It is a race like no other: there is no website to take entries; participants are selected from those who find a way to submit written applications and the $1.60 entry fee; only around forty people are chosen to run, with condolences from the race director. The course, based in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee, was inspired by the failed escape of James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King Jr’s assassin, amid the unforgiving landscape and vegetation where Ray’s prison was based. Runners must complete five roughly 20-mile (32-kilometre) loops – those who manage to complete only three laps are deemed to have achieved the ‘fun run’ – with a total elevation climb equal to two ascents of Mount Everest. Since 1986, only 15 people have ever finished. This exceptional publication celebrates their unbelievable achievements.
Thanks to ultrarunning photographer Alexis Berg and L’Équipe journalist Aurélien Delfosse, we now have a record of those superhumans who have completed the race. Crisscrossing the United States to meet each finisher, Berg and Delfosse travelled from New Hampshire to Oregon via New Mexico, Colorado, California and Utah, capturing atmospheric landscape photography and candid portraiture. Their in-depth interviews with the finishers convey the spirit of their legendary achievements and provide unique insights into the minds and mentalities of those who have conquered the Barkley Marathons. These stories inspire awe, respect and reflection at the limit of the human spirit.