The Ludicrous Barkley Marathons Will Break You

Fewer than 20 people have completed the race in 31 years
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2017 6:54 PM CDT
The Ludicrous Barkley Marathons Will Break You
Racers prepare to start the Barkley Marathons, which may well be the hardest run in the world. In 31 years, fewer than 20 people have ever finished.   (YouTube)

To complete Tennessee's Barkley Marathons, runners only need to average 2mph for 60 hours. Easy, right? Not so much, Esquire reports in a must-read piece that simultaneously makes the race seem like heaven and hell on Earth. The Barkley Marathons comprises five loops through Frozen Head State Park. There's about 120,000 feet of elevation change, no aid stations, hidden rocks, inch-long thorns, and two water stations that are usually completely frozen. Runners have to find and tear pages from 13 books while relying on official course directions like, "Look for a weird rock at a confluence of two streams ... and go down a hillside. If it looks too steep, that's the right one." That all leads to scenes like this from a woman less than halfway through the Barkley: "One runner weeps as her support crew shovels macaroni into her mouth."

"We need challenge to be happy. We need things to be hard," says Lazarus Lake, who created the Barkley Marathons in 1986. He's talking about his career as an accountant, but it applies to the race, as well. No one finished that first Barkley Marathons, so Lake, obviously, made the course harder. It would be nine years before the first successful completion of the race. "It's not a matter of 'Did you break?' It's a matter of 'How far can you make it before you break?'" says one veteran racer, who was hoping in 2017 to become the 15th person ever to complete the course. He was talking about getting his advanced sciences PhD, but it applies to the race, as well. Read the full Esquire piece here to get every ludicrous detail about the Barkley Marathons, including why runners have to prove their worth by answering questions about cosmic rays and cooking liver. (Read more Barkley Marathons stories.)

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