The Barkley Marathon [Documentary Review]


“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.” Emil Zatopek, winner of four Olympic gold medals


Running around the track is enough for some. Running in a short race will be OK. But for some, running a marathon is a goal they want to reach and complete. But what if that marathon is also an obstacle course and the time is 60 hours?


I knew someone who does the Bay To Breakers every year (a marathon race held in May in San Francisco). She also participated in Triathlons (swimming, running and biking). I don’t mind the biking part, but will pass on the swimming and definitely, the running.


Today, as in current times, running a marathon isn’t enough of a challenge. People seem to want to take themselves and their bodies to the next level.

There are a number of obstacle races that provide what someone is looking for.

Tough Mudder – s an endurance event series in which participants attempt 10–12 mile-long (16–19 km) obstacle courses that tests mental as well as physical strength. It was co-founded by Will Dean, a former British counter terrorism officer, and Guy Livingstone, a former corporate lawyer. (Wikipedia)

Spartan Race – is a series of obstacle races of varying distance and difficulty ranging from 3 miles to marathon distances. … The series include the Spartan Sprint, the Super Spartan, the Spartan Beast, and the Ultra Beast. (Wikipedia)

CrossFit  – this how Crossfit is defined describes its strength and conditioning program as “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains,” with the stated goal of improving fitness, which it defines as “work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” (Wikipedia). Now take that definition and put it in a competition – a grueling competition.

Each of the races requires the participants to push themselves to the limit and beyond, should they desire to do so.

I recently learned of a new race called The Barkley Marathon that’s held in Wartburg, Tennessee every year either in late March or early April.


The Barkley Marathon was formed in 1986 by Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell and Raw Dog. Gary, who goes by Lazarus, heard about the 55 hour escape attempt by James Earl Ray (1977). James Earl was convicted of assassinating Martin Luther King in 1968 and was serving his time at the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

After 55 hours on the run, Ray only covered eight miles. Lazarus felt he could do much better. Instead of actually doing it, he created the marathon, which is named for a friend of his Barry Barkley. And Lazarus wants people to know the race is no means a tribute to James Early Ray.


To get an idea of Lazarus’s personality, he and the director (Annika Iltis) were leaving Lazarus’s place in a old blue truck. Probably from the 1950’s or 1960’s.

Annika noticed the fuel gage was close to E and she asked him if it was broken. In response, Lazarus said no. He continued with “E is for excellent and F means you’re fucked”.

He’s the one that does the talking in the film. We see his co-founder, Raw Dog, a few times. I believe it’s due to the fact that Lazarus founded the marathon and basically runs it.


Hundreds of runners from the around the world apply for the marathon but only 40 make it in. And those that make it in, find it difficult to finish. And if you’re one of the lucky few, you have to bring your state’s license place with you.

Sometimes, Lazarus will require other items to be given to him such as white shirts, sox, and at the 2015 event, flannel shirts.


The race is a grueling one which starts between midnight and noon. And to give you an idea of how grueling, here’s what I learned from the film. By the way, I was tired just hearing it.

There’s five loops (circular routes). Each loop is about 20 miles, according to Lazarus. The runners see it differently. They feel it’s really 26 miles.

Daytime consists of two loops going clockwise. Nighttime consists of two loops counter clockwise, with a total of four loops. For the fifth loop they send them in opposite directions. One goes clockwise while the other goes counter clockwise.

Three loops is considered a ‘fun run’. By whom, I have no idea. It takes five loops to finish the race which is 130 miles.


There are check points at each route, or loop in this case. At these check points are books in which you have to tear our the corresponding page to your assigned number. This is the prove you ran the course. Once you reached the starting gate, which is also the finish point, you give Lazarus the page from the book. You also have a choice of taking a nap (resting) or continue on. You also have the choice of quitting. If you quit, taps is played for you…literally.

Some of you might think you could run this marathon, but you might want to think twice. It’s not just running up a hill and down a hill. The routes have actual names, just to give you an idea of how brutal this race is.

Pillars of Doom (yes, there are real pillars you have walk across):

Checkmate Hill

Son Of A Bitch Ditch

Testicle Spectacle

Raw Dog Falls

Danger Dave’s Climbing Walls

Pighead Creek

Rat Jaw

The Bad Thing

Zip Line

Big Hell


There are those that go up to 48 hours without sleep just win this thing. One participant ran on just one hour of sleep. Remember, the race is 130 miles and 60 hours long. There are no rewards handed out. No cash prizes and ticket tapped parade waiting for finishers, which there aren’t many. This is a test people place upon themselves. There are those that do different marathon courses such as this and say The Barkley Marathon is most intense one they’ve endured.


I enjoyed this documentary a great deal. There were no voice-overs, no fancy lighting, music scores or anything else to make this documentary great. It was great on it’s own. From Lazarus Lake to the participants and definitely, the obstacle course.

As a history buff (and useless knowledge seeker) I liked the history of the race. Oh, by the way, one of the course does require the runners to go through the North East of the prison where there’s a stream coming from a tunnel. The tunnel is how James Early Ray made his escape. The only concern for the runners are the screws (guards) near by. And you definitely should to get to the tunnel before dark.

I found the entire process fascinating. The participants who come from all walks of life from a physicist to a grad student. They come from California, Pennsylvania, Utah and even Belgium.

You saw the good (those who continued without taking a break), the bad (the scratched up legs and feet) and the tired (those who tapped out), but through it all, you saw will power and determination.


I’m not going to say who the winner was in 2015 for it was anybody’s game. You should experience the documentary and story for yourself. And, after watching, and you’re feeling brave, sign up for the marathon. Oh, and good luck finding the application and passing the exam. Yes, there’s an exam you have to take and send in.



Directed by Annika Iltis and Timothy James Kane

Released 1 October 2016 (Neatherlands)

Run time is 1 hour and 29 minutes

Filming location: Wartburg, Tenn at Frozen Head State Park

Where to watch: Netflix

IMDB rating: 7.8

Rotten Tomato rating: 67%



Fittest on Earth 2015: The Story of the 2015 Reebok Crossfit Games
Released 2016

Netflix (Streaming), Amazon or iTunes (rent or buy)

Fittest on Earth: Decade of Fitness
Released 2017
Amazon, iTunes, Google Play (rent or buy)

Rise Of the Sufferfests
Released 2016

Amazon, iTunes (rent or buy)

The World’s Toughest Mudder
Release date 2016

This takes you through the 24 hour race that took place in 2015 (can only be viewed online)

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