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:
- 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).
- 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. (update: You can also get into Barkley by winning Big Dog’s Backyard, and you can now get into Big Dog’s Backyard by winning any of a number of global “backyard” events. So there’s a qualification path open that has zero reliance on luck!)
- 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.
- 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).