Top positive review
A grueling and quirky ultra marathon that attracts and slays most of the runners who attempt it.
Reviewed in the United States on May 31, 2018
The Barkley Marathons - The Race That Eats Its Young
The unexpected inspiration for this grueling ultra marathon was the 1970s prison break of James Earl Ray, MLK’s assassin. After days on the lam, Ray was captured eight miles from the prison, a victim of the forbidding Tennessee backwoods terrain in which the Barkley Marathons are set. Race director Gary Cantrell is part sadist and part Zen master and he affects a sly, redneck persona. The series of five races total something over 100 miles—nobody other than Cantrell knows the actual distance. Each runner is racing against the clock to complete all five legs, and that means going without sleep for the better part of a week. Even more challenging, there is a total of over 120,000 feet of altitude gain and loss over the five race stages and nobody other than Cantrell knows when the first stage will actually start. Each year a new course is devised and only 15 runners have finished the race over its 25-year history. Punctuated by Cantrell’s whimsical rules and traditions, there’s a bugler on hand to play taps for racers who drop out and the race itself begins when a conch shell is blown and Cantrell lights a cigarette. The route is indescribably tough with near-vertical slopes covered in brambles that rip at the runners’ flesh. Checkpoints consist of hard-to-find ziplock bags in which Cantrell has placed used dime store novels with ironic titles — the runners must tear out the page number that corresponds to their runner’s number and bring their collection of pages back to Cantrell. The race draws high achievers from all over the world and its only an elite few with the physical, and perhaps even more important, mental stamina, who finish.