To be clear: The Barkley Marathons is plural not because it’s a series, but rather because you’ll feel every mile of the 3.81 marathon distances inside of this 100-miler. Actually, you probably won’t. Because there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of even finishing.
Since this beast was first run in 1986, at Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, exactly 18 runners have finished. There are no aid stations; the course is poorly marked; it’s a mix of trail and bushwhacking; there’s nearly double (67,000 feet) the elevation gain of the Hardrock 100. For each of the five 20-mile loops, racers are allowed 12 hours. For the math impaired, that means organizers don’t expect you to cover much more 1.6(ish) miles per hour.
These are the reasons the Barkley is a classic. And these are the reasons they turn away so many aspirational runners every year. Only 35 to 40 runners are accepted among the hundreds that apply.
For anyone who hasn’t run the Barkley before, the entrance fee is $1.60, which is not refunded if your application is denied. And while some slots are saved for international competitors and elite athletes, everyone else is in the same boat: apply, wish, and wait. Along with the buck-sixty, applicants need to submit an essay or a haiku or a list or a decoupage entitled, “Why I Should Be Allowed to Run the Barkley.” Get your pen ready and prepare to sell it.
There’s a sliding scale for the entrance fee. For Barkley virgins, you’re looking at a license plate from your home state. Returning masochists must submit gold dress socks (no size indicated). The elite crew of finishers (the amazing 18) need to cough up a pack of smokes: regular Camel filtered, to be exact.
If this doesn’t give you feel of what this race is about, delete this listing: it’s not for you. But if sadism runs as deep as sarcasm in your blood, give it a shot. Discover the reason why the subtitle of the 2015 documentary on the Barkley was, “The Race That Eats Its Young.”
If it all sounds a little much, there is a “fun run” component! That run is three, 20-mile loops with a time limit of 13 hours per loop.
There’s not a pre-set date, but the Barkley is, appropriately, held around April Fool’s Day each year. It’s not a joke, but you may wish it was once your a few miles in. For updates, check out the race’s Twitter feed: @BarkleyMarathon.
Photo by Barkley Marathons
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