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‘Out There’ at the Barkley: Portraits From the Edge of Endurance

“If you’re going to face a real challenge, it has to be a REAL challenge. You can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure.  For some people, just to get back to camp alive is all they want in the world.” – Lazarus Lake

In the fringe world of ultra endurance sports, there is an outlier: The Barkley.

The Barkley is the world’s toughest race you’ve never heard of. With 59,100 feet of climb and decent over 100 miles, it’s considered the most difficult endurance event on the planet. In its 25-year history, only twelve men, the same amount of men who have walked on the moon, have actually been able to finish the race. No woman has successfully completed more than sixty miles on the course.

Held near April Fool’s day weekend in the remote Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, the race draws a small cadre of uber athletes and dreamers from around the world.

The race has no website.

It is not on any race calendar.

The entry procedure is a well guarded mystery. Ask a veteran how to enter and you are likely to be sent down a rabbit hole.

The race director lives under an alias.

The cost to enter is $1.60 and a license plate from your home state or country.

The course is five loops around the park, totally unmarked, mostly off trail, with a time limit of sixty hours.

There are no manned aid stations. You must carry everything you need to survive “out there” including a map and compass (no GPS allowed) to navigate the course.

There are no rescues. You must self-extract, however long it takes, and get back to camp.

There is no official race start time. The race begins when the Race Director decides to light his cigarette.

In order to prove you’ve successfully navigated the course, ten books are hidden (in abandoned rattlesnake dens, trees, coal mines) along the route. You must find each book and tear out the page that matches your race number for the loop and successfully bring it back to camp.

The race features such obstacles as the Testicle Spectacle, Danger Dave’s Climbing Wall, Son Of A Bitch Ditch, Rat Jaw, The Bad Thing, and the pièce de résistance: running under the now closed Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary via a subterranean drainage tunnel.

When you fail at the Barkley, and you will fail, you must face the bugler who will play taps at the yellow gate. All in camp will know you gave your very best, but in the end, still failed.

This is the world of The Barkley.

Portraits of the athletes below were taken the day before the start, and immediately upon quitting, being tapped out, or in a rare case, finishing.

For part II of my coverage of The Barkley, go to The Barkley: Bad Things Happen.

 

All images © Geoffrey S. Baker, All Rights Reserved

Alan Abs

Alan Abbs, 42, Red Bluff, CA. Profession: Air Pollution Control Officer. Number of Barkley starts: 2 previous. Why are you running the Barkley? To go farther than previous starts. Your predicted finish results: Greater than 3 laps. Actual results: D.N.F. (Did Not Finish) at Pighead Creek, loop 4, @ 32 + hours.

Thomas Armbruster

Thomas R. Armbruster, Jr., 37, Atlanta, GA. Profession: Analyst. Number of Barkley starts: This will be my first. Why are you running the Barkley? The idea of running the Barkley Marathons represents so many things for me; it is an exploration of my limits, it is an unattainable goal, and because so many others are afraid of it. Your predicted finish results: I hate this question. The dreamer in me says 3 loops. The realist says 1 loop. I will toe the line at the Yellow Gate with one goal in mind, to not stop until I am told I can no longer continue. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) @ 12:40 into the race.

Dusty Hardman

Dusty Hardman, 43, Punta Gorda, FL. Profession: Unemployed, former ranch caretaker. Number of Barkley starts: 0 Why are you running the Barkley? I am running the Barkley because I love adventure, love toeing the line with the greats of ultrarunning and because I have chronic illnesses that people think should keep me (and them) from participating in amazing things. I love proving them wrong over and over again. I have adrenal insufficiency (do not produce cortisol and cannot regulate sodium and potassium without medication) like JFK and hypothyroid both are controlled with medicine. Your predicted finish results: 1 loop. Actual results: D.N.F. (Did Not Finish) at Phillips Creek, loop 2 @ 12 + hours into the race.

Hiram Rogers

Hiram Rogers, 54, Knoxville, TN. Your profession: Geologist. Number of Barkley starts: 7. Why are you running the Barkley? Frozen Head is a great place to run. Your predicted finish results: A great day in the mountains. Actual results: D.N.F. (Did Not Finish) at Phillips Creek, loop 2 @ 12 + hours into the race.

Zane Smith

Zane smith, 39, Columbia TN. Your profession: insurance agent. Number of Barkley starts: this will be my second. Why are you running the Barkley? To find the answer to your next question Your predicted finish results: see above. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at firetower, loop 3 @ 25 + hours into the race.

Wouter Hamelink

Wouter Hamelinck, 29, Merelbeke, Belgium. Your profession: Statistician. Number of Barkley starts: 1 (2010) Why are you running the Barkley?: Want to know how impossible it really is. Your predicted finish results: No prediction, hoping for a fun run (60 miles). Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) @ 24 + hours into the race.

Michael Panhuysen

Michael Panhuysen, 45, The Hague, Netherlands. Your profession: Writer. Number of Barkley starts: 0. Why are you running the Barkley?: Because it’s there. Your predicted finish results: 1 to 4 loops. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at firetower, loop 2, @ 12 + hours into the race.

James Adams

James Adams, 32, London, UK. Your profession: Statistician. Number of Barkley starts: 0. Why are you running the Barkley?: To get beaten by something. Your predicted finish results: To get my money’s worth. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) @ 12 + hours into the race.

Beverly Anderson-Abs

Beverley Anderson-Abbs, 47, Red Bluff, CA. Your profession: Environmental Scientist. Number of Barkley starts: This will be my first. Why are you running the Barkley? To test myself and see what I am capable of in this venue. Your predicted finish results: Hopefully further than any other woman has gone. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) @ 34 + hours into the race.

Frozen Ed Furtaw

Frozen Ed Furtaw, 64, Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Your profession: Retired engineer. Number of Barkley starts: This will be my 16th. Why are you running the Barkley? It is my favorite race because it is so tough and so much fun. Your predicted finish results: Ideally, three loops near the 40-hour time limit; realistically, two loops near but over the 26:40 time limit. Actual results: Over cutoff, loop 2 @ 29 + hours into the race.

Nick Hollon

Nick Hollon, 21, Flagstaff, AZ. Your profession: Student, Undergraduate at Northern Arizona University. Number of Barkley starts: 1. Why are you running the Barkley?: No other race in the world beats my up like this one does. Your predicted finish results: 5 loops. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at Garden Spot, loop 4 @ 32 + hours into the race.

Marco Cych

Marco Cych, 30, Rudesheim, Germany. Your profession: IT specialist. Number of Barkley starts: 2012 will be the 2nd start. Why are you running the Barkley? Maybe because this is the biggest running challenge or maybe just because I’m an idiot. Your predicted finish results: At best I’ll get further than 1 loop (which I did last year). Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at Phillips Creek, loop 2, @ 12 + hours into the race.

Tim Englund

Tim Englund, 45, Ellensburg, WA. Your profession: Math professor and chair. Number of Barkley starts: This will be my first. Why are you running the Barkley? Because it’s hard. Your predicted finish results: I don’t know. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at firetower, loop 3, @ 21 + hours into the race.

Iso Yucra

Iso Yucra, 43, Millares, Bolivia. Your profession: Industrial Ing. Number of Barkley starts: 1. Why are you running the Barkley? I do not know, seriously. Your predicted finish results: 55 hours? Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at firetower, loop 3, @ 25 + hours into the race.

Jason Carpenter

Jason Carpenter, 35, San Diego CA. Your profession: Information Security. Number of Barkley starts: Virgin. Why are you running the Barkley? Because I love being lost. Your predicted finish results: Finish all 5 laps! (probably not but might as well be positive!) Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) @ 12 + hours into the race.

Matt Mahoney

Matt Mahoney, 56, Melbourne FL. I am a scientist at Ocarina, a division of Dell, doing research in data compression. I started Barkley 13 times with 0 finishes. My best result is to miss the cutoff after 2 loops a few times back when the course was easier and I was younger. This year I hope to finish 1 loop and hear the bugle. Why? Dunno, there is no point. (It even said that on the racenumbers one year). Actual results: D.N.F. (Did Not Finish) 18:46, Over cutoff, loop 1.

Joel Gat

Joel Gat, 37, Austin, TX. Your profession: Attorney. Number of Barkley starts: This is my first. Why are you running the Barkley?: I love the suck.Your predicted finish results: Predicted by whom? Me? Finisher, 59 hours, 59 minutes, 58 seconds. Laz probably thinks 1-lap. Realistically, I expect that I will be able to do at least a fun run.  Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) @ 1 loop, 12:35 hours into the race.

Paul Meltzer

Paul Melzer, 54, Redlands, CA. Your profession: Design. Number of Barkley starts: This is my 3rd. Why are you running the Barkley? Challenge. Your predicted finish results: Unknown. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at Coffin Springs, loop 2.

Carl Laniak

Carl Laniak, 30, Arnoldsville, GA. Your profession: Machinist. Number of Barkley starts: 4. Why are you running the Barkley?: I don’t know. Your predicted finish results: Success. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at Indian Knob, loop 2.

Aaron Sorenson

Aaron Sorenson, 39, San Francisco, CA. Your profession: U.S. Coast Guard. Number of Barkley starts: 0. Why are you running the Barkley?: I think I can. Your predicted finish results: 4 + or – laps. Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) loop 3 @ 26 + hours into the race.

William Arnold

William (Will the Thrill) Arnold, 32, Nashville, TN. Your profession: Teacher. Number of Barkley starts: 0 previous starts (virgin). Why are you running the Barkley? Because it’s there. Your predicted finish results: Fun Run (60 miles/3 laps). Actual results: R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at Testicle Spectacle, loop 2.

Naresh Kumar

Naresh Kumar, 29, Chennai, India (Living in Nashville, TN). Your profession: Software Engineer. Number of Barkley starts: 0. Why are you running the Barkley? Because I am stupid. Your predicted finish results: Finish Fun Run (3 Loops, 60 miles.) Actual results: D.N.F. (Did Not Finish) 18:46, Over cutoff, loop 1.

Psyche Wimberly

Psyche Wimberly, 45, Chimney Rock, NC. Your profession: Healthcare Business Consultant. Number of Barkley starts: 0. Why are you running the Barkley?: Ultimate “out there” experience. Your predicted finish results: 1 loop. Actual results: D.N.F. (Did Not Finish) 18:46, Over cutoff, loop 1.

Stuart Gleman

Stuart Gleman, 67, Franklin, NC. Your profession: Retired Physicist. Number of Barkley starts: 15. Why are you running the Barkley?: I might not get another chance to be here at the park I love, with the people I love, and in the race I love. Your predicted finish results: If I am very lucky I will guide one or two virgins around a complete loop in 18 or 20 hours. If I am alone, I will likely drop at about half a loop. If I start to bleed, I will be lucky to make it out alive, and the Barkley runners can have my books. Actual results:. R.T.C. (Refused To Continue) at Raw Dog Falls, loop 1.

Brett Maune

Brett Maune, 33, Washington, Missouri. Your profession: Physicist. Number of Barkley starts: 1. Why are you running the Barkley? It is fun and memorable. Your predicted finish results: 1st. Actual results: 1st place in 52:03:08, a new course record by over three hours.

Lazarus Lake, Race Director of the Barkley Marathons held every spring in Frozen Head State Park, TN.

  • Mark - Un-frigging-believeable. Outstanding photojournalism. Excellent subject. Reminds me of another little race I experienced. Thanks, Geoff. As always I am one of your biggest fans.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Spelt - Fantastic pics, Geoff!!ReplyCancel

  • Michael - OMG, Geoff. Amazing documentation of the nadir and summit of human endurance.ReplyCancel

  • Sue Watson - Epic job geoff. Amazi g that at least one person finished. I second the commentbon photojournalism. I bet at least one or tso Hoco. CRazies will be out there next timeReplyCancel

  • Allan Holtz - Awesome photos Geoff. I love them. Wish I could have participated this year. Maybe next year…ReplyCancel

  • ‘Out There’ at the Barkley: Portraits From the Edge of Endurance » Geoffrey Baker Photography « Tjamrog’s Weblog - [...] ‘Out There’ at the Barkley: Portraits From the Edge of Endurance » Geoffrey Baker Photography. [...]ReplyCancel

  • Mike O'Melia - These are some of the best Barkley pics I have ever seen. You have captured the runner bravado, and how reality brings it all home. Awesome!!ReplyCancel

  • Sam Tobson - Fantastic photos! Did Carl Laniak have a shave halfway round?! Epic running from everybody involved. With 3 finishers this year, you can bet Laz has something bad planned for runners next year…ReplyCancel

  • Lynne and Andre Boele - You guys, gals are insane and amazing. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Friends of Stuart GlemanReplyCancel

  • Joan - Wow. Amazing photos.ReplyCancel

  • Marcia Rasmussen - Yep, most of these folks look more tired or beat up in the “after” shot. Why is it that Laz seems to look better?ReplyCancel

  • David Parks - Really cool to be able to see everybody’s before and after and to get the background on each. Awesome job!ReplyCancel

  • Sophie - Did one man loose his beard during the race?! Man, that must be a tough race….ReplyCancel

  • Christopher - The Believer, an online mag, featured this race on a story earlier this year. I read it in fascination and tried my best to imagine the players in the story. Now I see them. Thanks for this.

    http://www.believermag.com/issues/201105/?read=article_jamison

    Amazing race indeed.ReplyCancel

  • Phil Marra - wowReplyCancel

  • More truth than I can handle « Joy and Woe - [...] An upside of posting photos of myself in my near-altogether has been a happy spike in readership of this blog — “underpants are internet gold!” as I told my friend Heidi — and because I’m a metrics addict, I’ve been trying to figure out where some of this traffic is coming from, which lead me to type the words “before and after photos” into Twitter’s search engine, which led me to this: ‘Out There’ at the Barkley: Portraits From the Edge of Endurance. [...]ReplyCancel

  • Morning Links: The Simpsons Live in Springfield, Ore. and More - [...] race on the planet is an understatement. Anyway, photographer Geoffrey Baker has a great series of before and after portraits of the 2012 participants and a great photo series of the race [...]ReplyCancel

  • Annika - Geoff, these are incredible. So glad that you were there this year!ReplyCancel

  • AJ Johnson - Geoff, incredible photos, the look in their eyes are telling of their epic adventure. I dream of one day being there, but it will probably just turn into a nightmare. One day…..ReplyCancel

  • Gemali Almonte-Bryan - I WANT TO DO IT and win the shit!!!ReplyCancel

  • URP Daily News | UltraRunnerPodcast.com - [...] and Alan Abbs today to talk about their Barkley experience. Before you listen, have a look at these “before and after Barkley” pictures, check out these course pics, and definitely read Alan’s harrowing account from [...]ReplyCancel

  • Larry Vincent - These photos are brilliant. I enjoyed reading each profile. What a fascinating story!ReplyCancel

  • Stu Gleman - We all knew the photos would be good. These are exceptional, taken by an ultra runner who understands and loves the sport and the wonderful dysfunctional family at the stupidly extreme end of it. Thank you, Geoff!
    (It is perhaps possible that Carl Laniak had an encounter with one or more of the few remaining Mutant Weasels that were once quite common on the course.)ReplyCancel

  • Non-Taxing Linkage (4_15_12) - [...] the courage to at least make the attempt, even in the face of almost certain failure… Before and After Pictures from the most difficult race you have likely never heard of — only 12 have [...]ReplyCancel

  • Recently from Tumblr: « My Life Was Changed By A Train - [...] ‘Out There’ at the Barkley: Portraits From the Edge of Endurance http://ifttt.com/images/no_image_card.png ‘Out There’ at the Barkley: Portraits From the Edge of Endurance: [...]ReplyCancel

  • ‘Out There’ at the Barkley: Portraits From the Edge of Endurance « - [...] Geoffrey Baker Photography Share this:EmailMoreDiggShare on TumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Preeti Bhatia [...]ReplyCancel

  • ‘Out There’ at the Barkley: Portraits From the Edge of Endurance | lowbrowculture - [...] ‘Out There’ at the Barkley: Portraits From the Edge of Endurance The Barkley is the world’s toughest race you’ve never heard of. With 59,100 feet of climb and decent over 100 miles, it’s considered the most difficult endurance event on the planet. In its 25-year history, only twelve men, the same amount of men who have walked on the moon, have actually been able to finish the race. [...]ReplyCancel

  • Angie Stewart - oh, oh, oh!! This sounds like the worst-best kind of fun ever! I would LOVE to get my a$$ handed to me by this race.ReplyCancel

  • Steve Pattillo - I have listened to the ravings of Ed Furtaw , the Pero’s John Dewalt and scores of other folks that should have been institutionalized long ago; This race is wild and so far out there! These pictures are great. The small probably is awesome too. Great!ReplyCancel

  • Other Captivating Reports [OCR] – July 2013 edition | SOLO Performance - [...] Barkley – Geoffrey Baker shares a brilliant collection of runner portraits before and after running the Barkley. Me thinks we should do that for the Death [...]ReplyCancel

  • david - Thanks for sharing. Alan Abs shared your page on ultrarunnerpodcast.com. These are kinda priceless. Im pleased to get pictures with the voices behind the race. Thanks again those photos are worth a thousand words. And i am slightly more interested in running this race.ReplyCancel

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