Now playing on Netflix in Canada is The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, a documentary about one of the world’s toughest endurance races that takes place annually in the hills of Tennessee.
Judging by the $1.60 entry fee and the need to provide a license plate upon signing up for the first time, the film is about as quirky and fascinating as one could expect.
The Barkley Marathons is a 100-mile (160K) endurance race, which consists of five 20-mile loops. It’s an exclusive event, with 40 international runners competing each year, and with a near 100 per cent fail rate. Only 13 people have ever finished.
The 90-minute film wastes no time in hooking the viewer. Footage is drawn from the 2012 edition of the race and follows runners at various checkpoints of the event.
Within minutes, it’s apparent that the film tells the story of the race but also the mysterious co-founder, Lazarus Lake. For example, during the movie’s first scene, rather than seeing his fuel gauge as full or empty, he describes it as “e=excellent, f=f*cked.”
He also uses appropriately-named books throughout the race course as a form of checkpoints including Oh No, You’re Gonna Die, among others.
The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young is particularly appealing because the race is so incredibly weird. Other fun tidbits include Lake lighting a cigarette to signal the start of the race as well as entry fees in the form of clothing (white shirts, flannel shirts, whatever the race director is in need of).
The race, as is described in the film, includes 120,000 feet of elevation change, the equivalent of ascending and descending Mount Everest, twice. Throughout the film, viewers are probably thinking “why the heck would anyone want to do this?”
That’s exactly the draw of the film: seeing competitors run and compete at levels that very few people thought was even possible. Being on lap two of five and being absolutely gassed but finding the perseverance to continue. Runners compete for 60 consecutive hours, the race’s time limit, and convince themselves that failure is not an option.
RELATED: No finishers in 2015 Barkley Marathons.
Some scenes were so remarkable that it’s surprising that camera crews were even able to access certain locations. The race unmarked, with only one master map that people can see before the race, and involves battling cliffs, thorns and streams. There are no mile markers, no chip timing and no aid stations (runners re-fuel after each 20-mile loop).
Many people enter the race not to finish but to complete a “fun run,” the name given to the successful running of three of the five laps. That in and of itself is a milestone, according to the film.
— Janaki Tambe (@JanakiTambe) March 15, 2016
Lake at one point in the film states that, “you can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure.” That quote sums up the motivation behind runners attempting the race as the Barkley Marathons continues to draw world class athletes looking to join the exclusive finishers club.
A small portion of those who apply to run end up being selected. Another quirky part of the race is that instead of sending a congratulatory letter notifying participants that they have been accepted, the race sends out condolences since it’s considered one of the toughest in the world. The sentiment can be seen in the below tweet.
Condolences sent to those unlucky entrants of the 2016 Barkley Marathons. Free Advice: training prolongs race, doesn’t change outcome.
— The Barkley Marathon (@BarkleyMarathon) February 18, 2016
This year’s Barkley Marathons is expected to begin on April 1. There were no finishers at last year’s event.
In addition to being available on Netflix, the film will be screening in Vancouver at The Rio Theatre on March 29.