The brutal Barkley Marathons course wins yet again in 2021, with no finishers. Jared Campbell and Luke Nelson, the only remaining runners on the course after everyone else either dropped out voluntarily or failed to make loop cutoffs, returned to camp Friday in 39 hours, four minutes – in time to be credited with Fun Runs (three loops in under 40 hours), but not fast enough to be allowed to attempt a fourth loop (the cutoff is 36 hours).
The last person to actually finish the Barkley Marathons was John Kelly, in 2017. This year, Kelly predicted (accurately), that there would be no finishers, for a variety of reasons. Among others: reduced travel, leading to less depth in the field; the course has new sections every year, that runners are not familiar with (to keep it interesting); and the nighttime start, combined with fog and rain, put runners at a disadvantage early in the race.
Campbell is a three-time finisher, and, working with Nelson, he led from the start. In the last edition of the race, held in 2019 (it was cancelled due to COVID in 2020), Campbell started, but turned his ankle badly on the first loop, leading to an early DNF. Six runners scored Fun Runs in 2019, but there were no finishers.
Nelson is from Pocatello, Idaho and is a veteran of big-name events like UTMB, Tor des Géants and Transvulcania.
Fans had high hopes that the race might produce not just finishers, but its first female finisher, but it was not to be. An “alliance” consisting of Courtney Dauwalter, Liz Canty and Maggie Guterl missed the cutoff for starting Loop 3 by 12 minutes, arriving into camp after 26 hours, 52 minutes on the course. (The cutoff is 26:40.) Multiple Fun Runner Jamil Coury arrived in camp shortly after the ladies and was also tapped out. (“Tapping out” refers to a runner’s DNF status being announced to the field by a bugler playing Taps.)
The race, which involves completing five 20-mile loops on unforgiving and steep terrain in under 60 hours and has seen only 15 finishers in its 35-year history, got underway in the wee hours on Thursday, March 18. The most recent finisher was John Kelly in 2017, who grew up in the area and who went on to win the Montane Spine Race, the 429-km race along Britain’s Pennine Way, in January 2020. (Kelly had attempted the Barkley twice before finally finishing. He crewed for Canadian runner Gary Robbins in 2018, who did not finish, and entered the race for a fourth time in 2019, shocking everyone by dropping out after two loops – and then tapping himself out, since he plays the bugle.)
With luck, 2022 will be a more normal year, with greater depth, more international competitors, and – hopefully – a race finish (and major bragging rights) for some determined runner(s).