It is a race like no other: there is no website to take entries; participants are selected from those who find a way to submit written applications and the $1.60 entry fee; only around 40 people are chosen to run, with condolences from the race director. The course, based in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee, was inspired by the failed escape of James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King Jr’s assassin, amid the unforgiving landscape and vegetation where Ray’s prison was based. Runners must complete five roughly 20-mile loops – those who manage to complete only three laps are deemed to have achieved the ‘fun run’ – with a total elevation climb equal to two ascents of Mount Everest. Since 1986, only 15 people have ever finished. This exceptional publication celebrates their superhuman achievements.
The Barkley Marathons is the brainchild of Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell. There are sporting events, cult sporting events, and sporting events whose conception and pure mileage are inconceivable even to those who live for endurance: it is the ultimate ultra. Until relatively recently, the event was known only by true insiders, but with the increasing popularity of trail running and the race’s inaccessibility to anyone except the participants and a handful of media, it has attained mythical status.
Thanks to ultrarunning photographer Alexis Berg and L’Équipe journalist Aurélien Delfosse, we now have a record of these superhumans – many of whom are unknown in sporting circles – who have completed the race. Crisscrossing the United States to meet each finisher, Berg and Delfosse travelled from New Hamsphire to Oregon via New Mexico, Colorado, California and Utah, capturing stunning photographs and in-depth interviews with the finishers. Originally published in French and quickly sold out, the result is not only a testament of triumphs and tragedies but a portrait of humble people who have achieved something extraordinary. These stories inspire awe, respect and reflection at the limit of the human spirit.