Of the 800 ultra-runners who have attempted the Barkley Marathon, only 12 have finished. That’s the same number of people as have walked on the moon. There is no prize for this “test of all limits” just the feat of finishing. The first person to do so in 1995 had a time of 59 hours and 28 minutes.
The Barkley Marathon is known as the world’s toughest and most secretive trail race. (Nevertheless, the NYT does report that it takes place in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Tennessee.)
“All the other big races are set up for you to succeed. The Barkley is set up for you to fail,” said Gary Cantrell, the race’s director and creator.
This race is quirky. The entry fee is $1.60. Entrants are selected and must answer bizarre questions such as “What is the most important vegetable group?” Cantrell collects license plates from first-timers. All participants walk for the first part of the race. They only begin to run after rounding a bend where Cantrell can no longer see them. He hides books (with dark, oppressive titles) at various points along the race course; the runners must rip out the page that matches their race number.
Other marathons pale in its wake.