How to Apply to Barkley

As much I would love to, I can’t respond to all of the questions I receive about the Barkley entry process. This post seemed like the best solution, and contains essentially all of the information I can / am willing to provide. While I’m normally quite open to questions, this is a topic that I’m sorry to say I probably won’t offer any details on beyond what is here.

The entry process for Barkley isn’t public information for good reason: if you’re unwilling to do the work and the research to figure out how to enter, you certainly won’t be willing to keep going in the race when all other parts of your mind and body are telling you to quit. No matter how good you are, you’re going to reach that point. To succeed at Barkley and push past that point you have to want it badly enough so that figuring out how to enter is a minor inconvenience. And if you do want it that badly then the entry process actually works in your favor. In 2017 there were over 1,200 entries for 40 slots. The easier it is to apply, the higher that number goes and the lower your chances become. As it is, unless you’re a top tier elite runner, it might be many years of applying to get in (just like Western States, Hardrock, etc.).

So if you want to apply to Barkley, here are my suggestions:

  1. Seriously assess your motivation for doing so. Talk it over with someone close to you (preferably someone who would never want to do Barkley) to see if you’re thinking through it clearly. No, really. If it’s because you want to tell others you did Barkley, or to check something off your bucket list, then you should reconsider. That kind of motivation is not strong enough to push past Barkley’s challenges. It’s not a tough Tough Mudder. Those who have had success at Barkley (for all of the various definitions of Barkley success) have been internally motivated. They have sought to find and expand their own limits, wherever they may be. They have had a personal, deep desire for that experience regardless of any external opinions (positive or negative).
  2. Run the Barkley Fall Classic. This is a great opportunity to experience a taste of Barkley and decide whether you want more. Some people decide the BFC is enough, and it is much better to figure that out there than by going to Barkley and then deciding partway into loop 1 that it’s not for you. The BFC also gives an opportunity to meet laz and many others involved in the race, who might be more forthcoming with information if they meet you in person and see you out there giving it your all. Also, if you win then you get an automatic entry. So there you go. If you want guaranteed entry into Barkley then go win the Barkley Fall Classic.
  3. Go run other races, the harder the better. Barkley is meant to find your absolute outermost limits, so to make the most of that opportunity it’s important to go into Barkley as close to those limits as possible. You won’t get in anymore without at least having a good 100 miler under your belt. I know this is a bit hypocritical coming from me, as I and other past Barkers haven’t necessarily had that kind of experience beforehand, but the increase in Barkley popularity that came along with the documentary necessitated some additional requirements to filter applications down to a reasonable level. I was extremely fortunate to get in before then and to afterwards have my Barkley experience itself on my resume (the only truly accurate predictor of Barkley success is past Barkley success). These races also serve a second purpose: you’ll meet people, and show them what kind of effort you’re capable of. Again, someone is much more likely to be willing to share information if they’ve met you in person and know you’re serious and capable. If you do the right races it won’t be long before you meet the right person, or at least someone who knows the right person.
  4. Do your research. The entry process isn’t a state secret and pieces of information are available here and there. There’s even a good description of how entrants get selected at barkleymarathons.com and more info in Matt Mahoney’s FAQ. Frozen Ed’s book is also a great read.

Best of luck, and if you want it badly enough and really understand what you’re getting yourself into then I truly wish to see you out there someday. If you want anymore info on my Barkley experiences, visit the Barkley Archive.

Addendum: Do not try to travel to the race as a spectator. The campground barely has enough space for runners, crew, race personnel, and the handful of media who are allowed there. Part of what makes Barkley special is also the sense of isolation and solitude that it gives the runners. So please spectate from the comfort of home following #BM100 on Twitter. And honestly it’s really not all that exciting to spectate… you see someone once every 12 hours or so and are likely to spend the time in between just sitting around in miserable conditions (with no cell service).

Cake baked for the runners by Liz Norred at the 2017 Barkley Marathons. Photo: Ed Aramayo

31 thoughts on “How to Apply to Barkley

  • May 1, 2017 at 5:23 pm
    Permalink

    Hi John,

    Thanks for this great post. I will probably give inquirers a link to this, since I too get quite a few requests for information on how to enter. And thanks also for mentioning my book!

    Frozen Ed

    Reply
    • May 2, 2017 at 2:17 am
      Permalink

      Glad you liked it, and your book was one of my primary sources of information that first year! Although, it’s a bit more useful after you get in than for getting in.

      Reply
      • March 18, 2018 at 9:14 am
        Permalink

        Hi,
        I learned of the Barkley 10 years ago and have followed its popularity since. Mr Furtaw’s book is sensational. I am finally going to run my first ultra, 50 miler, in May. Mr Kelly, your three years running and ultimately finishing last year is truly amazing and inspirational. I hope one day too I can toe the yellow gate. Thank you!

        Reply
        • March 19, 2018 at 8:29 pm
          Permalink

          Good luck in May! Enjoy it, and all the future adventures it will lead to

          Reply
    • June 10, 2018 at 8:51 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Guys, My friend Kieran O’Brien is a bush ultra marathon runner and wins events every few months. We have tried and failed to make contact with anyone about applying for a spot in the Barkley. Please help. anthonyrohrig@gmail.com

      Reply
  • May 2, 2017 at 10:05 am
    Permalink

    Where can i find a digital copy of the book?, a paperback copy will take a while to reach Peru … if it does

    Reply
    • May 2, 2017 at 10:26 am
      Permalink

      Unfortunately I don’t know if there is one. I can check with Frozen Ed and will reply again if there is one available.

      Reply
  • May 3, 2017 at 2:18 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks for a good read John – I don’t think I will ever get to a point in my running career where I will be able to take on the Barkley – but I love the race for all it represents.

    In terms of the book, I couldn’t find an electronic version of the either – however I really enjoyed getting my hands on it when it arrived. Very authentic – Old school and in that respect as well – at least to me – a nice quirk which goes hand in hand with the history of – and the race itself 🙂
    Thanks to Frozen Ed for putting it together – I am still getting through it, enjoying every minute 🙂
    Krgds
    Kasper

    Reply
    • May 3, 2017 at 9:32 pm
      Permalink

      Glad you’re enjoying it, and good luck with your running adventures wherever they may take you! I did check with Ed and there is currently not a digital version available.

      Reply
  • May 5, 2017 at 6:40 am
    Permalink

    This is very well written and presented John. I am almost 59 and only been running for 4 years and am nowhere near even coming close to considering a race of this magnitude. Since I have heard of the race I have always been captivated by the application process however.

    I am sure there would be heaps of runners trying to get one of those 40 spots, particularly now that some of the mainstream media has been talking about it.

    In reading all your blog posts John, I am so impressed with your humility. There is never any bragging or boasting implying “Look what I did”. And you share this post by example. It is never about a bucket list or bragging rights. As you share it is “finding and expanding your own personal limits”. Something I have been doing these on events of a much smaller scale.

    Reply
  • November 9, 2017 at 5:55 pm
    Permalink

    This race is nothing like have ever seen before. I wish that I may one day conquer the course, but at the same time I am not the best runner/hiker. The most I have ever ran is about 3 to 4 miles at a time and that was several years ago when I was trying out for soccer. This race has inspired me to start running again. I read your comment thoroughly and I know you said that you have to have a win/completed in a 100 mile race and you need to have the right reason, but I have never had something come into my life that I have wanted to do so badly. I will not stop at anything to get on the course one day. People may call me crazy especially because I do not have any real experience doing something like this. From now on, I am going to find a way to get on the Barkley and I will start running and training. Thanks to anyone who reads my comment and helps me out. also, I am going to buy Frozen Ed’s book and I will try to go to the Barkley fall classic. (I am 18 years of age)

    Reply
    • November 9, 2017 at 6:10 pm
      Permalink

      People called me crazy when I first set my mind on it (and even when I first got in and did it). Keep at it and you can get there. At 18, you’ve got tons of time! (not many 18 year olds out there with an ultrarunning resume).

      Reply
      • November 10, 2017 at 7:00 am
        Permalink

        Thank you for responding, I really appreciate it!

        Reply
  • February 19, 2018 at 6:51 pm
    Permalink

    Man, it’s impossible to get in as a freelance photographer!

    Reply
    • February 20, 2018 at 10:45 am
      Permalink

      That’s a whole different route! There are a few there each year, but yes laz has to keep that pretty limited.

      Reply
      • February 20, 2018 at 11:27 am
        Permalink

        …so no advice? Tips? Breadcrumbs? Lol

        Reply
        • February 20, 2018 at 2:16 pm
          Permalink

          Haha see the post above. The info you’re looking for is even easier to find if you want it, and I’m definitely not going to post it on a public website.

          Reply
  • February 20, 2018 at 7:21 pm
    Permalink

    I guess I could always just book a campsite at Frozen Head and bring my gear 😉

    Reply
    • February 20, 2018 at 8:17 pm
      Permalink

      Nope.
      1) You may show up the wrong weekend
      2) The entire camp is reserved by the race
      3) You would be risking serious harm to the race (limits on people in parks and natural areas are there for a reason)
      4) You would be going against the very spirit of the race that largely makes Barkley special, and it would be the best way to ensure zero cooperation from laz or any runners
      I know you’re probably joking, but I don’t want other people to see that and think it sounds like a good idea.

      Reply
      • February 20, 2018 at 9:32 pm
        Permalink

        Yes, I was totally kidding. Hopefully nobody tries that. Thanks for your replies, much appreciated! I’ll keep working on getting officially welcomed, I’m sure I’m probably too late at this point anyway .
        Cheers!

        Reply
        • February 21, 2018 at 9:59 am
          Permalink

          No idea if you are or not for this year, but can’t hurt to try. Best of luck!

          Reply
  • March 16, 2018 at 1:43 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks, great read, that confirms many of my thoughts. Working on it, and if i get rewarded i hope to meet you and have a talk some day.
    Aure

    Reply
    • March 16, 2018 at 8:43 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks, good luck and hope to see you out there or elsewhere!

      Reply
  • March 19, 2018 at 12:14 pm
    Permalink

    Hi John,
    Thank you for this post.
    I accidentally found documentary about Barkley 1.5 years back and since then, i am hypnotized by race. I wish, i could race it one day.

    Thanks,
    Ajay Murtekar
    India.

    Reply
  • March 20, 2018 at 9:38 pm
    Permalink

    Hi John, do you know who is running the 2018 Barkley Marathons? Any predictions?

    Reply
    • March 21, 2018 at 5:29 pm
      Permalink

      Yes. And no. It’s up to the runners themselves if they want to say anything.

      Reply
  • March 29, 2018 at 12:27 pm
    Permalink

    Great read. Hopefully I’ll get to meet you at 2018 Squamish 50/50 (I’m doing the 50M) and learn more. I’m 60 now. My desire is to run Barkley with my Coonhound, Alistair.

    Reply
    • March 31, 2018 at 11:54 am
      Permalink

      Thank you, and good luck at Squamish! I know that that’s a great race, and I’d love to do it one day. But it’s not in the cards for me this year. You’ll get to meet Gary for sure, though!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.