The infamous Barkley Marathons event has been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The race captured the imagination of the ultra running world because of its difficulty, so much so that years go by without a single finisher. The Tennessee race was made famous by the Netflix documentary The Race That Eats Its Young.
The race organiser Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell is a cult figure in the community for his sadistic course designs. The Barkley is 161km, consisting of five loops, with a 60 hour cut off. Cantrell keeps the entry process secret, and believes if you really want to run, you will work it out. The entry fee is whatever he needs at the time, be it new shirts, trousers or another item.
Runners who navigated the secret system this year and won a place will have their place automatically earn a place next year.
The Barkley Marathon was based on the 1977 escape of James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King’s assassin, from a nearby prison. After 55 hours, Ray was found just eight miles from the prison. Cantrell wanted to mock Ray, convinced he could run 100 miles (161km) in the terrain in 60 hours and so the race was born. The first race was run in 1986, but it was not until 1995 that the race had its first finisher.
Jamil Coury, host of the Run Steep Get High podcast, was supposed to run the Barkley this year. He posted a video and said: “I think it’s something we knew was coming, the walls were closing in. It is definitely interesting times right now, with everything going on. There will not be a Barkley in 2020.”
“I think it’s absolutely the right call,” he said. “I think it would be unnecessary putting people at risk, not only all of us travelling from all over the place but also the Laz [Cantrell] and the race staff who are probably more in the at risk group.”