Barkley Marathons - A good story

While getting pretty excited and nervous about following the footsteps of history I read into more detail about a race that is on my to-do list, though a long way down it. It is a long way down because it appears to be the hardest race I have ever come across.

So many good races have a "story". The Spartathlon has it's roots in ancient history, the Western States 100 was originally a horse race and was first completed on foot by a chap who's horse was lame, we all know about "the marathon". The Dartmoor Discovery was based on the route of a training run that went wrong and the Leadville 100 was born out of an idea by a resident to sell the city as a shit hole. This is the worst place in America, why would anyone come? In fact let's use that fact to our advantage and create a race that is hard for all those reasons.

The Barkley Marathons can lay claim to being the hardest race in the world, near Knoxville Tennessee. The total altitude is the equivalent of climbing everest twice. The trails are not barely walkable let alone runable. The cut off time is 60 hours. This is the story;

"Gary Cantrell conceived the Barkley Marathons in the late 1970s, after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s convicted assassin escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary near Wartburg. James Earl Ray ran for 55 hours before guards found him eight miles from the prison fence. Cantrell, a local ultrarunner and accountant, followed the story and thought: That's pathetic. I could have gone at least 100 miles in that much time."

Cantrell then designed a loop of 20 miles which is to be done 5 times. There is a 60 mile "fun run" version that not a lot of people complete too. Along the way you must tear pages out of 10 books that are strewn along the way to prove you have done each lap. Once one of these books was put in a rattlesnake nest. 

In 600 starts since 1986 only 6 people have finished. The whole thing is designed NOT to be finished. On the rare occasion when someone does complete the 5th lap the race organiser feels that his race has been beaten by a runner. I can't think of any other event in the world that works like this, it's unique.

I can imagine the pain and discomfort of stumbling along for hours on end but this run has some unique challenges which I'd love to test myself with. Not only the the terrain and elevation but the navigational aspects. I know what it's like to only be 30 miles into an easy countryside amble and then fail to follow simple instructions. Even with the laps I'm unlikely to remember where to go, a combination of really poor attention to detail along with exhaustion from doing this.

But the hardest part will be leaving each checkpoint after completing each lap (and even completing 1 lap is not a given). I remember how hard it was to leave checkpoints in Rotherham where I'd then be out there for another hour. In the GUCR this year it was hard leaving a checkpoint knowing I had another 4/5 hours to the next one. At least in both cases I knew I was close enough to civilisation to get help if I needed it. How would I feel about leaving a checkpoint knowing I had at least another 10 hours of the same misery and pain that I'd just suffered? Would I be able to get out of the chair and get on with it each time?

I don't know, which is why it has to go on the list.

Race report from Matt Mahoney