One of the runner’s worst nightmares is the thought of a DNF (did not finish) in a race. Of course, there are worst things that can happen, but that is something that every runner dreads to some extent. As one who has had a DNF in a 100 miler (due to injury), I know how bad it feels to do that.
The Race That Saw 100% DNF – Barkley Marathons 100 Miler
But, there is one race that people sign-up for with the full knowledge that they will have a DNF at the end of the race and it took place last week. It has been called by many one of the toughest races in the world – and the 40 entrants this year can certainly testify to that as not one of them was able to finish the 100 mile race. In fact, their were only two runners that completed 3 loops (20 miles per loop) during regulation time. With the allowed time being 60 hours, you do the math on pace!
The Barkley Marathons is 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 from a nearby prison only was 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. The 60 mile “fun run” was added as well with a cutoff of 40 hours.
The Entry Process
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 and an additional item depending on your race status – beginners are required to send a license plate from their home state, veterans (who have not finished) are required to send a pair of either blue or black gold-toe socks, and alumni (the 14 who have actually finished the race in the 30 runnings of the event) must bring a pack of cigarettes.
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 14 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 50 minutes – a pace of 34 minutes and 42 seconds per mile!
I have known about this race for a number of years and it has always been on my “someday” list. Does such a race even sound enticing or interesting to you in the least? The numbers make it something exotic enough that I am sure there are many runners who would give thought to trying it someday.