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The Barkley Marathons: Film Review

Because a good tank of gas puts you on Excellent.

Not all trail runs have a crowd
Not all trail runs have a crowd
Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Humans like to be challenged. And one subset of humans who really loved to be challenged is runners. Whether it be signing up for your first 5k or an ultramarathon, runners loved to be challenged and races love to offer us a challenge.

But what if a race offers an almost impossible challenge? Enter, the Barkley Marathons. The race that claims less then 20 finishers total in it's over 25 year history. The race is almost completely unbelievable, and to bring it to life there is a phenomenal documentary currently on Netflix.

In case that last bit did not give it away, I absolutely love this film. I have never seen a running documentary that wanted you to go out and run for hours in the woods more then this movie. But what makes it so good? It's not just the race itself, but it's the characters and how they react to the conditions.

I really do not want to give away much about what makes this race so special, so I'll leave it at the basics. The race is a trail run consisting of 20 mile loops through the woods of eastern Tennessee. To finish the race, a runner must run five loops. Simple right? Well, not really. Runners debate on how far these loops actually are. The race official, Lazarus, says that each loop is 20 miles, but many of the runners claim that they are close to 26 miles. That means this race is somewhere in between 100 miles and 130 miles. Completing three laps is a "fun run", and running all five laps in the time limit of 60 hours is a finish. That part is clear, the rest is just stranger then fiction. There's a reason why so few people have finished this race, but there's also a big reason on why this race is so entertaining.

While listening to Lazarus explain the race will make you have to pause the film from laughing, the stories of the people racing will bring a smile to your face. Each person seems to be there for a different reason, but they all respect the race and truly just love to run. This race is on the opposite side of the spectrum of the Rock N Roll and Disney races in terms of glitz and glamor. It's a simple race through the woods that gets right into the heart of what makes running fun. And that is exactly what makes this movie so much fun. Seeing people who truly love running talk about it and take on such a huge challenge is inspiring, and it brings us back to why we began running in the first place. There's no prize money or fame from winning or even finishing, yet the runners involved give it their all and band together to help each other. You will be intrigued by the physicist who's already finished once before, you'll understand the grad student who runs because it brings him joy, and you'll ponder how Lazarus became so strange in life.

At the end of the film, you care about the characters and wish that you could meet some of them for a run one day. But not before you yourself go run, because you're going to need to do that as soon as you finish the movie.