BREAKING: UTMB Announces Acquisition Of The Barkley Marathons

Following the most historic edition of the world’s most secretive race, the renowned UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) group has announced it's purchase of the illustrious Barkley Marathons for an undisclosed sum

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The Barkley Marathons, nestled deep within the rugged wilderness of Frozen Head State Park, Tenn., is revered as one of the most demanding ultramarathons on the planet.

Its challenging terrain and cryptic entry process have made it a coveted pursuit for only the most hardcore ultrarunners. Each year, a chosen few are accepted to run the event, which is so hard (by design) that seldom is there even a finisher.

But after a breakout 2024 edition of the Barkley, which saw a record five athletes complete the 100-mile course in under the 60-hour cutoff, along with the first-ever woman to finish, one of the major corporate players in the ultra-trail scene decided to approach the Barkley’s eccentric founder and race director, Lazarus Lake, with what a source described as a “strong seven-figure offer.”

“The race has just become too easy,” Lake said in an interview from his home in Tennessee, when asked why he decided to sell his legendary event. “I figured now that it’s basically a recreational ultra, where anyone can finish, I might as well hand it over to an organization that puts on those kinds of runs. Besides, those French suckers paid me a ridiculous amount of money for it.”

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With UTMB now taking the reins, the future of the Barkley Marathons is riddled with a different kind of mystery: how it will be monetized?

Speaking on behalf of the UTMB group, co-founders Catherine and Michel Poletti expressed enthusiasm for their new venture, saying in a press release announcing the acquisition of the race, “We see this as a unique opportunity to expand our global footprint and make the challenging Barkley Marathons more accessible with a streamlined, scalable registration process. The Barkley is a premium brand, and paired with UTMB’s industry leading tech stack, we see this as a perfect synergistic fit.”

While details regarding the acquisition remain sparse, insiders suggest that UTMB’s expertise in organizing large-scale trail running events and attracting large corporate partnerships will inject “new life” and profitability into the Barkley Marathons.

Speculation is rife about potential changes to the race format and experience, including removing the most perilous sections from the course, including a devastating climb dubbed “Rat Jaw”, so that the course could be accessible for athletes of all levels. One source confirmed that the race will now offer a variety of distances to make it more appealing to a broader number of participants.

UTMB and its “World Series” events partner Ironman have not confirmed whether or not the Barkley Marathons will be absorbed into the slate for 2024, but a spokesperson for Ironman did say that the corporation “hears its trail running consumer, and is listening,” and that making the Barkley more accessible and equitable will be a key objective.

Confirmed changes include the introduction of UTMB-style aid stations, live tracking technology to enhance the spectator experience, along with several Strava segments and virtual integrations on the platform.

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The race will also only be run during the day, for safety reasons.

“It’s amazing that no one has ever died running the Barkley,” said Catherine Poletti. “Safety and a best-in-class experience for the consumer will be our primary goal at this event, moving forward.”

For the first time ever, next year’s edition of the Barkley Marathons will also feature a finisher’s belt buckle, which participants can purchase as part of a tiered “goodie bag” offering. Poletti stressed that the buckles would be made primarily of recycled materials.

UTMB’s owners also said they are in preliminary talks with “major streaming company” to provide live coverage of the 2025 race from multiple vantage points on-course, and that social media would play a “significant role” in how the event reaches a broader audience.

“It’s insane that for the past 10 or so years that hundreds of thousands of running fans around the world have had to rely on one grumpy local guy tweeting the results from the gate,” said Keats McGonigal, Ironman’s North American vice president of operations, who will step in to help with the transition of the Barkley into the UTMB ecosystem of events.

“Our marketing team will be firing on all cylinders to leverage the Barkley’s authenticity and get the event’s avid fans on a real conversion flywheel.”

“We’re especially excited about including an influencer cheer zone for the 2025 race,” Michel Poletti said in an email. “Our marketing team has got some really exciting activations prepared to double down on our lead nurturing and crush our KPIs. We can’t wait to roll them out next spring.”

UTMB would not confirm a rumour that the field could be expanded to up to 5,000 runners for next year’s race, with a lottery system similar to that of the New York City Marathon in order to allot entries in an equitable manner.

“Right now, we’re looking at creating a package system with local tourism groups, including stakeholders at the host state park, the nearby town of Wartburg, and a few major brands,” said Poletti.

“We’re envisioning a new concept for the Barkley. We will celebrate its unique history, while expanding it to be more equitable and accessible. Think: Coachella meets secretive ultramarathon, all in this beautiful backdrop at Frozen Head State Park. Expect the unexpected.”

In a screenshot shared on X Monday, (which has since been taken down), one package, called “Barkley Executive Weekend Deluxe” includes entry into the race, car service to and from Knoxville International Airport, a premium yurt with king-size pillow top bed “nearest to the start/finish gate,” massage therapy throughout the event, access to the VIP tent/lounge, complimentary on-course Fuji Water and three daily meals prepared by celebrity chef David Chang, VIP access and complimentary bottle service at the post-race party, along with a replica red beanie signed by race director Lazarus Lake.

Reaction to the news has been divided, with many within the running community applauding UTMB’s bold vision for the Barkley Marathons.

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Photo Credit: Howie Stern

Jasmin Paris, who wrote history at the Barkley Marathons, becoming the first woman to finish the grueling race, has also competed at UTMB and expressed her excitement at the merger, saying, “As someone who has tackled both UTMB and the Barkley Marathons, I can’t wait to see how this collaboration unfolds. It’s a match made in trail running heaven!”

However, amidst the fervor, many Barkley purists have voiced concerns about preserving the unique spirit and challenge of the Barkley Marathons.

Skeptics fear that UTMB’s involvement could dilute the race’s mystique, nuance, and tradition, leading to a loss of its legendary status within the ultrarunning community.

According to a source involved in the negotiations, Lake will stay on as race director for 2025, but due to UTMB’s strict non-smoking policy at its events, the race will now commence with an air horn. Historically, the Barkley began when Lake lit a cigarette at the iconic yellow park gate.

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The shocking move has divided the trail-running community. Some are excited for greater opportunities to test themselves at the grueling Barkley Marathons, while others worry the commercialization of the event will diminish its esteemed heights.

“I guess just finishing won’t have much meaning after next year,” said three-time finisher and Barkley icon John Kelly. “But I guess it will be cool to get a medal or buckle or whatever at the end.”

Whatever your stance, as more details of this breaking merger emerge, you can stay tuned to our homepage for frequent updates.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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