Two notable runners, including the Canadian course record-holder, are among those who have received their “letter of condolences” confirming entry for the 2017 Barkley Marathons.
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North Vancouver’s Gary Robbins, who in 2016 made it farther than any other Canadian before him at the ultramarathon, announced on Facebook on Dec. 27 that he has been accepted to the event for the second consecutive year. He made it to the fifth and final loop of the race in 2016 but was forced to drop out late in the race after he made a navigational error.
Barkley is believed to be 100 miles (160K) though the loop changes year-to-year making the actual distance longer. The Knoxville Mercury reported that the 2016 distance was as much as 130 miles (210K). The race is held in the thick brush of Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee in the early spring. If the distance doesn’t intimidate ultrarunners who sign up, Barkley Marathons also has as much as 60,000 feet of elevation change for them to endure.
The Barkley Marathons is considered one of the world’s toughest ultramarathons with a limited number of finishers, sometimes zero, each year. The race has a number of quirky traditions including the lighting of a cigarette to signal the race start, handing over a license plate as part of registration and the blowing of a conch to mark one-hour until the race start.
Runners use a map and compass to navigate the loops, which are run in alternate directions, clockwise and counterclockwise. Runners collect pages of books scattered along the course to prove they completed the necessary distance. Jared Campbell was the only runner to finish the 2016 race making him the only three-time finisher of the Barkley Marathons.
#Repost @stravarun with @repostapp ・・・ All challenges are relative. For some athletes, competing a 10k is a daunting undertaking. For others, like former adventure racer and HURT 100 champion @garyrobbins, a challenge is a race so hard that he doesn’t know if he can finish it. Read our full story about the Barkley Marathons, linked in our profile. http://stories.strava.com/the-barkley-marathon 📸: @trappephoto #StravaRun #StravaPhoto
To enter the race, runners submit an essay on why they should be one of the 40 athletes chosen to take part in the ultramarathon. A letter of condolence doubles as acceptance to the race as the race director, known as Lazarus Lake, notifies runners of their participation status.
Last year, a portion of the letter read: “It is anticipated that this enterprise will amount to nothing more than an extended period of unspeakable suffering, at the end of which you will ultimately find only failure and humiliation. At best, you might escape without incurring permanent physical damage and psychological scarring, which will torment you for the remainder of your life.”
The cut-off is 60 hours, 12 hours for each of the five loops. Completing three loops in under 40 hours is considered a “fun run.”
After last year’s race, Robbins said “During the race I feel like I unlocked a door in my mind that led to a room I’d never entered before and in that room existed a near perfect version of myself, devoid of ego, free of judgement, removed from life’s minutia, steadfast in purpose, distracted by nothing, heart wide open with a complete inability to overreact to any obstacle that stood in my way. I wish I could be that person more often.”
Another popular name among the elite marathon scene who is confirmed for Barkley is Mike Wardian, who set a globe-trotting world record this year. The American and Hoka One One-sponsored athlete ran all six major marathons – Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City – in an average time of approximately 2:31. Boston and London were held in the same week in April.
“Looks like I get to see what the Barkley Marathons is all about in 2017 and to see [race director] Laz light a cigarette,” Wardian wrote on Instagram.
According to Wardian’s blog, the event will be held somewhere in the March 31 to April 3, 2017 window. The exact start time is not known in advance. As there is no official Barkley Marathons website, the full list of entrants is unknown at this time.