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Canada’s Rhonda-Marie Avery becomes first blind athlete to race 100-mile Barkley Marathons

Canadian Rhonda-Marie Avery became the first-ever blind athlete to attempt the 100-mile Barkley Marathons when she began the race on Saturday (Photo: Christian Griffith).

Rhonda-Marie Avery Barkley Marathons

Meet Rhonda-Marie, the first blind athlete to ever attempt Barkley, and I’m honored to guide her. She’s already…

Posted by Christian Griffith on Friday, April 1, 2016

At an exclusive event like the Barkley Marathons, there is almost certainly something new that happens each year the 100-mile ultramarathon in Tennessee takes place. This year, Canadian Rhonda-Marie Avery became the first ever blind athlete to attempt the race, considered one of the world’s hardest.

None of the 40 runners at last year’s event finished the 100-mile (160K) race, which consists of five loops of 20 miles (32K) and must be completed within 60 hours. It’s run in Frozen Head State Park and features undulating terrain, thick forest, and a gruelling route.

Headed back to the creepy forest with no signal. Sleeping in a hammock since its Barkley and you never know when the…

Posted by Christian Griffith on Friday, April 1, 2016

Christian Griffith is the guide runner for Rhonda-Marie during the race, which began on Saturday with the infamous lighting of a cigarette rather than a starter’s pistol or air horn. The race is as quirky as it is tough.

Rhonda-Marie is no stranger to trail running and ultra races as the Kitchener, Ont.-based athlete has run the entirety of the Bruce Trail in Ontario from end-to-end, approximately 900 kilometres, with the help of guide runners. She has eight per cent vision.

She’s not the only Canadian doing this weekend’s Barkley Marathons. North Vancouver’s Gary Robbins is in the hunt and looks to become to first Canadian to ever finish the race. See how Robbins trained for the grueling race here.

Updates of the race are expected to be slow since none of the runners use tracking devices, the race does not provide live news, and each loop is more than 32K. The race has no aid on course less two water stations and runners take pages out of books at certain checkpoints and return them to base camp to ensure they followed the correct course and didn’t cheat.

A brief video of Rhonda-Marie packing for the race (participants set up at the race’s base camp and can break each time they finish a loop) can be found below:

As of 7:30 a.m. EDT on Sunday, Robbins is on the third of five loops at the Barkley Marathons and is among the leading group of runners.

The race director can be seen below lighting the cigarette which signals the beginning of the race. Three loops of the course (60 miles, 97K) is considered a “fun run.”

Read our review of the race’s documentary here.