I don’t generally review movies that were released in the past, but this one is topical enough, and interesting enough, that I need to make mention of it.
This Documentary, released in early 2014, tells the tale of the 2012 Barkley Marathons, an endurance race/climb/sanity check that takes place in rural Tennessee each spring (this year’s iteration ran just a few weeks ago). To call the Barkley a mere race would undermine everything that it stands for- the race directors don’t want anyone to finish. And since its first running in the 1980s, only a handful of participants have.
Directors Annika Iltis and Timothy James Kane follow the race organizers and contestants through 3 grueling days were masochists from around the world attempt to complete 5 20-25 miles laps with over 100,000 feet of combined elevation changes. And all of it must be done in 60 hours without GPS, aid stations, and for most of the runners – sleep. To even gain entry into the event, prospective runners must submit a $1.60 fee and an essay about why they should be allowed in. Those selected are sent a letter of condolence.
Over the course of the film several participants are highlighted- “virgins” who don’t know what they are getting into, experienced runners trying to finish their first race, and even a man who has conquered it all but is back for more. You get inside the heads of these ultra-athletes, seeing what pushes them further, what mental walls they must overcome, and how utterly drained and depleted that Barkley can make you. At the same time you are introduced to a course that has taken on a life of its own. Inventive tracking methods for the runners, tunnels under prisons, and hills covered with brambles are just the tip of the iceberg. The psychology of the runners, combined with the absolutely bizarre and zany traditions of the race and its directors, makes for a fascinating documentary that makes you root for these guys to make just one more lap.
Running is a hobby that I’ve been wading farther and farther into over the past few years, and with a marathon on the schedule in late fall I’ve been frequenting different articles and discussion board, which is how I discovered this film. Now, I’m confident I will never do a Barkley, but the film highlighted for me just how remarkable and enduring the human body can be. These men and women are going out there and doing something that will test their limits like nothing else can, and it’s inspiring, compelling, and truly astounding to watch.
The Barkley Marathons : The Race That Eats Its Young is available for streaming on Netflix, or from a handful of over VOD services as indicated on its website.
The Barkley Marathons : The Race That Eats Its Young
Directed by Annika Iltis & Timothy James Kane
Run Time : 1 Hour, 29 Minutes
Release Date : 2014