Eagerly signing up for hell

The Barkley Marathons is a classic case study in brilliant event branding.

Trail runners are a crazy bunch.

Most of them hold down important and respected positions in society between Monday and Friday, but come the weekend they're looking for the opportunity to put themselves through hell. Scrambling through thorn bushes, making their way along slippery, sheer-drop mountain traverses and dramatically increasing the odds of breaking an ankle on a gnarly, rocky path are all part of the fun.

Then there are the races.

One of the most extreme being The Barkley Marathons that takes place every year in March / April in Tennessee's Frozen Head State Park.

Thousands apply to run the 60-hour, 100-mile race, but only a handful are invited to take part. Since 1995 only 17 people have officially finished the race.

It's the holy grail of trail.

The other day I watched a fascinating documentary online about the race, which is apparently also coming out on Netflix shortly, if you are keen to see it.

Apart from the race itself being an interesting story to hear about, what's even more astounding is how the organisers of the race have created something so unique, and so brutal, and so mad...in every aspect of its design, which is precisely what makes it so alluring to the people that running it appeals to.

There are no marshals on the route, no support crews, there is hardly a route to speak of; and proving that you've gone the distance is done thanks to tearing out the right pages in a series of books that can be found at various way stations.

The race starts when the organiser lights his cigarette and at some point the route takes runner through a tunnel that is part of a functioning jail.

But all of these quirks contribute to making this what ultimately trail is all about; madness and an extreme experience of reality.

It doesn't try to be everything to everyone, it's value comes from how unbelievably terrible it is.

The Barkley Marathons as a brand does exactly what is promises on the box. It's an invitation to overcome hell, which for some is their idea of heaven.