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Happy new year, you. All the horrors of 2016 aside, it was a good running year for me. I hope that soothes your soul as the dreaded day approaches in which he will make a bunch of promises he’s already broken, taking an oath to uphold a document he doesn’t understand.

Somehow my running buddy deleted our mileage file, but at last look in early December I was at 2200+ miles for the year. This year I’ll track my own mileage on this dusty antique called pen and paper. I’m 12 miles in to 2017 and it’s time for an adventure. We had to cancel our Montreal trip because someone got himself sick. Netflix to the rescue.

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Running is so much more than testing and pushing your limits. The Barkley Marathons documentary illustrates this in a most amusing way. This is my favorite running doc yet and its nice to have a place I can share that without receiving eye rolls. Dubbed as “The race that eats its young”, The Barkley Marathons is streamable on Netflix right now. If you want to smile and feel good about the world watch – whether you run or not. Who doesn’t adore blisters and gore?

I love running stories of all lengths, settings and torment, though could do without extreme close-ups of the bottoms of ultra runners’ feet post 80+ miles. So I’m wondering who made mangled foot shots obligatory in running docs? Who had the brilliant idea of zooming in on blisters and crusted skin then really went the distance in just holding the camera there while I, the viewer, take a bite of warm brownie? Give viewers a warning: Gross feet ahead. Look Away. Don’t indulge even though the warm brownie window closes tragically fast.

Foot shots are forgiven this one time.

The Barkley Marathon is a monster ultra in the Tennessee mountains (Frozen Head State Park) created by Gary Cantrell, Lazarus Lake, a runner who comes across as smart and fantastically wicked. I wish we were neighbors. The documentary unpacks the idiosyncrasies of this race and the man behind it through the eyes of those who dare attempt to run it. Very few have ever finished, some years none managed to complete the five clockwise, counter clockwise loops with a sum total elevation gain of 60,000 feet, equal to ascending Mount Everest twice.

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A lot of people apply to this race and only 35-40 are accepted in the form of a condolence letter, including a human sacrifice, a runner clearly way over his/her head. In addition to the $1.60 entry fee, runners bring a license plate from their respective state and a shirt or package of socks or whatever Gary Cantrell happens to need that year. This year it’s a pair of gold-toe dress socks (black or dark blue). Races are stupid expensive and he could get away with charging whatever he wanted, but he does this instead and that confirms what you already suspect. This race is all about the race. No frills like course maps and pacers or budget-breaking entry fees.

What I didn’t expect was how gruesome the course is. There are eleven points along the way, each with a paperback book in a plastic bag. Each participant has a different number for each loop and must tear the corresponding page from the book at each point to nullify any possibility of cheating or accidentally taking a shortcut in the dark. Smart logistics on top of the runners’ grit, determination and messy defeat (to the playing of Taps ) make this fun and inspiring to watch.

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Gary Cantrell. 

The Barkley Marathons is about defeat, and pain and why nots. Part of the joy in watching the documentary is learning about the oddness of it all and how much sense it makes. My favorite moment is when Cantrell says of one runner:

You can’t write off someone. You never know how much they will come up with from deep down inside.

Check it out whether you need motivation, a pick-me-up, mental stimulation, or alas a place for that $1.60 burning a hole in your pocket…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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