A long time ago in a state park far away, a small band of endurance runners led by a slightly deranged visionary issued a challenge to humankind, and they called it the Barkley Marathons. No one finished, no one thought you could finish, and a lot of people cried. So they decided to make it harder. They were jerks.

“This is about you, by yourself
against all that out there.”
Gary Cantrell

Or maybe they were geniuses. Yeah, geniuses sounds better. Thy were cruel, beautiful madmen with an unshakable belief in the unrealized capacity of human beings to push beyond pain, fatigue and existential annihilation to run a long way and tap a yellow gate. And they were right.

It could be done.

So they made it harder again. Fucking *&$@&!!!

I’m here to make it easier, as least linguistically. How are you supposed to focus on climbing 12,000′ in 26 miles (five times) if you can’t under stand the words coming out of their mouths?

So, here is a comprehensive list of Barkley Marathons terms and a little background where useful. With this knowledge, a little luck, spools of k-tape, and several decades of training, the Barkleys is within your grasp. At least on Twitter.

The Barkleys Ultra Glossary

The information here is about the full Barkley Marathons, not the Barkley Fall Classic (BFC), though there’s obviously a lot of overlap (no pun intended). For more general ultra running terms, go here.

#1

Bib number for the Human Sacrifice. I’m not sure how other bib numbers are assigned, but I assume it’s equally devious.

15

The number of runners who’ve finished the (full) Barkleys as of the creation of this glossary in 2018 (although the “official” number is only 13), and thus the number of Barkley alumni. Given multiple finishes by a Jared Campbell and Brett Maune, the total number of Barkleys finishes is 18…or 16. Like all things about the Barkleys, there’s ambiguity. Sweet, sweet ambiguity.

20

The number of miles of each Barkleys loop, where 20 miles means 20 to 26 miles, more or less, depending who you ask and what year you ask them.

40

The maximum number of Barkleys starters each year, though it’s often fewer, sometimes more, and not fully documented anyway.

100

The total mileage of the Barkleys, comprising five loops of 20 miles each, which oddly works out to be 100  – 130 miles, and varies by year. I mean, it’s always exactly 100 miles, and it isn’t.

1986

First year of the Barkleys.

1995

First year anyone finished the Barkleys full “100 mile” course. See Mark Williams.

2002

There was no race. Stupid year.

2012

(1) Another terrible John Cusack movie (2) Only year when there were three finishers (Brette Maune in 52:03:08, a new course record; Jared Campbell in 56:00:15; and John Fegyveresi in 59:41:21 ), as shown in The Race That Eats Its Young. Also the year laz added Checkmate Hill to the course. Matt Mahoney noted that the “weather was warm” (but not too warm) this year, and I wonder how much this played into there being three finishers and a new CR. Probably a lot.

2018

Lots of rain, no finishers. Gary Robbins‘ third attempt. More.

Aid Stations

There are no real aid stations. Water is usually available at the fire tower (lookout), if it isn’t frozen or moonshine. Runners can replenish all of their stuff and rest at the yellow gate. Anywhere outside aid (outside of the parking area) will get them disqualified. Disqualified racers are fed to wild boars.

Alumni

Prior race finishers. See veterans and virgins.

Apple Cow Lips

Hell if I know.

Application Fee

There is a $1.60 application fee for the Barkleys, non-refundable. This is not the entry fee.

Application Process

It’s a mystery. I’m not going to talk about it much here because anyone who  gives away the secrets is a jerk, and I don’t know the secret anyway. To find out, you have to know, and to know, you have to find out. Neither can die while the other lives, or something like that.

If you’re unwilling to do the work and the research to figure out how to enter, you certainly won’t be willing to keep going in the race when all other parts of your mind and body are telling you to quit. No matter how good you are, you’re going to reach that point. – John Kelly

Some things that are publicly known:

  • There’s an essay. You can find several examples by Frozen Ed Furtaw in his book, Tales from Out There.
  • There’s an exam. No idea what’s on it, but Jared Campbell enjoyed it.
  • There’s an application fee.
  • There are requirements of some kind.
  • There’s a process. I’m sure it involves beer. Also, as per Matt Mahoney, “You have to email the race director on a certain day of the year. The race will fill up on that day.”
  • Thousands apply, but only 40 get in. It’s a lot like Thunder Dome.

John Kelly offers some information on his site. For more information, here is the official application summary.

The Bad Thing

Super fun part of the course that’s vaguely hilly.

Dan Baglione

Veteran who holds the “record for futility” for completing the fewest miles in the longest time (2 miles of official course  in 32 hours).

Barkers

Anyone who’s run (or been part of?) the Barkleys is a Barker, whether virgin, veteran or alumni.

Barry Barkley

A running friend and competitor for which laz named the Barkleys. My friends won’t even share their salt pills. Barry is also known, at least to laz, as Hoghead.

Barkley Chickens

(1) Anyone accepted into the race who doesn’t show up (2) Chickens prepared by laz or scRitch at the Barkleys. See digitally prepared chicken.

Barkley Fall Classic (BFC)

Baby Barkley invented to give a flavor of the madness and wonder to the masses. The BFC is roughly a 50K (31M) if completed, and is thus longer than any one Barkleys loop, but it’s also marked — so maybe the BFC is harder than the big Barkley, easier, both or neither. More.

Barkley Marathons (Barkleys)

The best ultra marathon ever run by anyone in the history of  the universe, but also the worst. It makes sense if you don’t think about it.

Big Barkley

What runners of the Barkley Fall Classic (BFC) tend to call the Barkley Marathons.

Big Hell

I’m sure it’s just a little hell, and a very mellow part of the course.

Bobcat Rock

A rock named bobcat. All rocks in Tennessee are named, of course, but this one comes with laz’s Rebirth Canal and opens wide onto Leonard’s Buttslide.

#BM100

Race hash tag on Facebook and Twitter. It used to be a way for parents to mark their newborn’s 100th bowel movement, but apparently Barkleys is more important than healthy families. It is.

Books

Rumor has it that this is one before there were any checkpoints, runners would wander all over the place and feel sad. So, Frozen Ed suggested using books as unmanned checkpoints, where racers have to take a different book page on each loop. In 2012 there were eleven books, but the number varies each year. Some are easy to find, while others are hidden under giant rocks.

Book Pages

At each quasi-checkpoint, runners have to collect a page from a book that matches the number laz gave them at the beginning of the loop. They do not match bib numbers because they change on each loop (the numbers, not the bibs, though that would be kinda funny).

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Prison from which James Earl Ray escaped, and now part of the Barkleys course. More.

Candy Ass

Parts of the course that are actually on trails.

Jared Campbell

Barkley alumni and, as of the writing of this, the only three-time finisher. More.

Gary Cantrell

Co-Founder and spiritual guide of the Barkleys, Gary aka laz aka Lazarus Lake is everything you imagine him to be. It also turns out he had a life before and during the Barkleys that includes writing an excellent column for UltraRunning Magazine called “View From the Open Road” and doing some ultra running himself. Not to mention he’s the race director for Big’s Backyard Ultra, A Race for the Ages (ARFTA) and other events. There are innumerable articles about him online. More.

Checkmate Hill

I assume this part of the course is in the valley somewhere. Aka Jaque Mate Hill.

Checkpoints

There are no traditional checkpoints or aid stations on the Barkleys with the possible exception of the lookout. Runners prove they’ve reached key points on the course by collecting book pages from hidden books that correspond to a number they’re given on each lap.

Cigarette

Laz lights one to start the race.

CigaretteS

Required gifts (entry fees) given to laz in lieu of entry fees by alumni.

Conch

Shell blown one hour before race start time.

Course

Intentionally hard to define and illegal to map (there are laws!). Loop shaped. It changes every year.

Course Markings

None. Well, there are some trails, and they’re marked, but otherwise, not so much.

Course Record (CR)

The course record (fastest time around all five loops) is currently held by Brett Maune from his astonishing 2012 finish in 52:03:08. Most people finish on the verge of death (actually, most people don’t finish) but Brett looked like he could do another loop. It’s weird.

Cult of Personality

Let’s be honest: laz is the Barkleys and the Barkleys are laz. There are a lot other people involved, but what’s B without L? Not sure. I hope we don’t have to find out for a very long time. And now I’m sad.

Cutoffs

The overall race must be completed in 60 hours. The Fun Run must be completed in 40 hours, or 36 if you want to continue (hence why Gary Robbins couldn’t continue after finishing in 36:12 in 2018). All five loops must be completed in 12 hours or less, unless you’re just doing the Fun Run, in which case you have an easy 13:20 per loop to get ‘er done.

Danger Beyond the Yellow Gate

Fictional book by Cathy Henn (with cover illustration by her son Kyle Henn) about a fictional Barkleys race run by Danger Dave Henn. More.

Danger Dave’s Climbing Wall

Steep segment of the course where runners use trees to pull themselves up, you know, because there’s only one section like that.

Deep Woods

Course section that’s probably a grassy meadow.

Digitally Prepared Chicken

It’s not what you think, and you should probably make sure it’s cooked. See Barkley Chickens and Lazarus Lake.

E

Stands for Excellent, not Empty. Obviously.

Elites

Hardcore runners. A large percentage of Barkleys slots are allocated to elite runners who might actually have a chance of being finishers. See application process.

eNTRY Fees / rEGISTRATION FEES

There are no monetary entry fees, contrary to what some sites will  tell you. There is an application fee of $1.60, non-refundable. Required non-monetary contributions are determined by whether you’re a virginveteran or alumni. The requirements are generally:

  • A license plate from your home state / country if you’re a virgin;
  • A pack of cigarettes if you’re an alumni (returning finisher);
  • Something that varies year-to-year if you’re a veteran. In past years, this has been a flannel shirt (2012), white shirts, white socks, gold-toe dress socks, etc.
F

Fucked, the opposite of Full. It’s important.

Fastest Loop / Loop Record

The fastest time for completion of a single loop appears to be 5:50 by Carl Clifton in 1988, but he was disqualified for short-cutting the second loop, so not really sure. See Course Record. Given how much the loops have changed over time, I’m not convinced this has any real meaning.

Finish Line

The Yellow Gate. See page count and cutoffs.

Finishers

Fifteen (15) finishers have finished 18 times. Finishing summary copied from Wikipedia:

Year (#) Name Time Notes
1995 1. Mark Williams 59:28:48 CR
2001 2. David Horton * 58:21:00 CR
3. Blake Wood * 58:21:01
2003 4. Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer 56:57:52 CR
2004 5. Mike Tilden 57:25:18
6. Jim Nelson 57:28:25
2008 7. Brian Robinson 55:42:27 CR
2009 8. Andrew Thompson 57:37:19
2010 9. Jonathan Basham 59:18:44
2011 10. Brett Maune (1) 57:13:33
2012 11. Brett Maune (2) 52:03:08 CR
12. Jared Campbell (1) 56:00:16
13. John Fegyveresi 59:41:21 SKT
2013 14. Nick Hollon 57:39:24
15. Travis Wildeboer 58:41:45
2014 16. Jared Campbell (2) 57:53:20
2016 17. Jared Campbell (3) 59:32:30
2017 18. John Kelly 59:30:53
Flat Fork Campground

The main camping area for the race, and also the interloopal rest and replenishment area. See the yellow gate.

Frozen Head

The highest peak on Bald Knob.

“Frozen” Ed Furtaw

Multi-year veteran, one of the original Barkers and the first three-loop (Fun Run) finisher. He also wrote a pretty substantial book called Tales from Out There about the Barkleys, came up with the book pages idea, and is credited as the inspiration for naming of Testicle Spectacle.

Frozen Head Fire Tower


Fire lookout tower on the top of Rat Jaw, and the only quasi-aid-station on the course.

Frozen Head State Park (FHSP)

One of the few truly definable things about the Barkleys, FHSP is an actual park with actual borders in real time and space in the US state of Tennessee. Several park trails are included in the Barkleys as “candy-ass” sections. More.

Fun Run

The first three of five loops in the Barkleys. You must finish all three laps in 40 hours to complete a Fun Run, but in 36 hours if you want to continue the race. When it first started, there really was no run beyond the first three loops because no one could finish them, and five loops was considered impossible.

Gnarly Mouth

I got the worst gnarly mouth face planting on Rat Jaw.

(1) Your mouth after sucking saw brier (2) An obstacle on the Barkleys course.

Going Barkley

Ultra running term for bushwhacking that’s become trendy of late, probably because you can’t run the Barkleys without whacking some bush. Some of the bushes whack back. Is it whack-a-soul? No idea. Just made that up.

“Good Luck, Morons”

Encouragement.

GPS (GLobal positioning System)

One of many things you can’t use at the Barkleys or BFC. You can use a compass and map, until laz changes his mind.

Nancy Hamilton

In 1991, she and Suzi Thibeault became the first women to finish the Fun Run.

Cathy Henn

Author of Danger Beyond the Yellow Gate, wife of RawDog (Karl Henn).

Dave henn (“Danger Dave”)

Barkley veteran, generally the bugle player for taps, and Karl & Cathy Henn’s son. “Danger” was his nickname on the Appalachian Trail, and in college. May also be the youngest person every to complete a Barkley loop.

Karl Henn (“RawDog”)

Barkley co-founder, husband of Cathy Henn.

Kyle Henn

Illustrator of Danger Beyond the Yellow Gate and Karl & Cathy Henn’s son.

Hiram’s Vertical Smile

(1) Not that (2) Hill added to course in 2014. Named after Hiram Rogers.

David Horton *

Barkleys 2001 finisher with an asterisk (he was formally disqualified along with Blake Wood for a slight course variance), Hardrock 100 winner, Appalachian FKT record setter, subject of The Runner documentary and more. See results.

Human Sacrifice

The Barkley runner most likely to quit first each year, who always gets bib #1. As laz says, he or she is the “…one person who has absolutely no business out there.” I assume it’s always a virgin. I think that’s right, because they used to be called Sacrificial Virgins.

Interloopal

Time period between loops in the campground used by runners to recover, rest, refuel and (rarely) sleep. Interloopal time counts toward the total 60 hour time allotment.

Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer

2003 finisher.

Kerry’s Cairn

Stone marker on Square (Squire) Knob for veteran Kerry Trammell, an ardent race supporter who died in 2013. Results.

Lazarus Lake (laz)

Alter ego of Gary Cantrell, the Barkleys’ co-founder and mystery man. The short form is laz and is not capitalized for some reason.

Leonard’s ButtSlide

Course section on eastern side of loop below Bobcat Rock.

“Let’s face it, it was kind of a shit show”

Best line from Where Dreams Go to Die.

License Plates

One of the entry fees for virgins. Each virgin has to bring a license plate from their country (or state in the USA). Laz hangs them at camp each year.

Lookout (old CCC Fire Tower)

One of the few aid stations (water only) on the course, the Lookout offers a panoramic view of the park from the summit of Frozen Head peak. Aka Observation Platform. More.

In 2006, the park replaced the aging CCC firetower at the summit of Frozen Head with an observation deck. The observation deck rises just above the treeline and allows for a 360-degree view of the surrounding terrain.  – Wikipedia

Loop Direction

Clockwise, counter-clockwise or both. While the fifth loop of the course alternates directions to prevent collaboration, the first four have varied over time. In 2012, for instance, the first two loops were clockwise and the second two (loops three and four) were counter-clockwise. In other years, every loop alternates direction.

Matt Mahoney

Multi-time Barkleys veteran, ultra-runner and provider of much useful information, for which we are all grateful. More.

Map

There are of course many maps of Frozen Head State Park (see Google),  but none of them will or can show the Barkleys course route. Every runner needs to carry a map marked with the course using a single master map provided the day before the race. You can find veteran maps online, which are of limited used given how much the course changes each year, but some are quite pretty.

Master Map

The day before the race, each runner is given access to the single master map so they can copy the course route and milestones onto their own personal maps.

Brett Maune

As of the writing of this, course record holder and one of only two multi-time finishers, including Jared Campbell.

Meth Lab Hill

Hill with house of ill repute (hmm, that’s not right) somewhere on the course.

Middle Finger Ridge

Welcome to Frozen Head!

No Finishers

There were no finishers in any year up until 1995, and there have been several years without finishers since.

North Boundary Trail (NBT)

One of the less (not recently) maintained trails in Frozen Head State Park, a portion of which is usually part of the Barkley course. Aka Boundary Trail. More? More.

Out There

Anywhere out on the course, all alone in the night fog, surrounded by while boars, lost and hallucinating. The term appears in Gary’s first article about the 1986 race.

Page Count

After each loop, every runner submits their book pages to be counted by laz. If they don’t have all the pages, they’re disqualified.

Pig Head Creek

Part of the course, or at least something you cross on the course. Possible water source and/or opportunity to drown depending on the year and rainfall. There’s also a pig skull to mark the crossing, or so I’ve heard.

Pillars of Doom

Melodramatically named stone pillars on the course. Slightly bigger than Stone Henge in Spinal Tap.

Quitter’s Road

Sad slog of shame back to the Yellow Gate of sorrow.

Race Director (RD)

Gary Cantrell. You may be seeing a theme here.

Race Rules

I imagine there are some.

“The Race That Eats It’s Young”

(1) One of many race slogans (2) Movie about the Barkleys by the Ginger Runner (Ethan Newberry) about Gary Robbins2016 and 2017 Barkleys attempts.

Race Website

Seriously? Okay, there’s a token site here just because. I think Matt Mahoney maintains it, but not sure.

Rat Bites

Scratches from Saw Briers.

Rat Jaw

(1) Laz’s rock band in the seventies (2) Section of course that looks like a rat’s jaw on the map.

Rat Jaw, Jr.

Three guesses.

Rattlesnake

The least pleasant (animal) to clean. Everyone knows that.

James Earl Ray

Scum sucking bastard who shot Martin Luther King, Jr. but also the inspiration for the Barkleys. When JER escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary on June 10, 1977, the chase and apprehension made national news despite the fact that he only went 8.5 miles in 54 hours. Hearing this, Laz said something like, “I thought I could go 100 miles out here in that length time.” And so the  Barkleys was born. It’s meant as a mockery of JER, not a celebration. More.

RawDog Falls

Part of the course. I assume RawDog (Karl Henn) fell down it at some point.

Gary Robbins

Legendary elite ultra runner and one of the latest victims of the Barkleys, Gary tried nobley and failed to finish the run in 2015, 2016 and 2017. He’ll get it someday. See Where Dreams Go To Die. More.

Flying Brian Robinson

Barkley alumni and and course record holder before Brette MauneResultsMore.

Hiram Rogers

Barkley veteran for whom Hiram’s Vertical Smile is named. Thanks, Hiram.

Saw Briers / Sawbriers / Saw Briars

Thorny plants on the course, especially Rat Jaw. I think the formal name is Smilax bona-nox, but I’m not sure. Things that go poke in the night. Aka wait-a-minutes.

Rich Limacher (“SCRITCH”)

Barkley veteran and official chicken cook when laz’s digits are unavailable, he goes by scRitch.

Slowest Known TIME (SKT)

Slowest time to successfully complete the course (in this case, as close to 60 hours as you can get without going over). The current SKT is held by John Fegyversi.

Son of a Bitch (SOB) Ditch

Very pleasant section of course leading down to the North Boundary Trail.

Spectators

Not really allowed at the Barkleys. There’s just no room for them. Try to follow online. See #BM100.

Starting Line

See Yellow Gate.

Starting Time

Race start time is an unknown moment between midnight and 8am on the first day of the race, determined (randomly or scientifically) by laz and RawDog. The conch is the one-hour warning. So, if the conch is blown at 3:13 am, the race starts at 4:13 am when laz lights a cigarette.

Tales From Out There

The 2010 book about the race by Frozen Ed Furtaw. Probably the best source of information about the history of the race — including how it was almost killed forever.

Tapping Out

Quitting.

Taps

Played for you on a bugle when you tap out. Kind of heart wrenching, like bagpipes at your own funeral.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC)

State organization that once attempted to shut down the Barkley, and which eventually required substantial re-routing of the course.

Testicle Spectacle

One of the climbs or descents (depending on direction) on the course, it was named when laz heard Frozen Ed say “Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet and Cigars” (or something like that) when nearing the top of the hill. The original saying is “Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet and Watch” (a somewhat heretical mnemonic to remember how to cross yourself).

“That was Easy!”

What the Easy Button says when you hit it at the finish, you know, because irony.

Suzi Thibeault

In 1991, she and Nancy Hamilton became the first women to finish the Fun Run.

Trails

Several trails are used in part as part of the Barkley course in various years. These include the Bird Mountain Trail, North Boundary Trail, Old Mac Trail, Chimney Top Trail, New River Trail, Old Prison Mine Trail, Indian Knob Trail, Hump Trail and a few dirt and paved roads. More.

Ultra Running / Ultra Race

Running more than 26.2 miles, generally on nice little trails. The Barkleys doesn’t have those. It’s extreme ultra obstacle racing or something. There’s probably a German word. For general ultra terms and lingo, go here.

Veterans

Any participant who’s run the race before. Successful or not, they’re no longer virgins. Veterans who have finished are alumni. I think.

The Virgin and The Veteran

Another fictional book by Cathy Henn and Kyle Henn. See Danger Beyond the Yellow Gate. More.

Virgins

First time Barkleys runners. See AlumniHuman Sacrifice and Veterans.

Wartburg

Town in Tennessee named after a castle in Germany, because why not, and home of Frozen Head State Park and the Barkleys. There’s probably other stuff there too. More.

Watch

Racers in some years are given race-time watches and cannot wear any other watch (?).

“What Was I Thinking?”

2012 Barkleys motto.

“Where Dreams Go To Die”

(1) Race slogan (2) Positive and uplifting movie about how Gary Robbins tried really, really hard to finish the race in 2016…and then 2017

You should totally watch this before running the race, and then pray for good weather. More.

“Why I should BE allowed to RUN the Barkley Marathons”

The required title of your Entry essay, though I don’t know if anyone’s ever been rejected for using something more creative. You should totally try it.

Mark Williams

The first full Barkleys finisher, in 1995 in 59:28:48. That’s more than 30 minutes to spare. Time to make it harder!

Women

As with much of ultra running, women haven’t yet attained equal  participation in the Barkleys (for whatever reasons). I hope we see more of them in future years. To encourage them, we should put a call out for more Barkladies.

blake Wood

Barkleys finisher in 2001 who, along with Dave Horton, was technically disqualified  for accidentally using a prohibited old portion of the course. However, both he and Dave are included in finishing stats as “non-official” finishers, so…there you go.

Yellow Gate

It’s a gate, and it’s yellow. See starting line and finish line.

Zipline

Section of the course where there is no zipline, but there are some very nice boars.

But What About…

Yeah, I probably missed some stuff. Let me know. I intentionally didn’t cover course locations in detail because, damn. Anything else, especially errors and omissions, I’d love to know. Thanks.

“If ya’ll would take good advice.
You wouldn’t be here.”
Gary Cantrell


About the Author

Hi there. I’m the author.

Peace. I mean, condolences.