As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, more and more sports and activities are getting cancelled. In the wake of the cancellation of the spring climbing season on Everest, not to mention the shutdown of major sporting events across the globe, today comes the news that one of the most iconic and difficult trail races in the world will also press pause for 2020. News has filtered out this morning that this year’s edition of the legendary Barkley Marathons has been cancelled, perhaps to the relief of the racers.
Held each March in the wilds of Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, the Barkley Marathons are widely considered to be amongst the most grueling races on the planet. The event consists of runners attempting to complete a 20 mile (32 km) course five times in a 60 hour period. The problem is, that course is through incredibly difficult terrain. How difficult you ask? In the 34 years since its inception, the race has only been completed 18 times total, with the last full race being run in 2017.
Part of the allure of the Barkley Marathons is the unique nature of the race and its organizer. The brainchild of one Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, the entry fee for the race is just $1.60, plus an item that Cantrell comes up with. For instance, on year he requested new pairs of socks, while on another it was white dress shirts. The date that the race is run is kept fairly secret, as is the entry process itself. Runners who are accepted receive a letter that starts with Cantrell offering his condolences. To say that the event and its founder have a lot of character would be an understatement.
In terms of publicity and impact on a wide reaching level, the Barkley Marathons doesn’t have the same impact of much larger, more well known races. But within the running community it holds a special place of honor for sure. Those in the know enjoy reading about the race each year and waited with baited breath to see if anyone will finish. Unfortunately, for 2020 that won’t be an issue. Hopefully, the event will return in 2021. Until then, check out the excellent documentary The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young on a number of the major streaming platforms.
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