Marathons Races

The Toughest Race In the World Ended Without a Single Finisher

Written by Charlie

The Barkley Marathons is the toughest footrace in the world when you consider that no one was even able to finish the course – again! Check out what makes this race so difficult and how few people have even ever completed it!

What is largely known as the toughest race and the race that “eats its young” again was triumphant against all competitors. The very difficult Barkely Marathons ended this week in the same way it has so many years before – without a single finisher.

The Toughest Race in the World Ended Without a Single Finisher

Link: The Barkley Marathons

While I am sure many people have races that they would put at the “toughest” rating, all of those other races actually have people that have finished it! This race, the Barkley Marathons, more often than not does not have any finishers!

What is the Barkley Marathons?

The Barkley Marathons is an ultramarathon event run in the Tennessee mountains and is really an ultra-purist’s race. The race director, Gary Cantrell, started the race in 1986 as a result of hearing that an escaped prisoner (the man who murdered Martin Luther King Jr.) from a nearby prison was only able to make it 8 miles in 55 hours due to the difficulty of the mountainous terrain.

He thought it would make an incredible 100 mile event. In order to finish the Barkley Marathons, a runner must do it in under 60 hours.  The 60 mile “fun run” was added as well with a cutoff of 40 hours.

Even those distances are the ones given (there are 5 loops of 20 miles each), they are really more of an approximate distance. Since the course changes all the time, the distance can change as well and sometimes runners have said the loop could be as long as 26 miles each – making for an extra 30 miles over the full course of the race!

To add more to the interesting nature of the race, there is no official start time. It starts whenever Gary Cantrell lights his cigarette. Also, when each runner drops, or taps, Taps is played on the bugle for that runner.

The Entry Process for the Barkley Marathons

There is a unique entry process – it involves interested runners writing an essay-styled answer to “Why I Should Be Allowed To Run The Barkley.” As for the entry fee, it was one of the cheapest races in existence requiring only $1.60. They must also send or bring other things that have varied over the years – a license plate from their home state, a pair of blue or black gold-tie socks, a flannel shirt, a pack of cigarettes, etc.

The Barkley Marathons Race Course

It is a self-supported race with only 2 water stops on the 20 mile loop. Each year, there are 9-11 books on the course with pages that have the runner’s number on them. The runner is required to use only a map and compass to find each one along the loop, tear the pages out, and bring them back after each loop. For a loop to be completed, it requires each page.

This course has an insane elevation of over 60,000 feet – this is more than any other 100 miler. Only 15 runners have actually finished this race in the history of the race. The last winner and sole finisher (in 2017) did it in 57 hours and 30 minutes – a pace of over 34 minutes per mile!

The 2019 Barkley Marathons

This year, there were some very accomplished ultra runners that were in the group of 40 to tackle the Barkley. One of them was the only person to have won it 3 times, Jared Campbell. Of the 40 entrants, 28 runners finished the first loop and only 22 runners headed out for loop 2! Remember, each loop is about 20 miles long!

In the end, no one was able to finish the Barkley Marathons though 6 runners were able to finish the “Fun Run” – the 60 mile, 3 loop completion.

So Close…

How about this for difficult? Over the years since this race started, only 15 runners have ever been finishers in the 100 mile event! But, there were a few that got so painfully close. In 2017, one runner made a wrong turn just a couple miles shy of the finish line and, as a result finished 6 seconds over the cutoff! 

Another time, years ago, two runners finished within the allotted time but were disqualified for using a trail (that had been part of the course the year before) that was slightly easier to run on.

Out of 1,000 entrants over the years, the Barkley Marathons has only seen 15 runners finish, some of those finishers are the same people (one runner did it 3 times!).

That means that only 1 more person finished the Barkley Marathons than the number of people that walked on the moon (13 to 12)!

Check out this video from a runner who did it in 2018! If interested, there is also a movie about the Barley Marathons on Netflix and you can check out Matt Mahoney’s great site with a ton of info about this amazing event.

Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia  User:ChristopherM/Gallery

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • Wow! What a crazy course! Would be fun to just run 1 loop of it!
    If I lived nearby, I’d try and do it every year. One thing that helps with ultras (I think) is familiarity with the course.

    • Absolutely! It would be fun to try one loop. Maybe we should do a meetup and try it sometime. 🙂 We could have a local do it with us!