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When the Course Wins: No Finishers at the 2018 Barkley Marathons

NewswireThe Human Race

Even under ideal conditions, completing a single loop of the notorious Barkley Marathons—let alone completing all five loops to actually “finish” the race—is an accomplishment for many of the 40 competitors who get selected to compete in the ultra-endurance event each year.

But many years, the Barkley Marathons course just outright wins. With a little extra help from starting conditions under heavy rain and fog, no competitor completed more than three loops this weekend, despite several notable names from the ultrarunning world competing. It was the first time since 2015 that nobody had completed all five loops in the race’s 60-hour time limit.

Gary Robbins, an ultrarunner from North Vancouver, British Columbia, did the best in 2018, according to initial reports on Twitter and Canadian Running. About 12 minutes past the 36-hour cutoff point to continue onward for a fourth loop, Robbins returned to the campground at Frozen Head State Park on Sunday night in Wartburg, Tennessee.

It was Robbins’ third attempt at the Barkley after completing four loops the previous two years, and narrowly completing all five loops last year in a dramatic finish. He was, however, the only person to complete the “Fun Run” of the Barkley, which consists of doing three of five loops within a 40-hour window.

RELATED: See the Pain, Suffering, and Joy of Attempting the Brutal Barkley Marathons

Only four others—including Guillaume Calmettes, an ultrarunner who lives in Los Angeles, California, and Ally Beaven, a mountain runner from Scotland—started a third loop along with Robbins.

Very few runners have completed the race since it began in 1986—John Kelly, became just the 15th individual to do all five loops last year.

According to reports, 20 of the 40 competitors started the second loop of the Barkley. As often happens, the field narrowed from there. Several well-known endurance runners and athletes like Amelia Boone, ultrarunner Jamil Coury, and Michael Wardian navigated Frozen Head State Park over the weekend, only to be beaten by this brutal event.

For years, the Barkley was run largely under the radar, but it gained popularity by word of mouth and with the help of a documentary, The Race That Eats Its Young. There’s no official website with information. Would-be runners have to figure out how to get in touch with Race Director Gary Cantrell to submit an application, and he ultimately selects the 40 individuals for each year’s race. The best way to follow the event is on Twitter by searching the hashtag #BM100.

Barkley is as much mental as it is physical. The five loops of the course are full of punishing ascents (about 60,000 feet) and descents that often force you to bushwhack off trail. Each loop must be done in 12 hours to even attempt all five loops, unless you’re attempting the “Fun Run”—that’s three loops with a time limit of 13 hours, 20 minutes for each loop (40 hours total).

Related: Listen to what it’s like to be at the Barkley Marathons

The 2018 Barkley Marathons started at little after 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning, which is one weekend earlier than when the race is usually held around April Fool’s Day.


no finishers at 2018 barkley marathons

Canadian Gary Robbins completed the most loops in a year when heavy rain and fog made the tough course even harder to navigate.

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