When Jeff Garmire set out to break the record for an unsupported traverse of the 500-mile Colorado Trail in August, he sought to avoid COVID-19 exposure by skipping the normal practice of stopping at towns along the way.
That meant packing all his food at the start of the trip and carrying more weight — but that also meant running out of food.
So when he decided to eat his last tube of peanut butter at 11 p.m. on the day before he finished his 500-mile journey, it was impactful.
“It was a very big moment,” he said. “Fifteen or 16 more hours, I would be without food. I wasn’t very hungry, but wanted a mental lift.”
The next day, 101-degree heat drained him, and he had a massive headache from not eating.
“I did everything I could do to put one foot in front of the other,” he said.
Garmire, 28, crossed the finish line the next day in 9 days, 8 hours and 18 minutes, breaking the trail record by about five hours. He’d run or walked about 52 miles a day and slept about three hours a night.
“It’s been nice to feel like I got something out of 2020,” said the Vancouver-born-and-raised trail runner. “I felt like everything was lost, and I was able to regroup.”
Losing his chance
Garmire’s year fell apart when the pandemic shut down his dream of running the Barkley Marathon, one of the most grueling ultramarathons known to mankind.
He had sponsors lined up, he submitted his application to a secret email in an hourlong window — an unusual tradition for the race — and he had trained for three years. About 1,000 people apply each year, and about 40 get in.
“I heard I got in right around New Year’s. I made plans to live off savings and train to give it the best shot possible,” he said.
But then the pandemic hit, and the race was canceled. He quickly found himself working as a Rosauers grocery store clerk in Bozeman, Mont.
“I was stocking shelves on the day the Barkley Marathon was supposed to start,” he recalled. “I called in sick the next day. I needed a ‘me day’ to get back to some decent headspace. It was hard to have a big goal that was taken away.”
But it wasn’t the end of the trail for Garmire, who knows how to push through tough moments. He continued his training by running hill “repeats” on a half-mile hill of vertical gain near Bozeman, often at night because it’s more comfortable.
He also broke two trail records in Montana in addition to the Colorado Trail.
For his Colorado trip, a camera crew followed him (as well as they could) and captured enough footage to create a documentary. The trailer is coming next month, he said, and he plans on submitting it to some film festivals. It’s likely to be released to the public early next year.
Garmire, author of “Free Outside,” has since left his job at the grocery store. In addition to training for the Barkley Marathon, he works as a freelance writer and a business consultant in Bozeman.
On Saturday, Garmire sat staring out at the Arkansas wilderness, drinking a cup of coffee, while he continues training for the 2021 Barkley Marathons. He was accepted to the 2021 race last week.
The Barkley Marathon is a 100-mile ultramarathon near Wartburg, Tenn., captured best in a documentary called “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.” A mere 15 people have ever finished the 40-year-old race, which was inspired by a prison break in 1977 and the escapee’s futile effort to navigate the rugged terrain around the prison. Terrain that’s now the course for Barkley.
Although daunting, it’s a welcome relief for Garmire to have his sights set on being one of the rare few who complete the Barkley Marathon.
“Things are definitely looking up,” he said.