This year’s Barkley Marathon took place last month and saw only one finisher, just the fifteenth to cross the race’s finish line since the marathon’s founding in 1986.
For many who have experienced the Tennessee-based trek, the Barkley Marathon is both unorthodox and obscure. Taking place in Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, the grueling 100-mile race consists of a maximum of just 40 runners each year. As participants trek through the uneven mountainous terrain while braving the elements, they are given a 60-hour time limit to complete the race.
Washington D.C. native John Kelly was the sole finisher this year, with just 30 minutes to spare. The conditions were not easy for Kelly and for the other racers, as snow and fog became huge factors in deterring many from finishing.
“Kelly himself had a dramatic finish today,” said Tim Huebsch, writer for canadianrunning.com. “Conditions were bitterly cold and the runner ended up finishing the Barkley Marathon wearing a Walmart bag he found on the course.”
According to Huebsch, Kelly almost failed to complete the course himself and collapsed upon finishing.
“He almost didn’t make it through,” Huebsch continued. “After finishing, [Kelly] said that he passed out from lack of sleep. He doesn’t know how long he was sleeping but knows that it was within an hour and a half to the cutoff. It was the frigid conditions that woke him.”
For those who were interested in the challenge with a lesser intensity, the marathon featured an optional 60 mile “fun run” for individuals who were willing to complete three out of the five 20-mile loops. With no outside assistance, no cell phone service and a single map, the full Barkley Marathon is considered by many to be the equivalent of a modern day version of Lewis and Clark’s Northwest Passage.
The race requires participants to abide by specific rules upon entering and beginning the race. In order to participate, runners are required to approach the starting line with a license plate from the state or country that they represent. The race officially begins at the sound of a conch, exactly 60 hours prior to its marked completion.
For those within the marathon community, the Barkley Marathon is not for the faint of heart. Besides having to bear frigid conditions, many runners are forced to drop out due to injuries suffered on the course’s rugged terrain, making the Barkley Marathon among the most dangerous in the nation.
Those like Kelly, who have conquered the race’s challenges, are immortalized into Barkley Marathon’s history of surviving victors.
As victory showered Kelly this year, however, heartbreak was felt for Canadian runner Gary Robbins, who finished the race just six seconds after the time limit suspended.
The entry fee for the marathon is set at $1.60 for those interested in participating. To find out more, visit the Barkley Marathon’s Facebook page, or visit its online platform at barkleymarathons.com.