I applied for the Barkley Marathons again this year. I still don’t know if I’m doing it right, but here’s the essay I wrote.

Dear laz,

I should be allowed to run the Barkley because I love the Barkley. I love its structure, its challenge, and its community.

The Barkley has spun out many races that try to emulate its structure, difficulty, and character. One of those races is Niwot’s Challenge here in Colorado. It, like the early years of the Barkley, is setup as a “50 miler.” Also like the Barkley, it requires significant off-trail navigation, route-finding in unforgiving terrain, and enough vertical gain to shake a stick at. The race director, Sherpa John, claims it’s harder than the Barkley mile-for-mile. I, however, am under no illusions about that fact. Niwot’s 20,000 feet over ~50 miles doesn’t hold a candle to the true distance and elevation gain at the Barkley. In 2019 and 2020, I completed the Niwot’s course in around 27 hours, becoming one of the few two-time finishers.

I absolutely love the structure of Barkley and Niwot’s. It’s my favorite style of racing: To be out there, in the wilderness, challenging yourself against the wild and against the course. More than that, the Barkley style forces a repetition on the same course. One of my favorite aspects of learning the Niwot’s course over multiple runnings is how I start to recognize the best lines up and down mountains to avoid the swamps, scrub oak, cliff-outs, etc. It makes me feel like an Apache tracker, looking for an odd rock to know when to turn or a pile of trash in the middle of a forest to know I’m on the right line.

I love challenges. Since I started ultrarunning in 2017, I have completed some hard things, such as the 2018 High Lonesome 100 (22.5k vert), two runs of a fat-ass 100 called Hallowed Hundred (16k vert), and two completions of Niwot’s Challenge, mentioned above, and a bunch of hard 50 milers and 50ks with significant vert. I have also failed quite a bit. I believe failure is necessary me to understand how to go to the next level. For instance, I’ve been on the BFC wait list for 3 years now, failing to get into the race at all! ;)

I love the challenge of the Barkley. I am under no pretense about my ability to finish it however. If I got in, I would train as hard as I’ve ever trained in my life. I would dedicate myself to the race from when I found out until the fateful fool’s weekend. Even then, I would face incredible odds to even finish a fun run. My hero is John Fegyveresi in this regard. His virgin finish as a non-elite athlete proved that it could be done. I would like to try my hand at following up that feat.

Finally, I love the community. The best part of Niwot’s is the people who are out there with you trying to compete against the course. It’s a totally different feeling from a normal ultrarunning race. From what I can tell in Frozen Ed’s book and Jamil’s and Gary’s descriptions, I believe Barkley has this community too, and I’d like to join it.

Cheers, Jon Eisen