My friend Gloria over at Harry’s Mama, recently posted on Facebook that she loved the Barkley Marathons. I had heard about this but didn’t know much of the back story. Then someone else on social media made mention of how great this documentary is and I decided it was time to sit down and have a movie night.
Years ago when we did our first marathon, I watched The Spirit of The Marathon before my first 20 miler. Then we went and saw The Spirit of the Marathon II in the theater the week before the actual race. It was inspiring and gave me that extra oomph I needed going into long runs. So I decided to rent this movie off of Amazon Prime for $1.99.
If you know me, I don’t sit still very well. I like to have the TV on as background noise, but I rarely sit down to watch a show. I am always busy reading or doing some other crazy project. I love HGTV but can rarely focus on an entire show.
For me to sit down and watch this until my eyes were ready to close and then find a time during Mary’s nap the next day to finish, tells you that this movie was pretty darn awesome.
This race is the most bizarre thing I have ever heard of and yet likely the most difficult race out there. It first began in 1986 as the brainchild of Gary Cantrell after learning of James Earl Ray’s unsuccessful escape into the Tennessee mountains where he covered just eight miles in the 55 hours he was out there. Cantrell who is both an avid runner and chain smoker exclaimed that he could cover 100 miles in that amount of time (which he admits that he has not done). Thus began the Barkley Marathons.
The course is held in Frozen Head State Park and consists of 5 loops of approximately 20 miles. However, some runners speculate that each loop is more likely to be around 26 miles. Over the course of the 5 loops, runners who make it the entire way will have covered the same ascent and descent as scaling Mt. Everest twice.
Hundreds of runners apply to run each year but only 40 are accepted. All applicants must send a nonrefundable $1.60 entry fee and an essay discussing why they should be allowed the run this race. Runners who are accepted receive a letter of condolence.
While I will spare you all of the details (because I think you should rent this movie NOW), I will say that I started out super inspired and ready to figure out how to sign up. By the end, there is without a doubt no chance in heck that I could ever finish this race. In fact, I don’t even know if I could finish the first loop.
While Cantrell is a bit of an odd fellow, there are many things I grew to really enjoy about him and his personality. He is truly passionate about running and this race. He certainly has created a challenge for runners and yet he does want to see people succeed.
As runners drop out of the course and stick around to see if anyone finishes (many years there is not a single finisher), Cantrell reflects on this notion and on the nature of runners. He discusses how everyone toes the start line a competitor and ready to beat the other 39 athletes on the course. However, as they drop out, they become the support crew and strive to help the others finish. I personally find this to be a wonderful rarity that is unique to our sport. We often train alongside our fiercest competitors. While at the end of the day we would like to beat them, we can also be proud and excited for them if they are the ones to beat us to the finish line or achieve something we have yet to do.
Cantrell says that people have their own concepts of success and failure. On this course, they become unconcerned about how people evaluate their performance. Some people are there simply hoping to finish one lap. Others have worked for years to finish a “fun run” which is 3 loops of the course. Success isn’t always completing the full course.
I think this is a great reminder for both life and running. We often apologize for being a slow runner or sheepishly say that we run but aren’t real runners. Never apologize for who you are or what you do. Success and failure are all relative, especially in running!
I rented this movie on Amazon Prime for $1.99. I was not asked or compensated for this review, but I most definitely recommend it.