Ben Oliver

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The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

You can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure.
25 March 2024

The Barkely Marathons is a 100-mile race over extreme terrain in Tennessee with huge elevation changes that must be completed within 60 hours. Since its inception in 1986 only 20 people have finished the race.

This year British runner Jasmin Paris became the first woman to complete the run, finishing with just 99 seconds to spare. This reminded me of this documentary that I’d had in my queue for years and never got round to watching.

Aside from the runners it mostly features one of the main founders and organisers of the event, Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, who injects a lot of good humour and personality into the film. It’s a mysterious event, where the details for entering are kept a tight secret, and even the precise start time is only announced one hour before the race.

As a documentary this isn’t particularly creative or innovative but that’s never a problem when the subject matter is so interesting and you have this level of access to the race organisers and runner. There’s a decent amount of footage from the trail itself, which much have been tricky to obtain given the location.

It’s a pleasingly simple document of a pleasingly low-fi event.