The Sid Docs film series continues at the Sid Williams Theatre with The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young on Monday April 25.
This oddly inspirational and funny sports documentary champions success in failure, fun in futility, and the joker who organizes it all.
Every year 40 runners come from around the world to a small town in Tennessee to test their limits in a cult-like, quirky, and virtually impossible trail race. Created as a mockery of a historic prison escape, in 25 years, only 10 people have finished the Barkley Marathons at the time of the documentary’s filming. Through the competitor’s spectacular failures and unprecedented successes, this film contemplates the value of pain in a society that favours comfort.
Lazarus Lake, the cofounder of the Barkley, has been running ultra-marathons since the early 1970s with his cigarette-laden, southern drawl and sardonic wit. As the mastermind of this race, his mission is to keep the Barkley at the absolute limit of human potential. For Laz, there is no point in presenting a challenge that does not include the possibility of failure.
Brett Maune, a physicist and past finisher, has his sights set on making history by beating the course’s speed record and becoming the first ever two-time finisher. However, the arrival of unseasonably hot weather and Barkley “virgin” Jared Campbell, an engineer and top ultra runner, may ruin his plans.
An unknown average runner and glaciologist who winters in Antarctica, John Fegyveresi wants to outrun his past. After a harrowing string of tragedies, he upended his former mundane life and has spent the last five years trying to push himself and live life to its fullest.
With a secret application process, unknown start time, and a course that changes every year, Laz places hurdles to challenge these non-traditional athletes mentally as well as physically. The Barkley consists of five loops. To finish, runners must traverse 130 miles, 120,000 feet of elevation change, all within 60 hours. With only a map and compass on the unmarked and unaided course, runners navigate their way through treacherous terrain to find hidden books as proof of following the route.
In the middle of each loop, runners tunnel through the historic prison that ignited the idea for the Barkley. In 1977, James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., escaped from Brushy Mountain State Prison, into the Tennessee wilderness. He was captured 54 hours later, less than eight miles from the prison. Upon hearing of his failed attempt, Laz mockingly declared that he could run 100 miles in that same amount of time, and so, the Barkley Marathons race was born.
Throughout the first 24 hours a bugle echoes through camp to mark each failure of the 25 runners that have quit.
Brett and Jared, the two strongest competitors, have surprisingly teamed up and are in the lead. Brett’s worst fears, of Jared taking the course record from him, may come true. Farther behind, John is running much of the course on his own, and is battling fatigue, foot problems, and a time limit that looks to dampen his hopes of a finish. Caked in blood and mud, participants find value in being “out there,” tackling unfathomable feats, and pushing themselves to new limits.
As Laz explains, “People who go through this are better for it. They’re not made of better stuff than other people, but they’re better for what they’ve asked of themselves.”
The Barkley is a puzzle; at once drama, tragedy, and comedy. The movie follows unlikely athletes who face their demons, enter the deep woods of Tennessee, and refuse to turn back. Immersed in a real-life southern gothic tale imbued with American history, the filmmakers capture spectacular failures and mythic successes. The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young will enthral a wide audience with its absurdist, sardonic, and unusually inspiring story.
Tickets for this film are $5 for the general public and $3 for members (plus applicable handling fees). Purchase in person at the Ticket Centre Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., by phone 250.338.2430, or online at sidwilliamstheatre.com.
– Sid Williams Theatre Society