There aren't many races in the world that have the same sort of legendary prowess as the Barkley Marathons, a grueling 100+ mile ultra-marathon that takes place in Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tennessee.
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In the 33 years since its creation back in 1986, the race has seen hundreds of athletes from around the world take on the Herculean challenge. However, from all those that have attempted it, only 15 people to-date have ever crossed the finish line.
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In March 2019, British long-distance runner Nicky Spinks set off to Tennessee to take on the challenge. No stranger to epic and almost impossible feats, Nicky is best known for setting women's world records across various locations including the Ramsay Round, the Paddy Buckley Round and the Bob Graham Round.
What's it about?
Last Woman Standing is a film made in conjunction with running brand inov-8 that follows Nicky's attempt to be the first female finisher of the Barkley Marathons. Over the course of it's 38-minute running time the documentary follows Nicky's story from the laborious entry process β one that includes writing a lengthy essay β to returning back home to her farm in the Lake District after taking on the brutal challenge.
Is it worth watching?
Like all of Nicky's previous challenge attempts, it's much more than just an account of a race. As someone who previously underwent cancer treatment and as a woman hoping to make history in an event that's previous finishers have always been men, there are layers to what the documentary covers.
Whether that's a story of determination and will or a testament to Nicky's ridiculous mental strength in the face of an unbelievably bleak 60 hours running through the wilderness, it's an incredibly moving overview of Nicky's attempt.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the film is the juxtaposition between Nicky and her husband Steve's down to earth outlook on the challenge ("it sounds a bit bonkers really" according to Steve) set against an event that most of us would see as an almost mythical thing happening in a faraway land.
It's a clear distinction that makes you root for Nicky as she nervously prepares at the camp waiting for the undisclosed time for the race to start β something that happens via a call from eccentric race organizer, Lazarus Lake's conch (yes really).
What follows is an honest and humbling account of Nicky's experience as she joins three other participants, one a female veteran of the event, as they go from 30-degree centigrade heat to freezing temperatures in snowy hills navigating the area to rip pages from books.
At under 40 minutes, there's a lot to take in and the filmmakers have nicely focused on key elements of Nicky's attempt instead of trying to do a detailed overview of the event itself. If you do want to watch a lengthier account of the race, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young is available here.