I will be at the start of the famous Barkley Fun Run in Tennessee next March, the 30th, for the 4th time. Here are some key points about this mysterious run…


1)      The assassination of Martin Luther King is at the core of the run …

In 1977, the murderer of Martin Luther King, James Earl Rey, escapes from the Brushy Mountains prison in Tennessee. Police catches him after about 60 hours, and the man only managed to run 8 miles. 2 ultra-distance running passionate friends, who happen to know the place, Gary Cantrell and M. Barkley, burst out laugh : they, runners, would have done at least a thousand miles in such time…  so the concept of the Barkley was originated : run 100 miles in 60 hours, at the heart of this thick forest…


2)      LAZ, the mysterious organisator

Today, LAZ the notorious organisator of the Barkley, along with his style,  his long beard, his red flannel shirt, and the one to give the start simply by lighting his cigarette, plays an active role in Barkley’s myth.

But Laz is none other than Gary Cantrell, the passionate ultra-runner, who just aged a bit since the first edition of the Barkley 33 years ago. Mischievous and folkloric, Laz is nevertheless a true expert in races, an unparalleled statistician, and an organisator raised and revealed with other renowned races in Tennessee.


3)      Is the Barkley the toughest run in the world ?

This is blatantly clear when one looks at the statistics: 1% of participants finish this race.  In other words,  only 15 finishers totalized for the 33 editions, each  year with 40 participants at the start.

The Barkley is not, undoubtedly, the most extreme race : not the longest,  not the hottest nor the coldest… but it still holds the world record with only 1% of finishers …

Plus, each year, the race gets tougher, with a longer distance to cover, more positive ascent to climb… in order to maintain its prestige and be an ongoing challenge for participants.


4)      The race map : a unique concept

Officially, the Barkley totalizes a distance of 100.000 miles  – but in reality,  there are about 124.000 miles to cover and more than 15.000 miles of positive ascent. GPS and other electronic devices are strictly forbidden. Only a $9.99 watch is offered by Laz to runners, that comes with the hour, the date, and an alarm clock.

The race map is kept secret, runners can only write it down on their map the day before and must pledge not to reveal it. They have to perform a 20 miles loop, 5 times, in one direction and then the other, both daytime and nightime according to the starting time given an hour before. The route is unmarked and runners orientate themselves using their map and a compass. Also, there are no supply points except for two water sources, and no flag person. To validate the loops, runners must find books concealed at the key points of the route and collect the page corresponding to their bib number.


5)      What are the main difficulties of this great race ?

The first one for sure, is the physical effort required to make it through the 15 miles of positive ascent and 100 miles. The second one is to navigate on the unmarked tracks, without making a costly mistake, day and night, with tens of hours of exhaustion. The keystone being the 60-hours watershed concept (12 hours / loop) which only gives enough time to 1% of the participants to finish the race in time.

And of course, there are all the other tricks added by Laz with the sole intent of strenghtening the runners mental exertion throughout the race : the fact that the starting hour is known only an hour before, that you discover the route just the day before, plus the roadbook second degree humour, an uncertain weather situation, the legends about the race built year after year, and it goes on …


6)      How to subscribe to the Barkley ?

There is no application form. Nor any website. All you have to do is send a mail to Laz on the only day of the day when applications are open. Obviously, it is already a long quest to find these two components (the mail and registration day). Then, all that remains to do is convince Laz to add your name on the list of the 40 selected entrants, among many thousands of applicants by writing down a persuasive essay about « Why should I be admitted to run the Barkley ».


7)      The budget

The fees cost 1.60USD per runner, corresponding to a cent per kilometer. There are no sponsors, no arch at the start, no sound system, no media communication from the organisation. The original concept initiated more than 30 years ago goes against the leading international races, and it is undoubdetly the secrecy and the simplicty of the Barkley that make it the great unparalleled race of universal reknown that it is today.

I will be at the start of the race this year for the consecutive 4th year. Throughout my 3 first attemps, I only « pitifully » reached 2 loops (considering tht each year only 10% of the runners reach the 3 loops…). I do, of course, hope to do better this time, relying on the previous experience and training, and spurred by my victory at the Barkley FallClassic which was held here last fall. (a 30-mile run in Frozen Head State Park, considered some Canady dry compared to the Big Barkley). And of course, buoyed by my strong “trimviruat” support team, composed of Cédric, Emmanuel, and Nicolas, who are also companions of the organization of the Chartreuse Terminorum, a run very similar to the Barkley regarding the rules. Our friend Laz will be there to give the start next June.



La #Barkley en statistiques.

La légende est un long processus d’écriture… The myth is a long writing process…






Leave a Reply