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April 29, 2011

One cool ultra...

Not to keep beating a dead horse, but I'm going to reference Runner's World again.  The May issue did not have a "Newbie Chronicles."  However, it did have a story on an interesting ultra-marathon.  In Notorious (p. 77), Charlie Engle describes the Barkley Marathons, a race held annually in Frozen Head State Park near WartburgTennessee in late March or early April.

Both the article and the Wikipedia entry describe its odd requirements and inspiration.  The race is limited to 35 runners and usually fills up quickly the day registration opens. Potential entrants must complete an essay on "Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley."  The course was designed by Gary Cantrell. His idea for the race was inspired upon hearing about Martin Luther King, Jr's assassin James Earl Ray escaping from prison, and making it only 8 miles (13 km) after running 55 hours in the woods. Cantrell said to himself "I could do at least 100 miles." Thus, the Barkley Marathon was born.

The race certainly has some intriguing features.  Race runners do several loops through terrifying terrain.  Five loops must be completed in 60 hours, with a 12 hour limit per loop.  Consecutive loops are run in opposite directions (first clockwise, then counter-clockwise).  Meanwhile, there is over 110,000 feet in elevation change over the total course.  Some short stretches have over 10,000 feet of elevation change in 0.5-2.5 miles.  That's just crazy.  Now factor in bears, boulders, brambles, and brooks, and you've got one heck of an adventure.

A typical trail marker in the Barkley
Among the quirks are the maps and books.  Runners are given a standard map, not a route map.  The course is barely marked.  Instead, they must follow the pack, hope to keep up, and examine the broken branches to find their way.  Of course, there are some markings along the pig skulls on stakes.  Then, at several pit stops around the course, runners must tear out their assigned page number from books, to prove that they've met each checkpoint.  These books have titles such as Cry Uncle or A Time to Die.  Simply twisted!

Nothing better to get you through 100+ 
miles of Hell on Earth
Finally, don't take my word for it.  I've found three even more intriguing looks at Barkley than the small glimpse in the magazine or that which I can provide.  One came from the Washington Post.  Another was a webpage created by Matt Mahoney, a man who finished the 60 mile "fun run" at Barkley.  It includes videos,  demonstrating the true twistedness of this race - even Cantrell playing taps as each runner quits.  Another was an RW online profile of the race from 2010.  It chronicled Engle's journey prior to his own article in this past month's magazine.

There is no race schwag.  There is no race registration webpage.  In fact, there's not much - just adventure and pride.  But, I think the thing that got me, was all the crazy aspects of it.  The books, the taps, or the even more demented.  There is no starting gun.  Instead, the race begins as Cantrell lights and takes a drag on a cigarette...the opposite of what every runner expects.


Brandt Schneider April 29, 2011 at 9:30 PM  

There is a race you might like in Ridgefield. Trying to remember what is was.... Very old school, Braveheart, stop when you're done type of race.

S May 4, 2011 at 11:31 AM  

That is the most messed up thing I think I've ever heard of. Very sick, twisted individual, indeed.

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