There are those of us who sit in theaters every day reviewing films. Then there are those who step out to the great outdoors to test their physical limits. Filmmaker Linda Sanders captures the latter, competing in the world’s most grueling races in their documentary, Barkley: Sadistic Race.
The titular race finds its inspiration oddly in the story of James Earl Ray, the man serving 99 years for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1977, Ray escaped Tennessee’s Brushy Mountain State Prison and for three days, managed to outrun the authorities making it about 8 miles across the cold, damp, mountainous terrain. Upon hearing the story, race founder Gary Cantrell boasted he could have done at least 100 miles. Finding himself a better planner than a runner, each year, Cantrell hosts the Barkley: Sadistic Race, where dozens of competitors attempt the hundred-mile run he imagined. The race is not for the faint at heart and designed to destroy you.
“The race is not for the faint at heart and designed to destroy you.”
Each year, forty hand-picked competitors compete in the race. A loop is mapped out with no trails forcing competitors to use mapping skills to stay on course. At milestone locations, they have to locate a book in a plastic bag along the route and rip out the page of the book that represents their number to prove they followed the right path. No cheating. Runners must navigate the loop six times within a 60-hour time limit. As time runs out, if you take too long to complete a circuit, you will be disqualified, as it is impossible to regain that time back.
"…the race comes primarily from its steep climbs and equally steep descents..."