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 understand 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.
Bib number for the Human Sacrifice. I’m not sure how other bib numbers are assigned, but I assume it’s equally devious.
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.
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.
The maximum number of Barkleys starters each year, though it’s often fewer, sometimes more, and not fully documented anyway.
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.
First year of the Barkleys.
First year anyone finished the Barkleys full “100 mile” course. See Mark Williams.
There was no race. Stupid year.
(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.
Lots of rain, no finishers. Gary Robbins‘ third attempt. More.
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.
Prior race finishers. See veterans and virgins.
Apple Cow Lips
Hell if I know.
There is a $1.60 application fee for the Barkleys, non-refundable. This is not the entry fee.
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.
The Bad Thing
Super fun part of the course that’s vaguely hilly.
Veteran who holds the “record for futility” for completing the fewest miles in the longest time (2 miles of official course in 32 hours).
Anyone who’s run (or been part of?) the Barkleys is a Barker, whether virgin, veteran or alumni.
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.
(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.
What runners of the Barkley Fall Classic (BFC) tend to call the Barkley Marathons.
I’m sure it’s just a little hell, and a very mellow part of the course.
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.
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.
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.
Parts of the course that are actually on trails.
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.
I assume this part of the course is in the valley somewhere. Aka Jaque Mate Hill.
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.
Laz lights one to start the race.
Required gifts (entry fees) given to laz in lieu of entry fees by alumni.
Shell blown one hour before race start time.
Intentionally hard to define and illegal to map (there are laws!). Loop shaped. It changes every year.
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.
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.
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.
Stands for Excellent, not Empty. Obviously.
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 virgin, veteran 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.
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.
The Yellow Gate. See page count and cutoffs.
Fifteen (15) finishers have finished 18 times. Finishing summary copied from Wikipedia:
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
In 1991, she and Suzi Thibeault became the first women to finish the Fun Run.
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.
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.
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.
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 Keizer (AKA “Cave Dog”)
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.
Course section on eastern side of loop below Bobcat Rock, named after Barker Leonard Martin.
“Let’s face it, it was kind of a shit show”
Best line from Where Dreams Go to Die.
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
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.
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.
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.
As of the writing of this, course record holder and one of only two multi-time finishers, including Jared Campbell.
Gentle, grassy slope added to course in 2019.
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!
There were no finishers in any year up until 1995, and there have been several years without finishers since.
North Boundary Trail (NBT)
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.
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.
Sad slog of shame back to the Yellow Gate of sorrow.
Race Director (RD)
Gary Cantrell. You may be seeing a theme here.
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 Robbins‘ 2016 and 2017 Barkleys attempts.
Seriously? Okay, there’s a token site here just because. I think Matt Mahoney maintains it, but not sure.
Scratches from Saw Briers.
(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.
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.
Part of the course. I assume RawDog (Karl Henn) fell down it at some point.
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 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.
Not really allowed at the Barkleys. There’s just no room for them. Try to follow online. See #BM100.
See Yellow Gate.
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.
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.
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.
In 1991, she and Nancy Hamilton became the first women to finish the Fun Run.
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.
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
First time Barkleys runners. See Alumni, Human Sacrifice and Veterans.
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.
The first full Barkleys finisher, in 1995 in 59:28:48. That’s more than 30 minutes to spare. Time to make it harder!
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.
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.
It’s a gate, and it’s yellow. See starting line and finish line.
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
As always, if you want to learn more about the Barkley, check out the following:
Or take a look at our comprehensive guide to Ultra Running Terminology & Trail Running Slang.
About the Author
Hi there. I’m the author.
Peace. I mean, condolences.