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How to get into the Barkley Marathons

The only thing more challenging than the Barkley Marathons is getting into the race itself

Super Mini Itsy Bitsy Barkley

The Barkley Marathons is like the unicorn of all endurance events. We’ve heard of the Barkley Marathons, but few have witnessed the event in real life. With only 15 male finishers in its history, even fewer people have had the opportunity to toe the line. The event is so obscure, even the registration process lies outside the realm of anything normal. Perhaps the only thing more challenging than attempting or finishing the Barkley Marathons, is getting into the Barkley Marathons. Getting a Barkley bib is the first test–and there are only 35 to 40 spots available. So how does one get a Barkley bib so they can run around for 60 hours in Frozen Head State Park?

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The event requires the fitness of endurance ultrarunning, the brain power of orienteering, and resilience of a never-ending scavenger hunt. Runners must complete five 20-mile loops while collecting particular pages from 14 books hidden throughout the course. This is all done in less than 60 hours. Thinking you have what it takes to toe the line is the first step. Then, potential participants write a letter for their application and mail it to race director Lazarus Lake. If you consider yourself worthy of the Barkley Marathons, your chances will increase if you possess the following criteria:

You have previous Barkley experience

If you have been accepted to run Barkley in the past, your chances of getting in again increase. Each loop you have completed at the event increases your chances even more.

You are an elite endurance runner or athlete

The largest portion of participants at the Barkley is reserved for elite athletes. Elite does not mean you have 100-mile experience, but it does mean you have exceptional achievements in your sport. For example, Canadian female at the 2019 Barkley Marathons Morgan McKay is an obstacle course racer, and not an ultrarunner.

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Barkley Marathons
Gary Robbins and John Kelly after loop one. Photo: Michael Doyle / Canadian Running Magazine.

You live outside of North America

A small number of bibs are reserved for runners from overseas.

This is not your first time applying

If you have applied in the past, and been put on the wait list, your chances increase. Fifty applicants are selected for the wait list. Each year, approximately 10 runners from the wait list will get into Barkley.

Excerpt from Canadian Stephanie Case’s Barkley letter. Photo: The Ultrarunner Girl Blog

You do really hard things for fun

Without passion, you won’t get far in the Barkley Marathons. Finishers of the Barkley often say that you need to want Barkley more than anything else in your life. This is not a hyperbole, it is the reality of the event.

You’re an excellent writer

A highly creative letter to Laz may help you get into Barkley.

Barkley Marathons
Photo: Howie Stern.

You can pay the entry fee

The entry fee is $1.60 and is non-refundable.

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