Where dreams go to die – Gary Robbins and The Barkley Marathons
I was recently given the opportunity to watch Where Dreams Go To Die, a documentary created by Ethan Newberry (The Ginger Runner) that follows the sacrifices and emotional journey of Canadian ultrarunner, Gary Robbins, during his two attempts at completing The Barkley Marathons.
For those unfamiliar with The Barkley Marathons, it is an annual ultramarathon event held in the backwoods (Frozen Head State Park in Morgan County) of Tennessee that consists of a looped course totaling approximately 100 miles. The event is notoriously difficult, with only 15 runners completing the race in its 35-year history. Many consider it the toughest endurance run on Earth.
The Barkley Marathons is a race that is as much about mental fortitude as it is about physical endurance. It’s a race that will push you to your limits, both mentally and physically. It’s a race that will test your resolve, and it’s a race that will test your mettle.
Robbins, a self-proclaimed “running addict”, became obsessed with the Barkley Marathons after hearing about it from a fellow runner. After failing to complete the race in his first attempt, he came back the following year determined to finish.
What makes Robbins’ story so fascinating is his complete dedication to the sport of ultrarunning. He trains diligently, often running multiple times per day, and has even given up his job and family in order to pursue his dream of completing the Barkley Marathons.
The film does an excellent job of capturing the physical and mental challenges that runners face during ultrarunning events. Robbins is frequently seen pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion, and there are several scenes where he is seen vomiting or lying on the ground in pain.
However, the film is also about more than just the physical challenges of ultrarunning. It’s about the dedication and passion that runners like Robbins have for the sport. It’s about the camaraderie that exists among ultrarunners. And it’s about the ultrarunning community as a whole.
Whether you’re a runner or not, I think you’ll appreciate the film Where Dreams Go To Die. It’s an inspirational story about chasing your dreams, no matter how difficult they may be. The film is available on Youtube
Director: Ethan Newberry (The Ginger Runner)
The Barkley Marathons
The Barkley Marathons, held annually in Tennessee, is one of the world’s most challenging and unique ultra-marathons. The race consists of a 100-mile loop through the backwoods of Frozen Head State Park, with a total elevation gain of over 17,000 feet. The course is notoriously difficult, with rugged terrain, extreme weather conditions, and very little aid along the way.
The Barkley Marathons began in 1986 as a bet between two friends, Gary Cantrell (aka “Lazarus Lake”) and Karl Henn. Cantrell bet that Henn couldn’t complete a 100-mile loop of the park in under 60 hours; Henn completed the course in 54 hours and 33 minutes. The race has been held every year since then, and has only grown in popularity (and difficulty) over the years.
To date, only 15 runners have ever completed the Barkley Marathons. The race has a strict set of rules, including a 60-hour time limit, a strict “no aid” policy (runners are not allowed to receive any assistance along the course), and a limit of 35 entrants per year. The race is also notoriously difficult to get into, with a lottery system that only allows a handful of runners to register each year.
The Barkley Marathons is an incredibly challenging race, both mentally and physically. It’s an amazing test of human endurance, and an experience that is unlike any other. If you’re looking for a true ultra-marathon challenge, the Barkley Marathons is definitely worth checking out.
The Barkley Marathons is also unique in that the route changes every year, and there is no GPS allowed.
So, what makes the Barkley Marathons so difficult? First, the elevation. The race starts at an elevation of about 1,700 feet, and climbs to a high point of over 6,000 feet. Second, the terrain is incredibly rugged, with steep climbs and descents, and plenty of rocks and roots to trip you up. Third, the weather can be brutal. The race has been held in everything from freezing cold to sweltering heat.
And then there’s the “fun.” Cantrell includes a number of challenges along the way, such as finding hidden books in the woods, or completing a puzzle. These “fun” challenges add an extra level of difficulty (and often frustration) to an already difficult race.
So, why would anyone want to run the Barkley Marathons? For some, it’s the challenge. For others, it’s the camaraderie. The Barkley Marathons is a close-knit community, and runners often form bonds that last a lifetime.
If you’re thinking of running the Barkley Marathons, know that it is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re up for the challenge, you’ll find it to be an unforgettable experience.