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2017 Barkley Marathons features one finisher, heartbreak for Gary Robbins

Washington, D.C.'s John Kelly has finished, and won, the Barkley Marathons in 59:30. Meanwhile Gary Robbins missed the 60-hour cutoff by six seconds.

Barkley Marathons
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

Archived content on Canadian Running‘s social media channels


2017 Barkley Marathons coverage brought to you by Salomon.