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Photo credit: Keith Dunn

Another year with no finishers at the Barkley Marathons


By Dan Stinton

It’s been a great few days as my Twitter feed has taken on a new life during the Barkley Marathons.  It’s been filled with predictions of the race outcome, false information, speculation on a potential female finisher, a new pink gate (it wasn’t) and the course itself coming alive and taunting the runners from the Twitter account @barkleycourse.

So, what actually happened?  “The Race That Eats its Young” finished off the entire field for the second year in a row with no-one completing the full five laps of the gruelling course around Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee.

There were, of course, a field of elite runners who had successfully negotiated the application process.  Jared Campbell made a return after three previous finishes (2012, 2014 and 2016), along with John Kelly who completed the race in 2017.

I heard a lot of excitement following the announcement that inov-8 ambassador Nicky Spinks was running and, along with Carol Morgan and Stephanie Case – hopes for a first ever female finisher were rife. 

Unfortunately, 2019 was not the year as Nicky and Stephanie dropped out together some way around the second lap.  The weather had taken a turn for the worst and completion of the lap proved too much in the dark, rain and fog so they took an escape route back to camp.

James Elson also headed back to camp after finding the second book on loop two but being caught out by the difficult weather conditions.

Six runners remained on loop 3 with Karel Sabbe and Greig Hamilton the first to finish the fun run (three laps of the course) and began loop 4 with a couple of minutes to spare (Karel: 35:40:18, Greig: 35:41:57).  Guillaume Calmettes finished loop 3 in 36:03:49 so also completed the fun run but was beyond the time limit to continue to loop 4.

With 30 minutes remaining of the fun run course cut-off, three more runners completed together; Tomokazu Ihara, Johan Steene and Jamil Coury.  Karel Sabbe (who holds the current record for the 2,189 mile Appalachian Trail) ended up being the last runner on the course but dropped on loop 4, meaning the Barkley Marathons were over for another year and the camp largely clearing out well in advance of the 60 hour cut-off time. 

I just received a text message which summed up the race perfectly: “It was hard.  People got cold.  Nobody won.”

With only 15 finishers since it’s inception in 1986 and the magnificently quirky entry process, the Barkley Marathons remains a firm favourite in the ultra marathon calendar as one of, if not the, toughest race out there.

We were following the action all the way on our RunUltra forum.

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