Alexis Berg and Aurélien Delfosse’s book about the craziest marathon in the world

Alexis Berg’s photos and Aurélien Delfosse’s pen have travelled all over the United States to hear and tell the incredible stories of the heroes capable of completing The Barkley Marathon, one of the most iconic races in the world.

The Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee. A yellow gate in the middle of the forest, not far from the place where James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, was imprisoned. We are undoubtedly in one of the symbolic places of the American culture. A dark, ghostly setting, perfectly matched to the halo of mystery surrounding the selection criteria for a race with a legendary breath.

Forty runners with an uncommon determination challenge their physical and mental limits every year in order to enter the sporting Olympus reserved for those who finish the race within the set time. 160 kilometers, with a total elevation climb equal to two ascents of Mount Everest. The full race consists of five complete laps of the hostile Barkley Loop in 60 hours. A titanic challenge, confirmed by the words of the disclaimer that each participant signs before starting the race: “If I am stupid enough to attempt the Barkley, I deserve to be held responsible for any result of that attempt, be it financial, physical, mental or anything else”.

Nowadays, it’s well-known that the sports universe is dominated by sponsors and fame. Barkley, on the contrary, is only fueled with the passion of its participants. No sponsors, no media, just a small fee of $1.60 to participate. Virgins, those who take part in this gruelling event for the first time, are also required to donate a license plate from their home state. The Veterans’ donation instead includes gifts of all kinds: cans of Dr. Pepper, cigarettes packs or items of clothing.

The beneficiary of the gifts is Lazarus Lake, the man whose thick beard conceals all Barkley’s secrets since its creation. Moreover, as the Founding Father, he personally chooses the participants of the competition, analysing the motivations of each athlete. After a careful examination of all the applications and an official convocation containing the condolences of Laz, the date of the competition is fixed, but not the time. Laz himself blows a conch shell, and around one hour later he declares the start of the 60-hour race by lighting a cigarette.

Since 1995, only 15 participants have managed to complete this heroic run that alternates fatigue and mysticism. Far from the spotlight and fame, in a context that is perhaps too anonymous for their impressive achievement, the demigods who have completed the race dive into their memories and tell their life stories in the passionated interviews collected in this book.

Ph Alexis Berg
IG @alexis_berg

Publisher Thames & Hudson
IG @thamesandhudson

Text by Filippo Vianello