Ultrarunners all over the globe have spent the last couple of days glued to their screens following updates on what is arguably the world's toughest foot race - the Barkley Marathons.

This year, New Zealanders had one extra reason to follow, with Christchurch local Greig Hamilton out on the course.

Hamilton did the country proud, completing a full three out of the five laps of the gruelling course, out on Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, US.

In fact, he was only one of two men to start lap 4 earlier today, but tapped out a short time later.


The reason why he returned back to camp is not yet known.

He started lap 4 with Karel Sabbe, who is yet to return to camp. The two men had 12h to complete loop 4, which was a tight deadline.

Only two people have ever completely loop 4 in under 12 hours.

Hamilton was out on the course for more than 36 hours. This is the furthest a Kiwi has ever run on the Barkley course.

What is the Barkley Marathons?

Well, for a start, it's a hell of a lot more than a marathon.

The Barkley Marathons is the craziest, hardest endurance challenge in the world and most people have never even heard of it.

A documentary currently on Netflix, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, puts the spotlight on this endurance event that not many people have even heard of.

It's in this film that founder Lazarus Lake famously said: "you can't accomplish anything without the possibility of failure". So that's what Lake gives Barkley runners: the possibility of failure. Their goal is to succeed despite of that - and not many have.


Hundreds have tried but only 15 people have ever been able to finish the Barkley. For many years since its beginning, no one had finished and many wondered whether Lake had created an impossible challenge.

Lake (real name Gary Cantrell), came up with the idea for this race after hearing about the 1977 escape of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr, from nearby Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

Ray escaped the prison and covered a mere 13km (8 miles) in 55 hours of running through those woods. Lake heard the story and thought: "I could do at least 100 miles", and so the race was born. Barkley is actually Lake's longtime neighbour and running mate, Barry Barkley.

So what makes the Barkley so hard? Well, where do we even begin? The course that doesn't really exist, for example. The mind games the race director plays on athletes. There are a number of factors that, combined, make the Barkley the most gruelling race on the planet.

While we can all name a number of famous athletes with a collection of impressive accomplishments, it is unlikely that any of them could finish the Barkley. One of the most interesting things about that race is precisely the type of people it attracts. In previous years, Barkley finishers have not necessarily fit the stereotype of athleticism and, in many ways, this race is redefining it.

10 facts about the Barkley Marathons

• No one really knows when it begins, right up to a few hours before it begins.
• Runners have to complete the 160km (or thereabouts) route in 60 hours. There are 5 loops in total and no loop is the same with runners going clockwise and anti-clockwise, in daytime and through the night.
• Race director Lazarus Lake starts the race the old traditional way: by lighting up a cigarette.
• There is no marked course. Runners can try drawing their own maps from a master map and have to then pick up pages from books hidden on the course, to prove they did the full loop. The books are mind games on their own, with titles relating to punishment and suffering.
• It's actually a lot more than 160km. No one really knows how long, it kind of depends on how the organisers are feeling when they decide the course. Participants believe it's actually closer to 210km.
• The route goes around (and under) Bushy State Prison, a former maximum security prison.
• Only 15 people have ever finished the race.
• It costs US $1.60 to enter. However, first you have to figure out how to enter. If you're a newbie runner, you also have to give Lazarus Lake a license plate from your country. All entrants must also take one item that Lazarus Lake asks for (flannel shirts, white shirts, whatever he fancies at the time).
• It is tougher than climbing Mt Everest. Over the course of the five loops that make up the full race, runners climb a total of 16,500m – twice the elevation of Mt Everest.
• Completing three out of the five loops means finishing a "fun run". However, that "fun run" is still more than 100km long and more than the elevation of Mt Everest so there's probably very little "fun" about it.