As an often-declared and self-identifying adventurer, I sit here with my foot in my mouth and my jaw to the floor. I am nothing. Sitting on my couch as I write this, I feel ashamed of myself.
After navigating through recent documentaries in the Apple TV and Netflix queues, I stumbled across the Barkley Marathons, a Hot Docs nominee about an old man named Lazarus Lake that created a nearly impossible race through the mountains of Tennessee with his buddy Raw Dog. The idea of an entire film about running long distances just didn’t sound too fascinating; I already saw Forest Gump and couldn’t imagine it being any better than that. But as I watched the trailer below, intrigue sped up my pace of interest.
There are very few things that could get me excited about running. I don’t really seek out pain and you couldn’t convince me to pay money (even if it is $1.60, a license plate and a flannel shirt) to endure it. But this film resonated with me for one significant reason: achieving goals drives us to do some batshit crazy things in our lives.
In its 30 years of existence, only 14 runners have finished the race in the expected time of 60 hours. Why so few? Because it includes over 59,000 feet of climb and an additional 59,000 feet of descent (imagine climbing up and down Mt. Everest twice), with over 100 miles and no GPS capabilities allowed. Runners often attempt the race with no sleep and minimal resources. A single map is passed around the camp before the race starts and racers are required to transcribe their own maps; the accountability to prove that people did not go off-course is hidden books along the way in which runners must tear out the page number represented on their race bib. Seriously, I couldn’t make any of this up even if I tried.
The nature of The Barkley Marathon documentary is an obscure race that no common man has ever heard of that is taking the ultra-runner community by storm. And if you’re anything like me, you are going to be mesmerized by the personality and appearance of the founders and wonder how these sponsor-touting runners find this to be any bit of excitement. It’s a story I would have never heard of because of my aforementioned lack of interest in running long-distances or finding myself in the fetal position next to a yellow gate in a Tennessee park. But as I watched these select men complete the most grueling challenge of their lives, I was absolutely astonished and mesmerized by their commitment, their capabilities and their respect for the men that made this race happen. Along the way, you learn about the corkiness of the creator and the whimsy of this race in the racing community. You meet some of the runners and learn their stories. It appears that their target market is smart people that make dumb decisions, as many are physicists, engineers and similarly esteemed professionals. And you are reminded of the obstacles and challenges in your life that you have overcome and the feelings that come just after success. Or maybe you think about the lack of successes in your own life due to the powerful forces of fear. Regardless of that mind marathon that you’re likely to embark upon, The Barkley Marathons is a fantastic watch from start to finish.