What is the Barkley marathon?

[00:00:00] So you look up for your next challenge, you’ve done the marathon, you’re like, what’s up? What can I do? What’s a harder marathon? I pick something flat and fast to go for the first one. I got it done. I finished. What can I do next? Well, today I want to talk about the hardest marathon that you’re not allowed to do.

[00:00:30] There’s nothing ever so sweet as something you aren’t allowed to do, right, but there’s this marathon and it happens in this race and it goes on and people do do it, but you’re probably never going to do it. And what are we talking about? We’re talking about Barkley. I’m Jesse Funk. This is a show I call Runner’s High, where we talk about everything running, including today’s topic the Barkley Marathon. What is it? Why aren’t you allowed to do it? And can you try to get in?

[00:00:59] Instead of giving you my personal synopsis, I’m going to read you a little bit of the history of where Barkley came from and how the founder, Jerry Cantrell, kind of came up with the idea. So I’m to look at my computer. Sorry, I’m not looking at you, but let me read here. In 1977, James Earl Ray, who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in the town of Petro’s in Morgan County, Tennessee. A massive manhunt took place over more than two days, but Ray only made it roughly eight miles to the hills and backwoods surrounding the prison before being caught.

[00:01:32] Uninspired by the low mileage of the criminal, low mileage of the criminal, Gary Cantrell believed he could make it one hundred miles in the mountains around the penitentiary. Thus the Barkley Marathon was born. The name is said to come from Cantrell’s neighbor, Barry Barkley. The reason for this is unclear. The first official running of the Barkley was in nineteen eighty six, so I wasn’t even born yet. Still, three years until I was born in this ultramarathon, not just regular marathon came a thing, but the thing is that Gary doesn’t just allow anybody to do the race, and he caps the race basically at 40 participants every year, which is why you are likely to never be able to do this race.

[00:02:13] But it is absolutely gnarly, and I’ve got the opportunity to talk to somebody who not only did Barkley, but actually finished it. Part of the difficulty of Barkley is that there basically is a very basic race map, but there’s no markings and there’s no GPS allowed. So not only do you have to complete this race, which is supposed to be one hundred miles, but ends up ranging up to one hundred and forty miles, depending on Gary’s whims that particular year, you have to be able to navigate and navigate when you’re ridiculously fatigued and who’s keeping track of all of these laps.

[00:02:58] Well, the thing is that Gary apparently places books out on the course, and you need to tear out the page on that particular book, and that’s how he know that you’ve done that lap. So if you haven’t found the book, you’re not in the right place. You haven’t torn out the page that belongs to you. So if you’re bed number twenty three, you need to tear out pages number twenty three. If you don’t have all your pages, you didn’t complete the race, you didn’t complete the thing.

[00:03:23] So you know, in the last what is this? Almost 40 years now that this race has been run, only 15 people have ever completed this race. It is considered one of, if not the most difficult ultra marathon because it is a test of endurance. But it’s also a test of, like I said, almost mountaineering skills, almost keeping track of where you are. If you have the opportunity to do this race and the ability to sign up, it’s definitely going to be an experience. And I think it’s actually pretty warming and welcoming. But the sign up process isn’t like a normal race either.

[00:04:02] As I understand it, because I’m not in the know. The setup process is kind of secret, and there’s almost no registration fee. Supposedly something like a dollar sixty is all it takes to enter and then some kind of sacrificial item, which Gary decides that particular year. That’s all to say. If you don’t know how to get in, then you’re not going to get in. Maybe it’s like Fight Club. We don’t talk about Fight Club, except everybody seems to know about Barkley, and not everybody knows about a fight club, which is good.

Don’t join fight clubs, but you’ve got to kind of get yourself ingratiated into the community. And with people that actually have finished the race, including one of the people that have finished the race, at least most recently John Kelly, who I had on the Smart Athlete Podcast, another show I do on this channel every single Friday, I’m going to link to my conversation with John so we can talk a little bit more about Barkley at the end of this video. So you’re going to want to check that out.

[00:05:04] So the question for me becomes, should you even try to enter Barkley if you can’t get in and it’s going to be almost nearly impossible to finish? Is it worth trying to figure out how to get into this thing? I think the answer is yes, with the caveat that you have to be looking for what is, in my opinion, the most ridiculous race for purists only.

[00:05:31] It is run by a man who has whims and ideas about what running should be and what a race should look like. And if you’re fine subjecting yourself to the whims of somebody else or somebody like that, or you seem to agree with Gary, then go for it, do it. It’s not my bag. I’m not an ultra runner. It’s not really my thing. But John, who’s actually completed the race. He can tell you more about it. So you’re going to want to check out that conversation I had with John coming up on the screen here shortly.

There’s also a documentary about the Barkley on used to be on Netflix. I don’t know what streaming services it’s going to be on, depending on when you watch this. It has has an interview with John in that documentary.

[00:06:14] So check out my conversation with John. And while you’re doing that, leave a comment down below. I’d love to know what big adventure race, what is something exclusive I haven’t heard of other people haven’t heard of that’s on your kind of running bucket list to do. Leave that in the comments below then check out that conversation I had with John to learn more about Barkley and what he’s up to nowadays. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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