Barkley Marathons & more demonic Tennessee races

Sometime between midnight tonight and noon tomorrow (April 1, 2017), 40 daring souls will line up in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, for the start of the annual Barkley Marathons. A man will light a cigarette... and they will be off.

As for me, I'll be tied to Twitter and constantly refreshing #bm100 to find out what happens. Information is titrated out in tiny tantalizing tweets over the 60 hour duration of the race, by benevolent souls who might have time to share tidbits. And I'll try to piece together: Who, if anyone, will make 3 loops, the "fun run"? Who will make 4? Who will even START loop 5? Who will flame out spectacularly and who will just drop off, "tapped out" with nary a further mention? What will happen to Jamil Coury, who fell asleep on loop 4 in 2015 and finally came in hours after the cutoff, but with all of his book pages? What will happen to Gary Robbins, the Canadian contender who got all the way to loop 5 in 2016 before basically losing his mind due to sleep deprivation? How far will women get this year?

And also... who is the guy who runs this crazy race, designed to test the limits of human endurance and offer unlimited chances to fail?

That guy would be Lazarus Lake, also known as Gary Cantrell. And did you know the Barkley Marathons is just one of the ways he is influencing our understanding of human will and endurance?

There's also the Barkley Fall Classic 50k, which is a mini taste of the infamous Marathons and can actually be finished... by some.

In the Strolling Jim 40 runners earn colored T-shirts based on hitting certain set finishing times.

There's Big's Backyard. The rules are that runners complete the same 4+ mile loop every hour on the hour. The last person standing who completes the last loop is the winner. A personal recap can be found in the latest issue of Trail Runner DIRT magazine.

Then there's A Race for the Ages in Manchester, TN, the "return of the graybeards." The winner is the one who accumulates the most miles by the end of the timed race. People over the age of 48 are allotted the number of hours equal to their age to complete the event. So if you're 70, you get 70 hours. Those age 48 and under get the last 48 hours to complete their miles. The age-weighting gives an advantage to "superveterans" of the sport.

And there's also Vol State, a 500k race that goes diagonally across the entire state of Tennessee. You're basically on your own to make it across the state as quickly as possible (there is also a crewed option)... and it takes DAYS at the very least.

So I'm fascinated not only with the Barkley Marathons, but also with how Cantrell is expanding the way people think about running, racing, human endurance, failure, and even the meaning of life. Please check out his columns in Ultrarunning, which go back into the 80s when the magazine (and the sport) was just getting started.

Some favorite resources on the Barkley Marathons:

Twitter hashtag #BM100 during the race. Refresh refresh refresh!
This excellent & exhaustive site:
The documentary on Netflix (just search "Barkley")
The documentary on Youtube
The eerie before & after photos by Geoffrey Baker

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