Considered one of the toughest and most secretive 100-mile races (possibly longer thanks to the unmarked trails), it covers approximately 65,000 feet of climbing and descents. To put it into perspective, it is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice from sea level.
The race began in 1986, and since then, only 14 people have finished the course.
Taking place in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, you must arrive a day early and camp out. The reason? Six hours before the start, the race director posts the course map that you must copy onto a map you brought as well as a set of directions. No GPS allowed, only a compass, so you better be good at directions.
When does the Barkley start? Anytime between midnight and noon so you must be present because the sound of the conch announces the 60 minutes before the race starts.
The race consists of five, 20-mile loops with no aid except for water at only two points. The course is so difficult that you must complete one loop in 12 hours, ultimately finishing with a deadline of 60 hours. That means running on little to no sleep. The fun part, you must find ten books along the course, and take out a page that matches their race number. All pages must be brought to the finish and if one is missing that runner is disqualified.
The race costs $1.60 to enter but, how do you enter? What is known, is that you must submit an essay at a specific time, in a specific time zone. You can not submit it too early or else it will be denied. And because entry is a closely guarded secret, it is still a mystery as to how you are selected.
But for those 35 who are selected, they typically have previous ultra-marathon experience, have raced the Barkley before or are just lucky. He does select one newbie that he believes will not finish dubbing him the “sacrificial virgin.”
The course was designed by Cantrell, based upon a comment he heard about James Early Ray, MLK JR’s assassin, about his escape from prison. He apparently spent 55 hours in those woods, and only ran eight miles. Later he made a comment saying he could have run 100 in the time, and thus, the Barkley was born.
- The race starts with the lighting of a cigarette
- In the first mile, it is a 1500-foot climb
- There are different start times each year
- The course has not been maintained for 50 years. Want to learn more? Check out the documentary available on Netflix