When assassin James Earl Ray escaped from a Tennessee prison in 1977, he was missing for 55 hours. In that time, he only managed to get eight miles away before being recaptured. Race organizer Gary Cantrell heard this statistic and thought he could make it at least a hundred miles in that time. He organized the Barkley Marathons to test this theory.
Since 1986, ultra runners have met in the hills of Frozen Head State Park to have a go at what many runners believe to be the world's hardest long-distance trail race because it has such a low finishing rate. In fact, the course is purposefully designed and adjusted to keep it at the outer limit of human endurance. Some years no one finishes.
Since the race began in 1986, only 9 runners out of about 700 have finished within the 60 hour cutoff. Past finishers have set speed records for the Appalachian trail. 2 past finishers have won Hardrock. 3 past finishers have finished Nolan's 14 (2 have won). 1 past finisher set the speed record for the Colorado fourteeners.
The course is relentless and never lets up - that's a given. Because of the distance, difficulty and time limits, runners must run around the clock at least once for the Fun Run and at least twice for the 100-mile. The course is not marked, so good navigation and orientation skills are a must.
I am humbled and in awe of the "9" that have completed the 100. They are a special breed. I honestly believe that a Barkley finisher is as elite as you can get. I believe that what goes on mentally and physically during this event is like what few other athletes ever experience. In essence, the Barkley is not about running - it's really about human potential, and the fact that we are capable of doing much more than we think.
The Barkely atmosphere is what every ultra runner hopes to have a chance to experience once in his/her running life. Gather thirty-five of your dear friends and share an experience that is wrought with challenges and obstacles that push the limits of what is possible. Bundle all that up into one hell of a good time, and you just found yourself in Frozen Head.
Is this my year to run the Barkley? Maybe, maybe not. But I will be there, and I will be ready to run. More importantly, I will be ready to NOT QUIT.