Rarely Going the Distance

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Title: The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

Rating: 5 Stars

This is a documentary about the Barkley Marathon, a torturous ultra-marathon run in Tennessee by a guy named Lazarus.  By now (2016), it’s been held somewhere around 30 years and a total of 14 different runners have finished it.

Interesting facts:

  • Lazarus is himself a runner (although by now certainly not at his peak). When James Earl Ray escaped from a nearby prison, he was caught 55 hours later and he was still only 8 miles from the prison, Lazarus thought to himself, hell, if he’d been James Earl Ray, he would have been 100 miles away. That inspired him to design a 100 mile ultra-marathon race in the area.
  • The course is actually 5 20 mile loops. They alternate running day and night. They also alternate between clockwise and counterclockwise. If you complete 3 loops, that is considered ‘The Fun Run’.
  • People didn’t even know that it was supposed to be 100 miles at first because it was many years before anyone even finished The Fun Run.
  • There is no application process. Interested runners, through the grapevine or whatever, somehow find Lazarus and start the byzantine application process that Lazarus pretty much makes up as he goes along.
  • The entrance fee is $1.60. You are also required to bring a license plate from your home state / country. You are also required to bring one other thing. It varies by year. One year, Lazarus asked each runner to bring a white shirt. Once he had enough white shirts, he asked for a pair of socks. This year, he asked for a flannel shirt.
  • The Barkley Marathon is named after Barry Barkley, a local farmer that is friends with Lazarus. He has absolutely no connection to the marathon.
  • Even the course is supposed to be 100 miles long, it’s actually closer to around 130 miles. Lazarus changes the course nearly every year, but continues to insist that it’s exactly 100 miles long.
  • Only 40 runners are allowed to run.  Many years no one finishes.  Every time someone bows out of the race, a bugler plays Taps in front of the runner.
  • Although only 40 runners are allowed to run, Lazarus reserves a spot for a human sacrifice. He allows one runner that is completely out of his (this year, it’s a he) league. This year’s human sacrifice didn’t get halfway through the first loop.
  • Lazarus starts the race by lighting his cigarette.
  • Some parts of the course are consistently run. They have names like Son of a Bitch Ditch and Testicle Spectacle.
  • The course is not marked. The runners are not allowed GPS. They have to use a map and a compass and rely upon previous runners to help them navigate.
  • At eleven places on the course, there are books. When a runner finds a book, a runner tears a page out corresponding to his number for that leg. When the runner finishes the leg, the pages are turned over to Lazarus for verification. He chooses book titles like The Damned, Fool, and The Idiot. The book that is outside the prison that James Earl Ray escaped from (the runners actually run in a concrete tube that goes underneath the prison) is The Human Zoo.
  • One year, a runner got lost two miles into the race and ended up back at the camp sixteen hours later. To this day he has the award for slowest time (eight hours per mile).

As you can see, the ultra-marathon world is a strange one indeed. By and large, these are pretty obsessed people looking for a challenge that pushes them beyond their limits.

The fact that this race is this tremendous challenge while at the same time the organizer of the race is basically just doing this for his own private amusement is pretty awesome.

 

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