For some doing a half a marathon is the peak of their physical endurance, for others completing the 26.2 miles of the London Marathon is an unbelievable achievement. For the rest, this simply doesn’t even scratch the surface compared to a ultramarathon. The Barkley Marathons has had only 15 people finish this race since it began in 1986, with over 1000 people taking part in it.
It’s not often when applying for a marathon in which you sign a legal disclaimer which reads ‘ If I am stupid enough to attempt the Barkley, I deserve to be held responsible for any result of that attempt, be it financial, physical, mental, or anything else.’ That’s how intense we’re talking when referring to the Barkley Marathons.
So what does it actually include? Officially it includes five laps through Frozen Head Park State, Tennessee. This totalling around 100 miles, and if this isn’t hard enough you only have 60 hours to complete it in. Competitors ascend and descend 120,000 feet on this ‘run’, which is the equivalent of climbing up and down Mount Everest twice. This is gradually beginning to sound stupid, right?
To enter it does actually only cost $1.60, from which you answer a handful of questions about previous runs, your background and why you believe you should be allowed to take part, from which race organisers have set categories to allow a fair intake of new and failed runners amongst them coming in from abroad. If you are lucky enough to be one of the chosen few, race organisers demand new runners, known as ‘virgins’ bring a license plate from their state. Runners who have attempted before but failed must bring with them a set item of clothing. If you’re one of the 15 alumni who have finished the course and are stupid to compete again, organisers ask you to bring with you a pack of Camel Cigarettes. Again, each aspect making this marathon just a little bit weirder.
Oh, we also forgot to mention. As well as completing the 5 loops, competitors must locate 13 books along the way and rip out pages which have a direct relationship to their race number
Course designer Gary Cantrell (AKA Laz), said “The less likely they are to complete it (the runners), the more they are attracted to it”. The course was indirectly inspired by James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr after he escaped from prison in 1977. When Ray was recaptured 56 hours later, he had only made it 8 miles, so Laz believed he could have made it at least 100 miles. It’s fair to say he didn’t, and he’s never completed more than 2 loops of his own course.
The first marathon took place in 1986, with no winner for 9 years Laz continued to make the course harder and harder. Until 1995 that is! When Englishman Mark Williams, running on tea and scones completed the 5 loops in 59 hours and 29 minutes, pretty impressive.
The marathon is held on the Saturday closest to April fools day and can begin anywhere from midnight to noon. It begins exactly 1 hour after a conch is blown at the starting line-up. Runners aren’t even given a map of the course until the afternoon before, and oh and again, we also forgot to mention again GPS’s are banned.
So, after a quick over view of the Barkley marathons, do you feel like you could complete it?