The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

Imagine “Free Solo” meets “Survivor”.

The idea for “The Barkley” all started with a prison escape…

In 1977, James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, broke out of Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. Despite 55 hours of freedom, he covered just 8 miles. Racer Lazarus Lake (“Laz”) ponders, “Could I do better?”

Fast forward to 1986. The first Barkley Marathons commence. Location: Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, near Brushy Mountain (where Ray escaped!).

The race mocks the prison escape, twisting it into an agonizing course. A key feature? Book pages, serving as proof you navigated the hellish trail.

No fixed start time here. Lazarus Lake (real name is Gary Cantrell) lights a cigarette and you’re off.

We’re talking 60 hours, unpredictable terrains.

I rank “The Barkley Marathons” #2 in my list of Best Ultra Running Documentaries (I’m up to 17 right now!).

The Barkley Marathons Trailer

Where to Watch The Barkley Marathons?

There are free and paid options to watch the Barkley Marathons. Below are as many streaming options as I can find:

Watch Barkley Free Online on YouTube (with ads)

The Barkley Marathons movie is free to stream on YouTube (with ads) right now here:

Source Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zbl0jhbpiM0

If the above YouTube link doesn’t work, here’s another one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bG97F6b_6o4

The YouTube videos have ads unless you use YouTube Premium (which I do) in which case it (and all videos you watch on YouTube are ad-free! (YouTube Premium is around $13.99 per month).

Other Options to Watch Barkley for free online (with ads)

Rent it on:

You can pay $3.99 or so to stream Barkley on:

DVD

The Barkley Marathons DVD and Blu-ray are available at the Barkley Movie web site at https://barkleymovie.com/shop ($24.99 last I checked).

Vitals

  • Genre: Endurance Sports
  • Release Date: 2014
  • Director: Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane
  • Narrator: None
  • Runtime: 89 minutes
  • IMDB Score: 7.8
  • Rotten Tomatoes score: (67 (critics) and 76 (users).

My Favorite Parts (Includes Spoiler Alerts!)

  • Exclusive club. Only 40 participants allowed each year.
  • Entry fee varies: $1.60, a license plate, or even a shirt.
  • Laz lights a cigarette to start. No announcements, just smoke.
  • “Fun Run” is what they call the first 60-mile jaunt.
  • Book pages as checkpoints. Miss one? Retrace your steps.
  • Part of the race traverses under the Brushing Mountain Prison (where James Early Ray escaped from!)
  • Reverse loops happen. Every five years, the course flips.
  • 60-hour time cap. Finish late? Doesn’t count.
  • Weather? Totally unpredictable. Snow, rain, heat—you name it.
  • Crazy elevations. Like summiting (and descending) Everest twice.
  • Finishing rate? Less than 1%. Almost everyone fails.
  • The “Walk of Shame” — That’s the trek failed racers take back to camp. It’s humbling (everyone watches)?
  • “Taps” — Taps on a bugle. Laz’s teammate plays this military tune when a runner fails. It’s not just a failure; it’s a public, musical farewell.
  • Favorite Quote: “I think most people would be better off with more pain in their lives, honestly.I think that, if nothing else, they would appreciate the pain-free times more.” Barkley Racer Julian Jamison

Thanks for reading!

-Rob Kelly