Written by Guillaume Arthus - http://www.runnexplorer.com/

5 years ago, I found out that there was a race out there that shredded its runners, unapologeticly. I was intriged. I started to learn about it but nothing was available on it. All was elusive, few if no info was available on the race itself.
But yet, every year, news would pop-up from time to time. I scruted those for 4 years before finding out how to get there. The more I read about it, only one sure was sure about it. Nothing can describe was truely happen out there. The next year, I chickened out of registration. "What if I get in? I would be screwed".
But in 2016, on the last day of a running adventure, I made the call. I decided I wanted to find out. Find out what it was all about. Find out who I was as a runner. Find out who I was as a man.
I apply. I wait. I see others condolences showing up and know I am not in. I am devastated. The day after, while drowning my sorrow, I received an unexpected message.
I made it on the wait list. 22 people in front of me. Odds are hair thin thick. I wait.
Everyday, for months, I wait for people to drop.
3 months to go, I hope.
2 months to go, I gringe.
1 month to go, I implore.
27 days to go, I see a message from Laz.
"Since the lastest casualty was an oversea runner, I was initially going to skip down and replace him with another oversea runner, (...) but neither one send {this}. I took someone else instead."
My heart stopped. I was skipped. I was supposed to be called. I was sure I sent {this}. I ask. He checks. He founds.
My heart starts again. The longest 36 minutes of my life. The wait starts again, but as first on the list.
18 days to go. 7am. Condolences.
8am. Flight is booked. Fear.
I am now in. Panic.
I have not trained for it.

Now on my way to the airport, a major incident delay the train by 2 hours. I jump off it and rush down the street. I see 2 people getting into a car. There is still room for one. I jump in. Our good samaritain drives us to the airport. I make it to the check in with 5 min to spare.
Time to relax now.

It is now the day before the race. Runners are progressivly making it to camp. There are famous runners everywhere. The level of experience is mind blowing. I am starting to wonder how much of a fool I am about to make of myself out there.

My crew arrives. We met for the first time. Conrad & Ed are very nice. They were recommanded by John Kelly.

After a quick interview with the Belgium television, I get to Laz for registration. I give him my plate. I get bib 27. I am officially in.

An hour later, the map is up. Time to learn, copy and get it all straight. I spend about 2 hours understanding the complexity of the navigation ahead of us. It is worse than you think.

10:30pm, time for bed. The start was around noon the last 2 years. The conch is blown at 0:41. Race starts in 1 hour. 3 hours of sleep only, and 7 hours of navigation in the dark to come.
My mind is twisted between fear and excitement. I make void in it while getting up to the yellow gate. I get my watch. 3 minutes to go. A light, a cigarette, we are off. The adrelanine rush is real. We all move up on the trail, possessed. All is fine until the pillars of doom. The little group formed explodes right after, while looking for the ridge in the dark. I follow a pair of vets that move fast and navigate well in a well coordinated balley.
They are my best and only chance. I hold on. Looking down on the left, some headlamps are stopped and jump around. That's the first book. We straight go for it. It was like piranhas on a prey. I devore my page and catch up with great effort with the 2 vets. They set up the bearing and go straight to the next book. The decent is pure madness but it works. We land right on it. I shout the book exact location. She found it. We move up again.
Their pace is pure madness. I cannot keep up. I am now alone. 2 others vets passed me before I made it to the trail again. But with Henry right behind me, a 4 time vet, i get the precious clue of "the map is wrong here. We are there and so it's straight up there." We do. We land on top. I shout the instructions.
Stones are flipped. I apply the instruction to the letter. Flip my first stone. I found the book.

Finding this book by myself is a moment of pride. A split second a joy that turn right back into focus. I am with the pair again.

We head to the garden spot. Everything moves really fast. I lost them in the fog. The fog was a killer. Could barely see anything further than 2 meters away. Making a right that don't feel like it, I go back and wait for Henry. He shows me the tiny bit we are suppose to follow. We land right on book 4. 3 others runners are there and we decise to team up for the tricky navigation to book 5. Jeep road, cut, jeep road, cut, jeep road. With the split rock on the left, we head straight down to new river. 3 runners are there, including the pair. The book is further down. Henry finds it. It has been crippled by animals. The pages are stiking together, almost impossible to get.

Book 6 is a formality. Straight up, the 8 of us land on it very fast. Sun is rising and the hardest of the navigation is done. Down the ridge, I follow the group that is going too fast for me. I suck it up. I get to book 7 with no issue. But now I lost everyone on the up.
Book 8 is trouble. I loose half an hour finding a barrel because of reading right/left and not left/right. 5 minutes after leaving it, I realize I miss a glove. I go back to the barrel.
Missing the old mine due to poor navigation, i finally join the road to the cables. Rat Jaw. Fire tower is next. The climb is the devil. I get my page, water and head back down to the prison. I end up on the wrong side of the tunnel. I missed the tunnel. I am furious but have no time for pleasure and getting in it. I get book 10 and go up to the Key hole. On top of the knob, I cannot find it. For 20min. The clock is ticking. I am scared. All the good work done was about to be blown off. I see Ed in the distance, try to join him up there but he is gone in seconds. A group of 5 is now going up. The key hole is 300 yards away. Without them, I would still be out there.
Get the page, down zipline, we talk about the time. Down at Book 12, we have 2 hours to make it to the gate.
We all decided to go solo. There is no time to wait for others, especially because book 13 is easy to find. Big Hell is devored to the price of great effort. Book 13. We are flying on the candy ass trail. Moving like mad men, we crush it and run the full way down until the trailhead. 
Still running, we are now in camp. I see my crew. "10 minutes rotation!" I still run. Touch the gate. Give my pages. 13. I made a loop. Time for the switch. I showel food in my face while answering questions for the Belgium television. My crew handle my pack and refill it all. I eat more. Pack is back on. Control check of the pack. All is good. I get up to the gate.
Get a new bib. 119.
I start counterclock. "How much time?" I shout from the distance, "9 minutes". Nailed it.

Running full speed on the easy section. The uphill starts. Then it hits me. I made a loop on the Barkley.
There is now word to describe the emotion in my mind. I cannot process it. Book 13 again. Wilson, catch up with me as we catch up on Jason. An American, a Tawainese and a French. The joke would be book 12.
Heading too South, we loose 30min on it. That is costly. We had only 50min of buffer for the loop. It is now down to 20.
Up zipline, I start my legs starting to fail me. I know I am done. There will be no loop 2 for me. At book 11, I tell my buddies to leave and and try to make it for me.
But I am not done yet. I want to see the tunnel of the prison. I got straight down to it, pick book 10 and then, for 5 vivid minutes, i am in the tunnel. Pure magic.
Rat Jaw. The proper way to give up. The setting sun is bringing mindblowing colors to hell. I get my last page after 18h45 of pure madness.
Sad right after making it to the top, I now cannot stop smilling. I spend some time with the people up there and get a beer by the fire before heading back.
Yellow gate again. I enjoy every minute of it. I am smilling and happier than a man can get.
The Barkley got my legs but my mind won. After jokes and laughters, I ask for my tap. It is beautiful. I swallow avidly every note of it. The smile on my face is filled with emotions. I am proud.
Humbled and shredded by the race, I cannot process that I managed a loop.
I had a lot of luck out there.

There is no doubt that it is a defining moment in my running life. There is nothing like Barkley. It is harder everything else I did. Combine.

Going out there, I was looking for a little bit more than pages. I was looking for a test of my mind and body. I found the answer that I was looking for. I did a loop with any elevation training. I was able to keep my mind sharp.

I am ready for my next adventures.

See you on the trails,
Guillaume.

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