Barkley Marathons

Barkley Marathons

The Barkley Marathons is one of the toughest, most exclusive and most mysterious races in the world.

A 99% DNF rate, a manhunt and sending an item of clothing with your entry, the myths of the Barkley Marathons are legendary. With only 40 places available each year it is also pretty exclusive – making this a tough race to even get to the start.

The history of the Barkley Marathons

The origin story of the Barkley Marathon is unlike any other race which adds to the intrigue. The founder of the race Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell and his friend Karl Henn were inspired by the escape from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary by James Earl Ray

In 1977 James Earl Ray, who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr escaped from the local prison and went on the run for 54.5 hours. In that time James Earl Ray hid from the police in the woods but only made it 12 miles before he was captured.

Hearing of Ray’s escape and subsequent capture Cantrell said he could do at least 100 miles in that time – and the idea for the Barkley Marathon was born.

Entering the race

As this is no normal Ultra there isn’t a standard sign up form – things are a little more elusive than that!

To enter the Barkley Marathon potential entrants must write an essay on “Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley,” pay a $1.60 application fee, and complete other requirements.

Successful applicants are then sent a letter of condolences and when they arrive first timers are asked to bring a licence plate from their home country or state.

Returning races must bring a ‘fee’ which usually consists of an item of clothing for Lazarus Lake.

The Course

The Barkley Marathon is made up of five 20 mile loops – although due to the difficulty of the terrain and the hard to navigate course it is thought that runners will cover around 26 miles per loop.

Each loop starts and finishes at a yellow gate where the camp is and there are no aid points along the course, just two water stations.

No GPS or tracking is allowed – so to prove the runners have completed the full distance of each loop each runner must find books along the route and rip out the page which corresponds to their race number.


It will be no surprise that only 15 runners have finished the 5 loops of the course in the events history with Mark Williams being the first in 1995 – 9 years after the first event took place.

Barkley Marathon 2023 – Tom Hollins

With so few athletes even making the start line we are excited to say that Scarpa Athlete Tom Hollins is taking part in this year’s Barkley Marathons.

Tom is known for his brutal challenges like his vertical marathon – so if anyone has what it takes to compete in this brutal race it is Tom.

Good luck Tom!

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