Barkley Marathons

Gary Robbins and race director Gary “Laz” Cantrell. Photo: Michael Doyle / Canadian Running Magazine.

Washington, D.C.’s John Kelly has finished, and won, the 2017 Barkley Marathons in 59:30:53. Gary Robbins did not make the 1:42 p.m. EDT cutoff after 60 hours. With the victory, Kelly is the 15th finisher in the race’s history. Robbins missed the 60-hour cutoff by an agonizing six seconds after touching the yellow gate (the finish) from the opposite direction. He had all necessary pages.

Again, a navigational error caused Robbins to DNF and his final lap would not have counted as he did not follow the required route near the end. (Read the race director’s statement here.) Fog and snow on the course caused him to get confused. While he was supposed to be running the final lap in a counter-clockwise direction, he tagged the gate having come the opposite way. It was quite a somber atmosphere at the finish line with plenty of spectators crying. 

RELATED: See photos from the finish line area.

When Robbins realized he came from the wrong direction, he fell to the ground defeated. “He has all the pages,” said Lazarus Lake. “I’ll have to see where he went.”

Video (part one of two)

Additional video (part two of two)

No Canadian has ever finished the Barkley Marathons. 

Kelly, 32 himself had a dramatic finish today. Conditions were bitterly cold and the runner ended up finishing the Barkley Marathons wearing a Walmart bag he found on the course. He also sported an orange hat that he picked up along the way.

He almost didn’t make it though. After finishing, he 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 half to the cutoff. It was the frigid conditions that woke him. 

Robbins, of North Vancouver, B.C., and Kelly began loop five just after midnight local time as rain began to fall in the woods of eastern Tennessee. According to Kelly’s blog, he is an avid triathlete and holds the “Guinness World Record for fastest marathon dressed as a video game character.” He also grew up nearby, according to one of his past race reports.

“Where’s Gary? Does he look OK?” Kelly said at the finish line according to a post on Instagram. “I got cold at Rat Jaw, so I just picked up a few things laying around in the briars to keep me warm!”

The legendary race, which runs through the thick brush and woods of Frozen Head State Park, is often dubbed one of the most challenging races in the world. Annual entry is limited to just 40 runners and the Barkley has a number of quirks including its $1.60 entry fee, secretive registration process and the requirement of collecting pages of books on course to prove that one followed the race map.

Barkley Marathons

Gary Robbins approaches the yellow gate for the final time on loop five. Photo: Michael Doyle / Canadian Running Magazine.

Both runners, who ran together for the first four loops, went through the first two loops in 20:18:52 and through four loops in 46:26:07. They completed the first loop in less than 10 hours, well below the 12-hour cutoff for each 20-miler (32K). (Because the course changes year-to-year, the 100-mile (160K) race is often longer than reported.) Race rules state that runners must go in opposite direction for the fifth and final loop; Kelly, who had the honours to pick after loop four, chose to go clockwise.

Barkley Marathons

“That was easy.” Photo: Michael Doyle / Canadian Running Magazine.

John Fegyveresi, who finished the race in 2012, was part of Kelly’s crew. Jared Campbell, who is the event’s only three-time finisher, was slated to crew for Robbins but could not make it to Frozen Head State Park. Both Kelly and Robbins made it onto loop five in 2016 but did not finish within the allotted time.

Since the event began in 1986, and prior to this year, only 14 people had finished the Barkley Marathons. The high DNF rate, technical terrain and elevation gain are all factors for why it’s often considered the world’s toughest trail race. The race documentary, for example, is entitled The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.

No other runners besides Kelly and Robbins continued past the third loop, which if completed in less than 40 hours, is cruelly known as a “fun run.”

Barkley Marathons

John Kelly next to the yellow gate. Photo: Michael Doyle / Canadian Running Magazine.

UPDATE (April 4, 9 a.m. EDT): Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell has made a statement on the finish. See below.

Did you miss CR‘s Barkley Marathons coverage? See everything you need to know below

Pre-race interview with Robbins
Pre-race photos
Photos from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary
Barkley Marathons historical timeline
Here’s how Gary Robbins fuelled between laps at the Barkley Marathons
Mike Wardian fails to complete a loop of the Barkley Marathons under time limit
Must-see on-course photos from loop four of the Barkley Marathons
VIDEO: In camp with Gary Robbins between loops at the Barkley Marathons

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2017 Barkley Marathons coverage brought to you by Salomon.


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21 Comments

  • Jonathan Templar-Goral says:

    Gary Robbins, I think I speak for every runner who have pushed themselves in saying I am proud of you and gutted for you. I wish you all the luck in the world should you choose to embark on this challenge again. Lazarus you are nasty and I hope to meet you one day and beat the 60 hours.

  • Jessica says:

    John Fegyveresi finished in 2012

  • Chris says:

    The guy should have not had DNF recorded against his name. He did finish although outside the cut off. He should be classed as unranked ( or something similar ) this will then recognise his effort ahead of the rest of the pack who didn’t make it past loop 3. And six seconds man that’s like 10 yards at the pace he was running. Real unlucky

    • Rob Lloyd says:

      Problem is once you start bending the rules where does it stop. With the reputation this race has it makes sense to stick to the rules. If Garry hadn’t fallen asleep he would have made it.

    • Jessica says:

      He didn’t finish within the time cut off, so he DNF. Simple as that.

    • Jen says:

      He also got lost and didn’t follow the actual course. Regardless of the 6 seconds, he wouldn’t have been an official finisher.

    • RobMc says:

      The facts were that he cut 2 miles off the intended route AND STILL finished over the allotted time. Regardless of whether you did it on purpose or accidentally, if you cut distance off any other race course, there is no question of the DNF and the world would laugh at you if you said that you still wanted your time to be recorded. I feel for the guy but that’s reality (unless we’re going to start handing out a First Place Trophy to every participant).

  • grant and terri says:

    gary you made us proud today!!!!!
    WE are heartbroken for you….6 seconds omy….You are awsome
    2 consectutive years leg 5….
    you are an incrediable athelete…..
    our hearts break for you…as you did finish the race…….

  • Barbara says:

    anyone who runs this race is an incredible athlete- you should all be proud.

  • Glenn says:

    You are amazing Gary. My heart goes out to you.

  • Kyle J says:

    This is something on my bucket list. It saddens me about the six seconds. Honestly.
    This race is LIFE…..Beyond life

  • Lazarus says:

    He did not miss the cutoff by six seconds, he ran off course at 98 miles, and arrived at the finish bay a different route. Arriving 6 seconds after the cutoff was purely coincidental, however makes it obvious that he would have finished within the time limit, had he not made a wrong turn. His dignified response to the situation is truly a credit to his class and character.

    • Fernando Baeza says:

      +1

    • Jen says:

      Exactly. My heart goes out to him, because he did a phenomenal job, but like any race, you need to complete the stated course within the time limit. He is still an amazing athlete and I have no doubt that he will be back again to tackle the challenge and will be successful. I’m of a human sacrifice level athlete so watching them out there is simply fascinating.

    • Kevin says:

      I love the integrity of this race! Thanks Laz, sorry Gary, congrats John.

  • Mike says:

    Okay since he failed to finish a second time is it now okay to stop talking about Gary Robbins? Jesus, it’s getting old. Why is this even in a “running magazine?” IT’S LONG DISTANCE HIKING.

  • Steven Woodley says:

    So, so inspired that Mr. Robbin’s character once again shines even amidst a disappointment. Anyone following this I’m certain is proud of your accomplishment for you Gary. You are a man of courage, strength, humanity, and awesomeness!!!! Nothing but love for you brother!

  • Paul Hopi says:

    Gary ,Just amazing!! , 2017 yr of guts rather than glory ! Nxt year ! You’ll b ” up on top of the world again ! ” ,

  • Matt says:

    What an incredible effort, beyond that which can truly be appreciated. Gary, you gave it all you had and pushed the limits of human endurance. Fantastic effort which will act as a metaphor to so many challenges (running and otherwise) to come…. thank-you for the inspiration.

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