La Barkley Sans Pitié

La Barkley Sans Pitié

Trail Doc of the Month // April 2019 // 20 minutes // Le Equipe, free

Will anyone finish ‘The Race That Eats Its Young’ this year? Could there possibly be more than one? Did a runner really lose to the Barkley Marathons by 6 seconds in a 60-hour race?

Barkley Marathons hysteria has reached an all-time high. The real question is: Who isn’t making a documentary about the Barkley marathons?

In celebration of the Barkley Marathons wrapping up this weekend (race report here), The Stringbean’s first Trail Running Documentary of the Month has chosen a winner from the four current long form documentaries on the race. Having seen all four films, La Barkley Sans Pitié (The Barkley Without Mercy – rough translation) is where it is at.

Why does Le Barkley Sans Pitie stand above the rest?

The 20-minute documentary is artistic – creative – and isn’t wrapped up in all the noise that comes with Barkley. It is a French-noir jam, beautifully focused on the right story. This documentary cuts to the hard and dirty exploits of two ultrarunners, ‘Peach fuzz’ John Kelley and Gary ‘Bearded baby’ Robbins, with edgy black and white photos and in-your-face interviews. Nicknames are my own.

The harsh film style of French producer, Alexis Berg, will tickle the fancies of your suffer-fest loving dark side. The Barkleys, above all else, is a psychological battle. Race director Lazarus Lake designs the race for a 1% completion race. In the 34 years of running, 15 individuals have finished the “100 mile” course for 18 total completions. While all the Barkleys documentaries tell both the physical and emotional journeys of athletes, La Barkley Sans Pitié filming style expresses the same mood. One of my favorite moments was of Robbin’s recapping the latter half of his race:

“On that fourth lap, going up the last climb, I was confronted with some of the heaviest doubt that I have experienced in that race of my ability to keep moving beyond that. And for 20 straight minutes, I just repeated the words in my head ‘I can do this, and I will do this. I can do this, and I will do this.’”

Having set the speed record on both the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve experienced how exhaustion and endurance play out over time. The mind is a complex network that can overcome heart-wrenching fear and extreme pain, but it is challenging to convey those experiences to another human being in a way that does justice. To some extent, La Barkley Sans Pitié does just that.

In watching, you feel the panic and the uneasiness. The dramatic climax to the 2018 Barkley Marathons has only added to its lore as the hardest trail race on Earth. Do you have a favorite Barkley’s documentary?

Other Barkley Documentaries

Where Dreams Go To Die // 76 min // YouTube, free

The Race That Eats Its Young // 89 min // Amazon Prime, free

Barkley 100 // 22 min // Vimeo, free

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