The Barkley Marathons: A film about a footrace with a 98% DNF rate
The 2016 Barkley Marathons is happening RIGHT NOW… so let’s take a look at the recently released film about it! With a sub-title of “the race that eats its young,” this is not a competition for the faint-hearted. (I know ultramarathoners are not faint-hearted… but this one is at a totally different level).
Since April 1986, this (approximately) 100-mile race has taken place every year, in Tennessee. Around 40 runners are accepted each year – provided that they have paid the $1.60 application fee and, if accepted, donate a license plate to the race’s co-founder Gary “Laz” Cantrell.
The race consists of five (roughly) 20-mile loops. If you can complete three of them, that’s considered to be the “Fun Run.” Do all five, and you have completed the whole Barkley Marathons!
So far, in the thirty years that the event has been running, just 14 of the 800 attempts at finishing the Barkley Marathons have been successful. However, that record could change mometarily because, as I write this, three people have made it to Loop Five: two-time finisher Jared Campbell, Canadian ultrarunner Gary Robbins, and John Kelly. All of the others who’ve attempted for 2016 are out.
This is a very quirky and unusual race. In most ultramarathons, we enter with the aim of finishing. In this one, it is more about discovering your limit: finding out how far you can go, and what you can withstand. There is well over 3,000 m (10,000’+) of climbing in each loop, and some navigation is required – not to mention bush-bashing. The DNF rate stands at around 98%.
Why would anyone enter that? Watch the film, and all will be revealed! Not only is this an interesting and unusual race, but film-makers Annika Iltis and Timothy Kane have done a great job of telling its story (they filmed the 2012 race) and capturing its character (and characters). Here’s the trailer – and you can find the full film on Netflix or rent or buy The Barkley Marathons here.