Running - Event

The Barkley Marathons: An Ultramarathon Trail covering 100 Miles in Tennessee

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Not many people have heard about the Barkley marathon and to be honest, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is because the infamous marathon is said to be very demanding and challenges the physical and mental abilities of every participant. Moreover, details about the race like its entry process have never been advertised publicly.

Every year, only thirty-five to forty-five people are selected out of a thousand or more for the marathon and since its inaugural only 15 runners have been able to actually finish the race. In fact, almost half the number of runners have failed to make it beyond the first or the second loop.

This should give you a fair idea of how challenging the race is.

However, if you are determined to brave everything and succeed, this article should prove to be helpful. Before we proceed to answer how to enter the Barkley marathons, let’s have a look at the history of the marathon.


The course for the Barkley marathon was created by Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell. His design was based or rather inspired by the escape of James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King Jr’s assassin in the year 1977 from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

After running for about fifty-five hours in the woods, Ray managed to cover only 8 miles.

History of Barkley Marathon
Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell - Barkley Marathon

Cantrell told himself that he could use this course and actually complete a lot more miles which is how the idea for the Barkley marathon started. The race was named for Cantrell’s running companion and neighbor named Barry Barkley.

Barkley Marathon - Registration and Requirements

This ultramarathon takes place in the Frozen Head State Park which is in Wartburg, Tennessee.

For the Barkley, only 35-40 runners are chosen each year and the spot fills up pretty quickly right after the Barkley Marathon registration opens.

The time and the requirements for the Barkley Marathon application have been guarded closely and no detail has been disclosed or advertised publicly. The aspirants must pay an application fee of $1.60 and an essay on "Why I Should be allowed to Run in the Barkley”, must also be submitted.

Other requirements are subject to change.

If your Barkley Marathon application is accepted, you would receive a condolence letter. To get an entry form you must request it as soon as the entry for the race opens.

Registration for Barkley Marathon
Barkley Marathon first timers ritual

Once you arrive at the location, the first-time participants would be required to bring with themselves a license plate from either their country or state, which is a part of the entrance requirements.

The veterans (people who have participated in the race before but haven’t finished it) are required to mail the additional fee which formerly has included items like flannel shirt, socks, and white shirt.

For the Alumni (any of the fourteen runners who have finished the race previously and are participating once again), the entry fee is a regular camel filter cigarettes box which has to be given to Lazarus on the day of the race.

When it comes to finding out the exact process of how to enter the Barkley Marathons, the information isn’t public and is done for good reason. It is believed that if as a runner, you are unwilling to put in the effort to research about the ways to enter; you wouldn’t really be willing to finish the race or face the challenges.

However, with the rise in popularity of the marathon, bits and pieces of information can easily be found these days. The easier the process to apply becomes, the higher the number of applicants would be and that means even lesser chance of getting chosen.

Course Details

Since the time of the inauguration of the marathon in 1986, the Barkley trail has been changed multiple times. Presently, the course consists of a twenty-mile long unmarked loop that doesn’t include any aid stations except for two water points along the route.

Barkley Marathon course
Barkley Marathon course

Participants running the hundred-mile race are required to run this loop five times. The runner has to take a counter-clockwise direction for the third and the fourth loop that would be followed by each of the runners alternating their direction on the fifth loop.

On the other hand, the runners opting for the sixty-mile fun race have to run the loop three times. The race is mostly a vertical climb and hence this hundred-mile ultramarathon is said to be one of the most challenging races out there.

Race Timing and A Few Other Details

Now that you are aware of how to enter the Barkley Marathons, the next thing that you would need to know is the timings of the race. Well, the marathon begins at any time between midnight and noon on the day of the race.

A conch is blown to signal an hour remaining before the race begins. To mark the official start of the race, the race director lights a cigarette.

Barkley marathon
Learn the race day details

In addition to finishing the marathon, the runners are also required to find anywhere between nine to eleven books on the course (the exact number keeps changing each year) and tear the page that matches the race number of the runner from each of them.

This would be the proof of completion.

The runners are required to complete the 100-mile race within 60 hours while for those running the 60-mile marathon, it has to be completed within 40 hours.

How to Prepare Yourself for the Barkley Marathon

Barkley marathon
Barkley marathon 2018

The Barkley isn’t for the faint-hearted and only people who have strong determination, courage and mental and physical ability, would be able to make it till the end. Before actually submitting your name for the marathon, prepare yourself mentally as what you are getting into is said to be the most exhausting and challenging footrace in the entire world.  

There are honestly no general guidelines available on how you can win the marathon or something like “Genius ways to win the Barkley”.

It all depends on your will to go ahead and succeed.

Evaluate your Motivation

The Barkley Marathon is tough and if you have made up your mind to participate in it, it’s important that you evaluate your motivation. It’s a marathon where emotional, mental and physical strength is required.

Consider speaking to someone close and consider their opinion. If you want to be a part of this marathon just for the sake of telling others that you participated in it or to simply check it off your bucket list, you need to think again.

It’s a mentally and physically exhausting marathon and just with that kind of motivation, you aren’t really strong enough to push past the obstacles that you would be faced with.

With a little research, you will get the answer to how to enter the Barkley marathons but the motivation for this marathon is something that needs to be internal. Only about 15 people have been able to find success till date and all of them have been motivated internally.

These people have worked hard on pushing their own limits. Regardless of the opinions, be it positive or negative, these people have had an internally rooted deep desire to experience these challenges and succeed.

Run Other Harder Races

As must be clear by now, this marathon has been designed to test your absolute limits. Therefore, if you have made up your mind to be a part of Barkley, make the best of this opportunity by testing your limits as much as you possibly can.

Unless and until you proudly have a 100 miler under your name, there are lesser chances you'll succeed in this race.

Prepare yourself by Running the Best Marathons in the USA: Pick Your Challenge!

Train for the marathon
Train for the Barkley Marathon

However, a lot of former Barkley participants haven’t had this kind of experience but with the recent increase in popularity of this marathon, it will require you to possess some achievements so as to filter down the number of applications to a somewhat reasonable level.

Also, by participating in a lot of races, you would get the chance to meet a number of new people. When you meet someone in person, they would be more willing to share some important information related to this race.

Also check out, The Big Six: World Marathon Majors That Every Runner Dreams Of

Running Barkley Fall Classic is the Way to Go

The best way to comprehend and get an insight into what the Barkley Marathon actually is, would be by running the precursor race, Barkley Fall Classic (BFC). In fact a lot of people who attempt the BFC decide that it’s enough for them.

This is better than getting into the Barkley Marathon and deciding halfway into Loop 1 that this race isn’t meant for you. Also, if you do manage to win the BFC, you get an automatic entry into Barkley so it’s a win-win situation for you.

Not only does BFC give you a fair experience of what you can expect in Barkley, it also gifts you with a guaranteed entry into the Barkley Marathon.

Barkley FAQ’s

  1. Where will I be able to get my own entry form?
    A: You must request an entry form when the entry for the races opens. You will receive a letter when your entry has been accepted by the concerned authorities.

  2. On what day would the race be organised?
    A: You will receive an update as soon as your entry has been accepted.

  3. How much is the entry fees?
    A: The application fee is a total of $1.60 and is non-refundable. However, for the accepted runners, the entry fee is going to vary. For people participating in the marathon for the first time, the fee is generally a license plate from your country or home state. Also, you would be required to write an essay on "Why I should be allowed to run the Barkley".

  4. What are my chances of getting selected?  
    A: For the marathon, the entry list as well as the weight list gives preference to people who possess a good chance of actually finishing it.

  5. From where can I get a Barkley Marathons map?
    A: You will be able to receive the Barkley Marathons map for the racecourse at the Frozen Head State Park headquarters. However, the route wouldn’t be marked there. You need to mark it yourself once you receive the master map which is provided on the day just before the race. The route is different every year so no one would have seen it prior to receiving the map.

Getting selected for the marathon itself is a big thing. If you truly want to attempt it, start to prepare yourself.

Run in some popular marathons and have some accomplishments under your belt. These are going to help you greatly in the selection process.

Be motivated and be prepared mentally, emotionally and physically. Who knows, you might be the next winner!

Good Luck!

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