Dog Agility Events and the Barkley Marathons

23 Mar 2024Steve Schwarz

The 2024 Barkley Marathon finished yesterday with it’s first ever woman finisher (she is the 20th finisher since the race started in 1986!) and it got me thinking about dog agility events(!?!?!?!).

First some background on the Barkley (from chatGPT):

“The Barkley Marathons” are a grueling ultramarathon held annually in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee. Created by Gary Cantrell, known as Lazarus Lake, the race is infamous for its extreme difficulty, unpredictable terrain, and strict entry process. Runners attempt to complete five loops of a rugged course, covering approximately 100 miles, within a 60-hour time limit. With steep climbs, treacherous descents, dense vegetation, and ever-changing weather conditions, the Barkley Marathons push participants to their physical and mental limits. Only a handful runners have ever finished the race since its inception in 1986, earning it the reputation as one of the toughest endurance events in the world.

So still you are saying: “HUH, why are you writing about this?”

The thing about this event is it is unique. In dog agility, in the US, we are used to trials associated with an organization. Folks attend to progress/earn titles and qualify for regional, national, or international cups/events. The Barkley isn’t associated with points/scores/placements for any ultramarathon rankings; it is its own event with many quirks that make it unique.

In the past few years, starting prior to the rebirth of AKC’s ISC program, unaffiliated events were popping up around the country. These events were not associated with any organization. They were grassroots organized events that drew competitors just for the experience to run the courses; courses they couldn’t find in other organization’s trials. I attended a few and they were great fun!

The folks who put in the all work to organize and run these unique events, like Lazarus Lake of the Barkley, are giving us something special, out of the ordinary, and I can’t thank them enough!

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