To call the Barkley Marathons quirky would be accurate—the entry fee for first-timers to the 100-mile race is a license plate from their home state; the race dates aren't posted (entrants have to just figure it out); there are hidden checkpoints, and GPS devices aren't allowed; and the race begins not with a horn but with the lighting of a cigarette. But the word quirky doesn't quite capture the completely hellish nature of the race, in which participants circle the 20-mile perimeter of Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park five times—or try to. Between 1985 and 2012, just 12 people finished it (racers only have 60 hours to do so). In April, two more racers joined that elite group; as a result, the course will once again be adjusted, reports Outside, who spoke with two of the race's founders.
Gary "Laz" Cantrell explains that he and Karl Henn got the idea for the race from a fairly unlikely person: Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassin. James Earl Ray famously escaped from a prison in the Tennessee Mountains, and was caught 54 hours later—having made it just eight miles. The two explored the area in 1985 and the race was born. Who participates? About 40 people a year, with past finishers including engineers, chemists, and other "quite smart" people; but no women. A slim 5% of those who even apply for the race are female; "we publicly state that this race is too hard for women and no woman can do it," says Laz. If you get injured, there's duct tape and Vaseline; if you quit, you may find yourself with a depressing seven-hour trek back to camp (where you'll be greeted with the loser's anthem: "Taps"). And if you finish? Says Laz, "The prize is that you get to stop running. The finishers have a chair brought to meet them right at the finish line. They stay there for a long time."