Historic Oella, Maryland.
Historic Oella, Maryland.
Ellicott City, Maryland.
Is athletic performance art? Does moving with silent speed across vast distance and landscape etch energy in its wake? The ultrarunner in nature.
“If you’re going to face a real challenge, it has to be a REAL challenge. You can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure. For some people, just to get back to camp alive is all they want in the world.” – Lazarus Lake
In the fringe world of ultra endurance sports, there is an outlier: The Barkley.
The Barkley is the world’s toughest race you’ve never heard of. With 59,100 feet of climb and decent over 100 miles, it’s considered the most difficult endurance event on the planet. In its 25-year history, only twelve men, the same amount of men who have walked on the moon, have actually been able to finish the race. No woman has successfully completed more than sixty miles on the course.
Held near April Fool’s day weekend in the remote Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, the race draws a small cadre of uber athletes and dreamers from around the world.
The race has no website.
It is not on any race calendar.
The entry procedure is a well guarded mystery. Ask a veteran how to enter and you are likely to be sent down a rabbit hole.
The race director lives under an alias.
The cost to enter is $1.60 and a license plate from your home state or country.
The course is five loops around the park, totally unmarked, mostly off trail, with a time limit of sixty hours.
There are no manned aid stations. You must carry everything you need to survive “out there” including a map and compass (no GPS allowed) to navigate the course.
There are no rescues. You must self-extract, however long it takes, and get back to camp.
There is no official race start time. The race begins when the Race Director decides to light his cigarette.
In order to prove you’ve successfully navigated the course, ten books are hidden (in abandoned rattlesnake dens, trees, coal mines) along the route. You must find each book and tear out the page that matches your race number for the loop and successfully bring it back to camp.
The race features such obstacles as the Testicle Spectacle, Danger Dave’s Climbing Wall, Son Of A Bitch Ditch, Rat Jaw, The Bad Thing, and the pièce de résistance: running under the now closed Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary via a subterranean drainage tunnel.
When you fail at the Barkley, and you will fail, you must face the bugler who will play taps at the yellow gate. All in camp will know you gave your very best, but in the end, still failed.
This is the world of The Barkley.
Portraits of the athletes were taken the day before the start, and immediately upon quitting, being tapped out, or in a rare case, finishing.
This artist has not yet created a curated collection.