Audience Award for Documentary – Austin Film Festival
Audience Award – Sheffield Adventure Film Festival
Best Feature Documentary – Kansas City FilmFest
Best Running Film – Gold – Sheffield Adventure Film Festival
Best Film – Silver – Sheffield Adventure Film Festival
Top 20 Audience Favorite – Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival


Every year, 40 international runners descend upon a small town in Tennessee to test their mental and physical limits against the Barkley Marathons. Devised as a mockery of James Earl Ray’s historic prison escape gone awry, the race has seen only 10 finishers in its first 25 years. The race’s co-founder Lazarus Lake is as weird, unpredictable, and irresistible a character as the idiosyncratic event he has created. With a secret application process, unknown start time, and treacherous terrain, the Barkley has gained cult-like status with ultra-runners and amateurs alike. This award-winning, oddly inspiring, and wildly funny documentary invites you to the sports world’s most guarded secret; where pain has value, failure is spectacular, and it only costs $1.60.


We started making this documentary film in the winter of 2012 after reading Leslie Jamison’s stunning essay in The Believer magazine, “The Immortal Horizon” (May 2011).  We quickly became enamored with the lore and inspiring story of The Barkley and before we knew it, were on a plane to Tennessee to meet the mysterious Lazarus Lake.  We tried to keep up as he took us to scout the locations where we would be allowed to have camera operators, or motion-sensor activated cameras.  Not long after, we hired an adventurous local Tennessee crew of 7, and returned to experience the Barkley 2012.  It was unlike anything else we have ever experienced, and the film exemplifies that.

This film has been a labor of love for us and we could not have done it without the support of our Kickstarter & Indiegogo supporters.

We are happy to answer any and all questions regarding our filmmaking process.  Please send an inquiry to


Annika Iltis (Co-Director/Co-Producer)
Annika’s passion for photography and film began in her hometown of Chicago. Before directing her first feature film, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, she was a crew member at the Sundance Film Institute, a visual effects plate coordinator, and a camera assistant. For the last 13 years she has worked on a variety of television shows and films such as Mad Men, Step Brothers, and Enough Said.

Timothy Kane (Co-Director/Co-Producer)
As a child in Philadelphia, Tim’s dream of making movies began when he saw a documentary on PBS about the making of Star Wars. Focusing on photography, cinematography, and filmmaking, Tim has worked in the industry for over 15 years on shows such as Mad Men, Superbad, and From Dusk Till Dawn.

Mariana Blanco (Editor)
Mariana Blanco is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and editor based in Los Angeles. She has created videos for Participant Media, Gates Foundation, Sundance Institute, and Invisible Children.

Tyler Gibbons (Composer)
Tyler Gibbons is a film composer and recording artist living in Southern Vermont. He has scored numerous feature films, documentaries, and media sites, most recently for the six-part documentary Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie. He has worked with a variety of artists and organizations, including Beth Orton, The Criterion Collection, the International Labour Organization, and American Idol Bo Bice. Gibbons is the co-founder and lead songwriter of Red Heart the Ticker, an indie-folk band that has toured widely and earned praise from The New York Times, Pitchfork Media, and No Depression.

Orrin Anderson (Motion Graphics)

Austin Krier (Re-Recording Mixer)


All music was originally composed for the film by Tyler Gibbons with a few exceptions…
-The race begins with a newly composed version of “Flocks, First Time” performed by Red Heart The Ticker and written by Robin MacArthur and Tyler Gibbons. The original version can be heard on their album Oh My! Mountains Below
-Brett and Jared duel on their 5th loops with a newly composed version of “The Old Smith-Corona” performed by Red Heart The Ticker and written by Tyler Gibbons. The original version was part of their monthly music-subscription project “Songs In the Lunar Phase” and can be heard on their website.
The end of the film and the final credits are accompanied by the song “I Feel Jesus,” written by Francis Reedy in 1962. This version is performed by Anna & Elizabeth and titled “Oh My My” on their album Sun to Sun.
Anna & Elizabeth have a new self-titled album. They are amazing artists, musicians, and historians of music!


(FYI – The links to the books are Amazon Affiliate Links)

Tales from Out There: The Barkley Marathons, The World’s Toughest Trail Raceby “Frozen” Ed Furtaw
If you want all the gory details of the Barkley Marathons from inception to present day, read Frozen Ed Furtaw’s seminal book. Otherwise known as The Barkley Historian, Frozen Ed’s detailed recounting of the race will have you spellbound. Any runner with a passing interest in the Barkley, beware! This book has been known to suck many a runner into this world – read at your own risk!

The Big Dog Diaries by Lazarus Lake
Volume 1 – My Name is Big: The Search For a Home For a Pit Bull Rescue Dog
Volume 2 – Big Adventures
Volume 3 – Big Tails
Volume 4 – The Big Year: Summer and Fall
Volume 5 – The Big Year: Winter and Spring
If you would like to delve deeper into the mind of Lazarus Lake, look no further than his book, “My Name is Big.”  An excerpt from the description reads, “The big ugly dog had been abandoned and shot. Nearing the end, he crawled off into the woods to die. That is where I found him. Having been taught as a child that it was wrong to leave animals to suffer, I took him to the house with no other intention than to see that he was humanely put out of his misery. Rather than the end of the big dog’s adventures, it was only the beginning. Fate had brought us together, destiny was determined to keep us that way.

The underdogs: a season to remember by Lazarus Lake
In addition to being a legendary race director, Lazarus Lake is also a passionate coach. This book retells one unforgettable season – Not much was expected from the Orange basketball team this particular year. A random looking assortment of miscellaneous kids; they were not big, they were not fast, they were not strong. There was nothing about the sight of them in their uniforms to say that this would be an especially noteworthy team. And, to complicate things further, they had been bumped up a class, to play every night against much larger schools, with more, bigger, and better athletes. The experts had picked them to finish dead last in their district. They were not expected to win a single game. Accordingly, they had been slated to play in everyone’s homecoming game. The first time they walked on the floor to warm up, the other team laughed. But, there is a reason we actually play the games. We can measure the players physically, but there is, as yet, no way to measure heart and desire. There is no way to quantify the will to win. Every night, the scoreboard starts at 0-0;and the day will be what you make it. Every season is special. Every team is special. But, this team and this season…was magical. And when they walked off the floor at the end of their last game. No one was laughing.

The Finishers The Barkley Marathons by Alexis Berg and Aurelien Delfosse
(English Version) Thanks to ultrarunning photographer Alexis Berg and L’Équipe journalist Aurélien Delfosse, we now have a record of these superhumans – many of whom are unknown in sporting circles – who have completed the race. Crisscrossing the United States to meet each finisher, Berg and Delfosse travelled from New Hamsphire to Oregon via New Mexico, Colorado, California and Utah, capturing stunning photographs and in-depth interviews with the finishers. Originally published in French and quickly sold out, the result is not only a testament of triumphs and tragedies but a portrait of humble people who have achieved something extraordinary. These stories inspire awe, respect and reflection at the limit of the human spirit.

In the Spell of the Barkley: Unravelling the Mystery of the World’s Toughest Ultramarathon by Michiel Panhuysen
Journalist and ultrarunner Michiel Panhuysen is a multiple-time Barkley entrant, having fallen under the spell of this most enigmatic of races – and its presiding philosopher-genius organizer Lazarus Lake – in the early 2010s. On each occasion, the Barkley won. The Barkley nearly always wins. In the Spell of the Barkley is a story of sporting obsession, exploring what drives individuals to challenge themselves at the limits of what is possible – and what it takes to succeed.

The Why of The Barkley: (and pretty much everything else) by Rich Limacher
Written by Barkley Veteran, Rich Limacher, What begins as an exploration into why a certain popular long and brutal Tennessee footrace exists soon expands (rather humorously) into a much broader philosophical examination of why anything at all exists. This is not for the passive masses, the followers-blindly, or those intellectually squeamish peeps that happen to find themselves already entered–without asking why–in the (human) race, “the race that eats its young.”

Building Time at Brushy by Stonney Ray Lane
Lazarus Lake came up with the idea for the Barkley Marathons when he heard about James Earl Ray’s escape, and subsequent capture, from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.  The prison warden of Brushy at the time, Stonney Ray Lane, penned this harrowing account of his experience there.

The Virgin and The Veteran by Cathy Henn (Author), Kyle Henn (Illustrator)
A prison break…an escaped convict lost in the backwoods of Tennessee. But who is that pursuing him? And who is his sidekick? Could this be the very “first” Barkley Marathons? This is the first published FAN FICTION inspired by the Barkley.  The history, the terrain, and some familiar Barkley characters make appearances in this imaginative telling penned (and cover illustration by) members of the Barkley community. Great Fun!

Danger Beyond The Yellow Gate by Cathy Henn (Author), Kyle Henn (Illustrator)
A second adventure written by Cathy Henn that takes the reader into a world that blends fiction with the Barkley Universe. – Danger, a young man who has a long history with the world’s hardest trail ultramarathon, is competing in his fifth try at the 100-mile footrace. The strange experiences Danger has while running in the backwoods mimic the race lore told around the campfire. Danger has his race interrupted repeatedly by two prison guards as they hunt for an escaped convict on the loose out there during the competition. Interesting conversations ensue, from the mundane (Is French bread crust eatable?) to the philosophical (Is math an invention or a discovery?). These quirky characters seem so real to Danger, but are they imaginary or supernatural? And will Danger be able to finish the race with all these distractions?

A Trip Through Time, Brushy Mountain Prison: The Road To Hell by William Harvey 
A historical fiction about the History of Brushy Mountain Prison from the Coal Creek War to its closing and finally becoming a tourist attraction. The home of James Earl Ray, serial killers Paul Dennis Reed, truck driver Bruce Mendenhall, and Thomas “Zoo Man” Huskey among others. A story beginning in 1892 involving the Coal Creek War and Brushy becoming a mining prison in 1896. History of the mines, the inmates and more.       

Other Films

Since the release of The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young documentary, a few other filmmakers have added their take on the Barkley.

The Barkley Marathons: Where Dreams Go To Die
A documentary film by Ethan Newberry (AKA: The Ginger Runner)
This film focuses on Gary Robbins

Last Women Standing: The Barkley Marathons
A documentary film by Inov-8 and directors Eleanor Green and Matt Green
This film focuses on Nicky Spinks

Out There: A Journey to the Barkley Marathons
This film focuses on Karel Sabbe

Touch The Gate: A 2023 Barkley Marathons Documentary
Filmmaker Michael Dillon captured the 2023 event.