Meet the Barkley Marathons, the world’s toughest and most secretive trail race.
It is a 100-mile footrace that some say is actually 130 miles or more, through unmarked trails that have names like Meth Lab Hill, Bad Thing and Leonard’s Buttslide and that are choked with prickly saw briers. Temperatures often range from freezing to blistering on the same day, and there is a cumulative elevation gain of more than 60,000 feet, or the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice from sea level.
A 60-hour time limit forces competitors to run, climb and bushwhack for three days with little or no sleep. They endure taunts from the race director, who deliberately keeps the competition’s entry procedure a mystery. It is a race in which there are no comfort stations, and runners cannot use a GPS device or a cellphone.
Less than 2 percent of the nearly 800 ultrarunners who have subjected themselves to this punishment — 12 men, the same number as have walked on the moon — have finished the race in its current iteration. The only prize is that after 100 miles, they get to stop.