He's tickled that participants arrive with the requisite admission ($1.60, a license plate from their state or country, and a flannel shirt) and meticulously copy onto paper maps his exacting course through Frozen Head State Park. Merrily anticipating failure, Lake has a bugler on hand to serenade each dropout with taps. Iltis and Kane detail the loopy logic of a punishing race inspired by a prison escape, where completing three of the five circuits (each equivalent to a marathon) is referred to as the "fun run." But their film also delves into competition and camaraderie, pain and profundity.
Why tackle the Barkley Marathons? Even the loquacious Lake can't fully articulate their appeal, other than to describe participants immersed in the experience, like the runner stumbling through the dark in the race's final minutes, hallucinating and long past exhaustion, who recalls in voiceover the grief-filled year that led him to the demanding trail in Tennessee-- and finally completes his arduous journey by returning to the starting line.