In the world of ultra-marathoning, no race is more fabled, feared or filthy as the Barkley. Inspired by the frantic escape of a notorious murderer, limited to a select group of participants and defiantly averse to support or celebration, Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell’s annual event is unlike anything else. No one has successfully finished the race since 2017 — and it’s safe to say no one would be surprised if the 2020 installment once again breaks the hearts of everyone involved.
Typically completed within a 60-hour period in late March or early April of each year, details of Barkley are proudly, defiantly hard to come by. Good luck getting much information from the “official website,” which seems to have last been updated around the same time “Moonlight” upset “La La Land” at the Oscars. Instead, for details on the race that “eats its young,” most folks seem to look to Keith Dunn, a loyal Barkley supporter who (unofficially?) seems to post the most reliable information about Barkley.
On February 28, Dunn tweeted: “Seems there are a lot of people hanging around a yellow gate the last couple days. #BM100,” seemingly signaling that race time was closing in. But in true Barkley spirit, he then said about a week later: “I’ve already tweeted the final results for this year. There will be no finishers.” So, don’t get your hopes up.
Which means, of course, that the racing community is indeed getting its hopes up. “It’s almost time for the one (!!!!) sporting event I follow,” tweeted Canadian race fan Rachel Schwarz (@rachelschwarz). “Every year I’m glued to twitter for a few days of hitting the refresh button and seeing if anyone escapes the jaws of the Barkley Marathon alive.”
Promising that they’ll be watching, Pieter Meere (@PieterMeere) replied: “My wife and I have taken a few extra days off for the #BM100. Yes, both last weekends,” adding: “We do expect a lot of finishers, mild conditions, singing in the woods, gnomes helping runners in need. What could possibly go wrong in Frozen Head?”
The response, of course, is that plenty can go wrong. Limited to 40 runners, entry details are typically top secret but include some combination of an essay, a $1.60 entry fee and additional requirements. After receiving a “letter of condolence” telling the athletes they’ve made the cut, the person least likely to finish one lap of the race is deemed the “human sacrifice,” and when Cantrell lights a cigarette, the race begins. Although certain variables are subject to change, the race currently consists of a 20-mile unmarked loop — no aid stations, two water points, runners going back and forth on the loop, night and day.
Out of more than 1,000 starts, the 100-mile race has been completed within the 60-mile cutoff by only 15 runners. In 2017, Vancouver’s Gary Robbins finished six seconds after the 60-hour cut-off time — although a wrong-turn likely would have disqualified him anyway. Could this be the year he finally conquers Barkley?
“Gary [Robbins] has to finish this year and Courtney [Dauwalter] will be the first female finisher next year,” predicts a fan named Jonah (@jeunomatic). “She will team up with Jared Campbell for the first 2 loops. Campbell’s comeback year will see him beat Maune’s record by some 30 mins. You heard it here first.”
Campbell is best known as the only person to ever finish Barkley three times — a 2019 attempt at a fourth finish fell short. Brett Maune, meanwhile, holds the course record with 52:03:08, which he set in 2012. As a third straight year threatens to end Barkley without a finisher, such performances seem increasingly impossible. Nevertheless, there appears to be hope — albeit, from the most unlikely source.
“Apparently laz has gone on record as saying there will be a finisher this year,” tweeted Dunn last week. “I’m on record as saying there won’t be. History suggests I am right.”
At this point, anything further is speculation — and seems to reflect more on the glass half full/glass half empty nature of the commenter than any sort of actual, tangible insider information.
“There will be 2 Finishers and the first woman,” tweeted a fan named empariyon (@Andreas42628876). “I feel it, yes … there is a spirit 2020.”
“I’m with you Keith,” replied Greg Doran. “But something always tells me Laz is not to be denied.”
Perhaps (most likely?) jokingly, Dunn suggested something that may threaten to become a reality if Barkleys keep going down without any finishers — albeit, most likely over the founder’s dead body. “I mean,” he tweeted. “laz could make the course easier . . .”