Yes, Runners Are Crazy (But Oh So Awesome)

Last night, I met up with my running group for our Wednesday workout. A little over 3 miles of hill drills. Fun, fun.

But what I was really looking forward to was our guest speaker afterwards–Jamil Coury, founder of Aravaipa Running (that’s our local trail and ultra running series). Jamil has done over 50 ultra races and this past March he attempted the practically impossible (no, really) Barkley Marathon.

Have you ever heard of the Barkley Marathon? Not many people have and I hadn’t until our running group cheered him on when he started. Apparently, this 100 mile marathon is not designed for people to know much about it–which is exactly how it’s race director and according to Jamil, even the runners, like it. It’s not a race you can simply go to a website and register. You get information only by word of mouth and there is a secret application involved. Jamil wouldn’t (couldn’t?) divulge the specifics of how he got in.

The Barkely Marathon takes place every year during spring in the mountains of Tennessee–the high point being 3300 feet with total amount per loop of 12,500 feet and temperatures that range from freezing to sweltering. Jamil recounted how the first day was non-stop rain. The 100 mile race (which really is more around the 130 mile range) has a 60 hour time limit and participants are not given a course map nor are the trails marked. The runners do not know the exact start time but must camp out the night before and wait for the start signal–the race director lighting up a cigarette.

The race consists of five 20 mile loops, the first two clockwise, the next two counter clockwise, and the last loop with different runners going opposite directions. Those completing 3 loops, under a set time limit of 40 hours, accomplish what’s dubbed the “Fun Run”. Jamil was one those people this year. It took him 13 hours to finish the last loop.

There are no aid stations, runners carry with them their own food and water and whatever equipment they can carry (although, no GPS are allowed). Throughout the race, to prove runners are not cheating, the runners search for 10 books hidden along the way. Once found, they must tear out the page number that matches the number on their bib. (ETA: There were 13 books this year)

Jamil's bib

Jamil’s bib


The book titles reflect the conditions of the course (and/or perhaps even some of the thoughts of the runners?).

During our question/answer session with Jamil, one person asked what the winner got–you know, what were you running for?


That was Jamil’s answer. You weren’t running to win anything.

Yet, people who’ve been unsuccessful in finishing the Barkley Marathon return again and again and again. Of course, Jamil’s plan is to return.



–Have you heard of the Barkley Marathon? (It’s funny because when you look it up, you get the same information every place you go. It’s like people only divulge certain things. It’s this mystique I find so intriguing.)

–Would you ever do a crazy race like this? (In a different lifetime, yes.)

This is a great site with pics from the race.


20 responses

  1. This is so cool. I forgot about this race. I read about it awhile ago and the whole page number thing really struck me as odd and cool. Thanks so much for sharing. I feel like such a brat right now for being lazy about go to do my 5 miles 🙂

  2. I have heard of this race, probably in a running book or magazine I had read, the thing that stuck out was the lighting of the cigarette to signal the start of the race. This is seriously the craziest race though, I went to the site you linked about the race and I love that its like a secret society and the book pages is pretty brilliant! You really have such an awesome running club!

  3. I have heard a lot about the Barkley Marathons. I know one or two people who have attempted it and even one who finished the entire thing (a rarity, indeed) but it is not one for my list.
    Thanks for posting this. It is inspiring to hear (and read) about crazy runners. :o)

  4. Very cool experience!
    At this point, I have zero desire to do any of these crazy 100 mile races. I have friends that do them and it is just crazy everything that goes into it. I have yet to run a perfect marathon, but if I ever do, then maybe I’ll want a new challenge, but not right now.

  5. Wow, that race sounds unlike any other. No aid stations for a 100-mile race? That tearing a paper out of a book part to prevent cheating is interesting, it makes for a funny souvenir 🙂
    While I can’t imagine running that race (or really any 100 miler), I’d love to read a book about Jamil’s experience if he ever wrote one!

  6. I remember reading about this sometime last year – I think it might have been an interview with the guy who runs it. It sounded insane to me then – and still does. Congrats to your friend for running it! I have no desire to even try.

  7. This is incredible! I need to look into this more. I can barely run 13.1 miles and am starting to have the desire to run 26.2 someday, but I would never be able to run this much! There’s just something about the secretiveness of it that makes me want to learn more though!

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