In 1985, Gary “Laz” Cantrell started the Barkley Run in the Tennessee backcountry. It was originally inspired by the prison escape of James Earl Ray (the person who assassinated MLK) and the 54 hours that pursued.
Since the beginning, the Barkley Run has only had 14 racers finish the race! Making it “the hardest race in the world.”
Only 40 racers get to register each year. It may also be the hardest race in the world to register for.
Take a look at the website. That’s it. No contact info. No where to click to register. No where to send your entry.
The cost of the race is $1.60 and usually racers need to bring a license plate and a carton of cigarettes. Because as Laz puts it, he’s “in it for the money.”
Laz and company obviously don’t take them selves too seriously. The course is advertised as a 100-mile race with five 20-mile laps to complete. Except, the race is actually a 130 miles. And to throw off the racers, the course changes every year. It’s unmarked and you can only navigate with a map and a compass (no GPS or electronic devises allowed).
So, how did this race in the backcountry of Tennessee become so world-renowned?
Because the first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club. Somewhere along the way, someone started talking about Fight Club.
This is how the best ideas spread. They start small over a long period of time. Most people will put a marathon on their bucket list. Only a few would even consider such a difficult race.
Yet, the Barkley is not for elite racers. If it were, they would charge a lot more and make the race a lot more accessible and probably put it somewhere a little more desirable. It’s “open in such a way that any runner can aspire to face the challenges of this difficult race.”
It’s for people like us who do stuff like this.
Not for everyone. For someone. Perhaps you.