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Review: ‘The Barkley Marathons’ tests the limits of racers — and viewers

‘The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young’

The Barkley Marathons co-founder Lazarus Lake.

(The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young)

In the hills of eastern Tennessee each year, 40 chosen runners from around the world participate in a crazy endurance race called the Barkley Marathons, which in its first 25 years saw only 10 contestants finish.

As we learn in the documentary “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young,” which covers the 2012 competition, the course is five mostly unmarked, briar-strewn loops totaling more than 130 miles. Its various elevation changes provide the equivalent of running up and down Everest twice.

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For half the movie’s running time, directors Annika Iltis and Timothy Kane have fun laying out the idiosyncratic nature of this ramshackle affair and the whims of its co-founder, Lazarus Lake, a chain-smoking veteran of the 1970s marathon craze. Lake’s cheeky inspiration for the run was to mock James Earl Ray’s 1977 prison break from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, and the fact that Ray made only eight miles in 54 hours before being caught. (The Barkley time limit is 60 hours.)

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At a certain point, though, the movie runs out of eccentricity capital and becomes just another contest documentary about determined participants — in this case, mostly obsessive young white men — and the well-worn narrative of defeat or accomplishment.

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“The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.”

MPAA rating: None.

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Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

Playing: Downtown Independent, L.A.


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