The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2014) Review

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In the first 25 years of the Barkley Marathons only ten people had managed to finish the brutal race. Based on a failed prison escape, a tiny town in Tennessee hosts the crazy ultra marathon.

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Gary “Lazurus Lake” Cantrell is the man who came up with the idea of this run, an ultra runner himself he wanted to set a challenge. This is quite possibly the cheapest running race you can compete in at the grand total of $1.60 along with a licence plate from your home country. The course is unmarked and the runners must find books that are hidden to prove that they went to the right way, by ripping pages out which matches their race number (a new number is given before each loop).

I am a runner myself and have currently ran five full marathons as well as many half marathons, 10k’s and some 5k events. Marathon training is brutal in itself fitting in with full time work, I cannot even imagine what people must do in an attempt to train for an Ultra. Even more so a trail ultra like this one which you have 60 hours to complete the loops of the course. Over two days of running without any sleep, another epic task in itself. I mean even staying awake for that amount of time without physical activity is unreal!

Throughout the documentary we follow the 40 runners who started the race, that is the amount they accept to take part. Brett Maune is a previous finisher and wants to make history by finishing again! We also get John Fegyveresi who is unknown and wants to take on this epic challenge. Some find doing one loop an achievement, others are determined to get all five loops done before the cut off time.

The fun run is doing 60 miles of the course, yes I agree nothing sounds fun about that! The full course is 100 miles, again doesn’t that just sound nuts! This is coming from someone who does run 26.2 miles. The prison escape this idea come from was that of James Earl Ray the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr, as he spent 55 hours running in the woods but only covered 8 miles. Cantrell believed in that amount of time he could run at least 100 miles, we therefore have this utterly outrageous race which pushes the human body and mind to the limits.

Everything about this race is different, they have an additional “fee” which could be socks, shirts or anything they decide to include that year. The race was first run in 1986 but it took until 1995 for Mark Williams (from the UK) to become the first ever finisher. The race is started by the lighting of a cigarette, and if the runner goes for it for the five loops they have to run them in different directions.

It is well worth watching this documentary as it really does show just how much people can push themselves in order to achieve something in a race like this. With the course being unmarked it is very easy to then cover extra distance, although I guess the distance isn’t the main issue. That comes from the elevation game which is 54,200 feet (16,500) of vertical climb over the 100 miles. Support crews in camps helping the runners attempt to refuel and sort out blisters on their feet which look too painful to even walk on let alone attempt to run and climb! Don’t worry though this hasn’t encouraged me to want to take on an ultra marathon.

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