World’s craziest race – the Barkley Marathons


Barkley MarathonsWould you be tempted to enter a race that covers 100 miles, has no set trail, and only nine people have completed? How about if you add a cumulative elevation of over 59,000 feet – that’s twice that of Mount Everest, natural obstacles of all varieties including thorns and rats, and no aid or resting stations along the way? Hundreds have entered and attempted the Barkley Marathons in Tennessee each spring, known as one of the world’s most challenging races. Even if you “only” complete the 60-mile “fun run,” chances are you’ll come out bleeding, sleep-deprived, and a little insane (though perhaps no more so that when you agreed to enter this run) and if you give up, you still have a few hours’ walk back to camp.

This month, Believer Magazine has a fascinating account of the people behind this insane race and the culture that has developed along with it. Gary Cantrell – known as Lazarus Lake or just Laz – started the race 25 years ago, inspired by the prison escape attempt of James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King Junior’s assassin. Ray ran around the same woods for 55 hours during his attempt and made it only 8 miles, prompting Cantrell to imagine he could do at least 100 miles in that time. Now, Cantrell begins the race each year not with a starter pistol or bullhorn, but a lighter and a cigarette. Runners depart from Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, about 50 miles from Knoxville. There’s no set start time (runners camp out the night before and await the warning via conch shell from Cantrell) and runners have to chart their own course from a map made available the day before the race. Participants have 12 hours to complete each of 5 loops, and have to tear out a page matching their race number of a book on each loop to prove they made it.
You can read another account of the race on Runner’s World, and the author’s post-script is another amazing story: after attempting the Barkley and making a documentary about running across the Sahara Desert, he’s now serving prison time for mortgage fraud.

Still want to enter? Hope you have good Googling and writing skills – there’s no official website or entrance instructions and only 35 will be allowed in each year, after completing an essay called “Why I should be allowed to run Barkleys Marathons.” The race is held in late March or early April each year, giving would-be runners a head start on figuring out how to enter.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Michael Hodge

NYC Marathon: Five Lessons Learned

The New York City marathon is a grand affair, with approximately 45,000 runners testing the limits of their minds and bodies across 26.2 grueling miles. The crowds, of course, dwarf the participants, turning the process of getting a look at the action into something of a sport itself. Everybody has a secret strategy, it seems, for getting a peek at the pained looks of determination that have come to characterize this event.

I attended my first NYC marathon last Sunday, probably the only person without a plan but with the help of a local pro who’s attended several times and even volunteered. What followed was certainly counter-intuitive but a valuable learning experience – and for once from success rather than failure. We landed right along the fence at mile 26 in Central Park, a prime viewing location. So, as you think about next year, here are five lessons that will be helpful to you in making the most of your non-running marathon experience.

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1. Later is actually better: we didn’t get to the park until after 1 PM. Sure, I missed the battles for first place. Nonetheless, I witnessed the personal victories of runners who sought to complete the course, which is no small feat. The crowds lined up only a few hundred yards from the finish line (which requires a special pass) but rotated fairly regularly. So, be patient, and you’ll wind up with a front-row spot.

2. Make space for kids: it isn’t fun when you can’t see the race. Take some time to enjoy the spectacle, but keep in mind that other people want to do the same thing. For children especially, nothing compares to a place up front – they can’t see over adults. If there are kids behind you, make sure they get in front: you’ll be part of a truly memorable experience for them.

3. Have an exit plan: it isn’t easy to get in and out of Central Park on race day. Gates and fences control the flow of people and make room for runners and race officials. Keep track of where you can go. Otherwise, you’ll run into several dead ends before leaving. Needless to say, this can be frustrating.

4. Don’t make the runners do all the work: at times, the spectators were surprisingly quiet. The runners, however, waved their arms, cheered and smiled … even with 26 miles and five boroughs having passed under their feet. Help them out! After all, they’ve earned it.

5. Go to the southwest corner of Central Park: the runners enter the park for the home stretch at Columbus Circle. You can’t get right up to the road in the southwest corner of Central Park, which makes the spot less than ideal. Because of this, fewer people are there, making it easier to get an unobstructed line of sight on the action.

Photo of the Day (3.21.2010)

It’s amazing something as boring as a run on the beach could look so beautiful. Flickr user NigelDurrant captured this masterful shot of a few runners in Barbados. I love the sense of movement, the symmetry and long pencil-thin shadows stretched in the sand. Wonderful.

Have any great photos you’d like to submit for Gadling’s Photo of the Day? Submit your best shots here.

“Fairmont Fit” program supplies sporty guests with running shoes

Before every trip I tell myself that in between sightseeing, wine tasting, and multi-course gastronomic feasts, I’m going to get in some physical activity. Then I start packing my carry-on and, when things get tight, the workout clothes and running shoes are the first things to get cut.

Despite my good intentions, I’d rather pack an extra pair of heels or save room for some souvenirs than squeeze my bulky running shoes into my bag. And I’m sure I’m not alone. To make it easier on people like me, Fairmont’s “Fairmont Fit” program provides guests with a gently used pair of running shoes in their size to use for the duration of their stay.

Guests must be members of the Fairmont President’s Club loyalty program and pay $10 per stay for the Fairmont Fit program. The shoes need to be requested in advance; they are cleaned after every use and replaced each season. In addition to use of the use of the shoes (available at 56 Fairmont hotels), guests can also use Adidas workout shirts and shorts or capris, yoga mat and stretch band, and an MP3 player loaded with 1,000 songs.

Who am I kidding? I’m not going to go for a run even if the hotel does lend me some kicks. But for the more dedicated, it’s a great way to pack light and still be able to maintain your workout routine on a trip.

[via Travel+Leisure]