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).
46 thoughts on “How to Apply to Barkley”
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!
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.
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!
Good luck in May! Enjoy it, and all the future adventures it will lead to
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. email@example.com
Where can i find a digital copy of the book?, a paperback copy will take a while to reach Peru … if it does
Unfortunately I don’t know if there is one. I can check with Frozen Ed and will reply again if there is one available.
Do you still need the book? If so, let me know and i may be able to help you!
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 🙂
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.
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.
Thank you, that’s very kind of you. Best wishes as you push your own limits and I hope you enjoy the journey!
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)
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).
Thank you for responding, I really appreciate it!
How’s your running going Brett? Still keen to try an ultra marathon?
Man, it’s impossible to get in as a freelance photographer!
That’s a whole different route! There are a few there each year, but yes laz has to keep that pretty limited.
…so no advice? Tips? Breadcrumbs? Lol
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.
I guess I could always just book a campsite at Frozen Head and bring my gear 😉
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.
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 .
No idea if you are or not for this year, but can’t hurt to try. Best of luck!
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.
Thanks, good luck and hope to see you out there or elsewhere!
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.
Glad you enjoyed it, and best of luck!
Hi John, do you know who is running the 2018 Barkley Marathons? Any predictions?
Yes. And no. It’s up to the runners themselves if they want to say anything.
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.
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!
This is really a great post, thanks a lot John ! I hope to meet you in person one day!
Thank you! I’ll look forward to it, and best of luck if you’re seeking to find your way to the yellow gate.
Thanks for the great post. I’ve been thinking of trying to enter and complete one loop for a few years now but was never dumb enough to start researching the entry process. With a few easy 50k under my belt the Fall Classic looks the perfect way to get this infatuation out of my system (one way or the other).
I know this is a very generic question but do you have any advice on how to train for the Classic course in terms of navigation? I rely heavily on GPS now and I’m not convinced going out running with a map and compass is the right call given what little I’ve seen of the terrain. In my head the whole BM100 is entirely off trail but with few photos and no video maybe that isn’t true?
As a not fast runner would running some/all of the parks trails before the race help significantly?
The BFC is entirely on trail and marked. Navigation shouldn’t be an issue. But getting out to the park and familiarizing yourself with the terrain and the trails could certainly help.
Thanks very much John. Is the same true of the BM (on trail not course markings)?
I’ve been following the Barkley for a fair while now, and most of your running since you competed that (like, not stalking or anything – ha!). I would love to enter, although need to work on navigation this year before trying to get in. The entire feel of the race is what I think ultra is all about (he says!). Great inspiration John, and also – Ed, if you spot this – your book was a great read. Loved your letters of application. Chris.
Thanks Chris. Hope to see you out there one day! Just keep in mind that you’re unlikely to get in when you first start applying, so might want to start earlier than you’d otherwise plan.
Any tip/hints on how to apply to the BM?
Yes, you just read them
I really want desperately to enter this race. My sister and I are going to run the Hoka Race in San Antonio in January (Covid pending). This will be my 3rd long distance race. I have run 2 marathons and hopefully the Hoka will give me more of a challenge. You are thinking what a complete idiot waste of time to read, but I enjoy the freedom running gives people. It is the one self control ..go longer, faster, harder it becomes a mental test of will and body breakdown. If you are asking …yes I am a sadist, but seriously I just enjoy the experiences it gives people. I will keep checking daily for racing updates. Thank you for your information and “encouragement.”
Some girl in Texas
All the best for your race in January! Congrats on your progress so far and I hope you’re able to continue to pursue your future goals.
Congrats. I’ve read this post a few times already, and am finally going to piece together what I can about applying. I have a 100 miler this year, and a few other big ones I’d like to run in the next few years. I just want to ask… For a race that makes you find the depths of your willpower and limits, did it feel harder the second time you finished?
Thanks Preston, and all the best for your 100 miler! It was definitely mentally harder the second time around – much less “reward” than going from zero to one finishes and much more required to will myself on despite that.