positive team player on our three-person team that took on the full Pemi Loop 31 mile hike in the White Mountains in New Hampshire in January. I had to laugh at myself and say “well, it’s only better Barkley training” as I hiked through knee deep snow for miles during a long run. The physical efforts were there, but more than ever before, Hillary had found a way to entwine the mental training in with the physical asks. We didn’t seek out the easy route despite training through winter in New Hampshire - in fact, we embraced it.
Heading Out There
Truthfully, now that I am in, I am probably more nervous than ever. Barkley has a high failure rate. The odds are against me that I will find the success I am seeking in my first attempt. In accepting a start line position at the Barkley, you are committing to something bigger than a race spot. Particularly as a woman, I feel a calling that no matter how my day personally goes, I will now be a part of a very select crew of females who will hold keys to unlocking the five loop finishes for women to come. Being a cog in the wheel to showcase what women are capable of at Barkley is an honor I don’t take lightly.
So for now, I am taking comfort in some of Laz’s recent advice:
“Take care of the details! The barkley is merciless. There are some dramatic stories of failures at barkley. But the successes are really the story of nailing the details. Doing a thousand small things right is the way you avoid the one big failure.”
The last few years have shown me that details are my thing. The packing for this event has also shown me that Barkley is in fact more similar to an FKT attempt vs. races I have done in the past. Granted, I have much less control over things in the Barkley than I do in an FKT attempt! But the roots are the same, and you can rest assured I have the details lined up as best I know how!
Updates from the 2022 Barkley will be on Twitter, follow #BM100.