A book in the heart of the Barkley, the “hardest” race in the world

The Barkley is renowned for being the toughest race in the world. In 33 editions, few have been able to complete this 200-milestone event (20,000 m of D +) made up of five 40-kilometer loops that each have to be completed in less than twelve hours. Only fifteen competitors succeeded.

In their book titled The Finishers, the authors Aurélien Delfosse and Alexis Berg went to meet them to try to understand what allowed them to succeed where hundreds of others have failed. The answers go all over the place but one quality floats: humility in the face of a challenge.

“Those who start thinking they have a good chance of going to the end make a mistake”, Explain Jared Campbell, the only triple finisher of the race (2012, 2014, 2016).

Some also say that one must have known failure to be successful. “Personally, I had to fail twice to feel completely involved”, remembers Travis Wildeboer.

In 2013, he finally decided to drop everything, home and work, to live six months in a motorhome in the heart of the dreaded Brushy Mountain forest where the race takes place.

His approach is somewhat reminiscent of that of Jonathan Basham, who, in 2010, decided to take only icy showers to accustom his body to the suffering in anticipation of his participation in the event.

As for Brett Maune (2011, 2012), he transformed his gym into a giant fridge.

Others took a more intellectual approach.

“I studied the park map for months”, explains for his part John Armed (2012). “Even without GPS, I knew exactly where I was.”

Through these testimonies, we are struck by the rigor of the preparation, which contrasts with the gratuity of the challenge. It is therefore not surprising that a large number of finishers have a scientific background. They see the race as an equation to be solved.

“Whether it’s the Barkley or the Rubik’s Cube contests (which he was one of the youngest Americans to win), it’s the same thing”, entrusts Brian Robinson, with Asperger’s syndrome (2008). This obsession sometimes goes very far.

“Finishing the race was absolutely necessary to convince me that it was worth living”, entrusts Nick Hollon (2013), then suffering from depression. “I used the Barkley to convince myself that I had to finish it if I was going to get out of it.”

>>> The Finishers, by Aurélien Delfosse and Alexis Berg, ed. Mons, 2020.

“The Finishers”, the film

All the interviews conducted by Aurélien Delfosse were filmed and compiled into a report of around forty minutes that can be seen on the website of L’Équipe Explore.

We learn less than in the book on the biography of these fifteen runners, but what a pleasure to listen to them talk about their feat that some would qualify as superhuman and that they tell with modesty and a keen sense of self-mockery.

The image also shows the fierceness of the fight as we follow Jared Campbell as he tries for hours to progress in 50 centimeters of fresh snow. We also witness his disappointment live when, on the occasion of the last edition, he arrives late at the end of the third round.

Even after a perfect preparation, a sheet of fog will have been enough to put everything on the ground. This is also the Barkley.

We would like to give thanks to the author of this post for this incredible content

A book in the heart of the Barkley, the “hardest” race in the world

The Inside News Hyderabad