This Marathon Is So Insane No One Can Finish It

Easy marathons don't exist, but the Barkley Marathon is in a world of its own with very few runners able to conquer it.

It's widely regarded as the craziest, hardest endurance challenge in the world. So hard that for the second year in a row, not one person finished it.

Not one.

Staged in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, runners must complete five laps of the gruelling 32-kilometre track within 60 hours -- that's roughly 161 kilometres in total.

Each lap includes a brutally steep, obstacle-laden, muddy mountain ascent through thick woodland, according to Runners World.

The elevation is one of the biggest challenges.

In terms of elevation gain, if competitors complete all five loops, it's the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest, twice.

Only 15 runners -- all men -- have conquered the course within the required time limit since its inception 33 years ago.

The race itself is even more mysterious and quirky than you could imagine.

Participants of all abilities can enter, but the race is capped at about 40 people each year. There is no official race website, so to apply, runners have to mail in an application and a non-refundable registration fee of US$1.60 -- not a typo, that amount exactly.

If they are accepted, the runner has to pay another fee which is often an item of clothing such as a button up shirt or socks -- that changes every year. If they are new -- or a "Barkley virgin" as they're called -- runners are asked to bring a license plate from their state or country.

The race itself isn't even straight forward. Held on the first weekend in April -- historically but not set in stone -- the start time occurs between midnight and noon on Saturday.

Racers never know exactly when they are going to run -- it's always a surprise.

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Founder Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell will blow a conch shell to signify that the race will start in exactly one hour -- it could be in the middle of the night, it could be mid-morning, but the clock starts an hour from that point.

Runners know it's time to move when Lazarus Lake lights a cigarette.

It's go-time! IMAGE: Keith Dunn via Twitter

Each runner has a bib which is essential to the ultramarathon. There are up to 11 checkpoints throughout the course, each has a book.  The bib number is the page number that needs to be ripped from the book -- if a page is missed, competitors haven't officially completed the loop.

Runners receive a new bib for every loop.

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Here's another catch: the course is unmarked with only a compass and a map allowed.

As mentioned, the entire event consists of five loops of the course. The first two are done clockwise, the second counterclockwise and the direction of the final loop is decided by the runner.

The title seems to match the challenge IMAGE: The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young via YouTube

While most runners struggle with the one loop, it's a high honour to complete the "Fun Run" which is three laps.

This year six people completed the Fun Run -- including New Zealander Greg Hamilton -- but just like in 2018, there were no actual finishers.

As expected, the rugged terrain leaves many with cuts and bruises, and some with more serious injuries.

Jared Campbell rolled his ankle on the first descent this year, ruling out any chance of his name being etched on the trophy.

Despite the gruelling nature of the event, it appears to be addictive for many -- with a number of competitors returning year after to year.

In a documentary about the event, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, Lazarus Lake said: "you can't accomplish anything without the possibility of failure". So that's what he gives his runners, the possibility of failure.

Lazarus Lake came up with the idea for the race after hearing about the 1977 escape of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr. ran 13 kilometres in just 55 hours, "I could do at least 100 miles" -- 161km -- Lazarus Lake thought. And so the race was born.

Dozens of people from around the world now converge on Frozen Head State Park each year in the hopes of getting their name etched into this, now famous, trophy:

The trophy. IMAGE: Instagram/ S_Cugnier

Apart from completing the course, the only other goal is to avoid bib No.1.

That's known as the "human sacrifice" or the one that Lazarus Lake thinks has the least chance of finishing.