I am sure there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas about what the toughest running race is. Of course, things like Death Valley or Marathon des Sables with jump on the list and people would probably also include marathons like Pikes Peak and others.
But, if you were to identify the toughest running race by the amount of finishers, it would have to be the Barkley Marathons, an incredible and unique running event that took place just over a week ago
The Barkley Marathons Ended Without a Finisher – Again
Link: 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!
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.
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. Last year’s winner and sole finisher did it in 57 hours and 30 minutes – a pace of over 34 minutes per mile!
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. Last year, 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 this year! 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.
While there are some races (like Badwater) that are on my to-do list, I can say that the Barkley Marathons are not! The challenge is tempting but I honestly doubt I would make it even half the distance when such incredible runners before me have tried.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia User:ChristopherM/Gallery