on Dec 28, 2016
I watched the documentary The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats its Young a few months ago. It describes one of the most brutal races in the world, and follows a number of contestants as they tackle the challenge in 2012. The movie has stayed with me since then. I keep thinking back to it and wondering at the strange quirks and personal drives that compel people to do this to themselves.
I know calling something “The Dark Souls of [thing]” is horribly cliché by this point, but The Barkley Marathon really is the Dark Souls of footraces. It’s a 100 mile ultramarathon race. It consists of five loops around a 20-mile course. It must be completed in 60 hours or less. The course involves a great deal of climbing and overcoming physical barriers like mud, water, rocky terrain, prickly plants, and the more general inconveniences of untamed wilderness. It has considerably more elevation change than any other 100 mile race. There are no markers denoting the boundaries of the course. Navigation is done by way of written instructions describing natural landmarks, and the course changes every year. To keep navigation interesting, runners change direction with each lap. There is no aid along the way, aside from two places where the runners can acquire water. (And on one particularly cold year, some of the water had frozen.) The race is set up so that some of the laps are run in the dark.