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John Kelly, Damian Hall and Karel Sabbe begin Loop 4 at Barkley Marathons

With five runners on the fourth loop, will we finally see a Barkley Marathons finisher?

Photo by: Canadian Running

The last man to finish the Barkley Marathons, John Kelly, has set off on his fourth loop at the Barkley Marathons in Tennessee. Kelly will be joined on the fourth loop by his friend and competitor Damian Hall, who is racing there for the first time. Trailing Kelly and Hall is Karel Sabbe, who started the fourth loop 33 minutes later.

(Update: Since the story was published on March 15 at 7:45 p.m. E.T, two more runners begin loop four around 9:00 p.m. E.T.: Jasmin Paris and Aurélien Sanchez)

Barkley Marathons
John Kelly sitting at the yellow gate after becoming the race’s 15th finisher in 2017. Photo: Canadian Running

Hall and Kelly have worked together for the first three loops, completing upwards of 60 miles and over 10,000m of elevation in 32:03:59 elapsed time. (The cutoff to attempt loop four is 36 hours.) The two men now have 28 hours to get through the remaining two loops, while battling sleep deprivation, fatigue, the darkness and the forbidding course. If successful, they will be the first finishers since 2017. 

The two men took less than 25 minutes to prepare themselves for a difficult night shift at Frozen Head. 

Kelly has a great personal connection to the course, having been raised in the area. His grandfather was a guard at Brushy Mountain state prison, which is on the course and which once housed inmate James Earl Ray, the man who killed Martin Luther King, Jr. It was Ray’s 1977 prison escape that gave Laz the idea for the race. 

This is Kelly’s sixth appearance at the race, though he has only finished once (in 2017)–the same year that Canada’s Gary Robbins missed the final cutoff and failed to finish. The two worked together for much of the race but had to travel in opposite directions on loop five, as per Barkley rules.

Barkley Marathons
John Kelly and Canada’s Gary Robbins after loop three of Barkley in 2017. Photo: Canadian Running

Last year, Sabbe had a fourth loop to remember, going on a wild journey and chatting with trash cans, seeing ghosts and eventually getting picked up by police and returned to camp.

According to Barkley tweeter Keith Dunn, as Sabbe began his fourth loop, founder Laz Lake yelled, “no cop cars this time!” 

The fourth loop is travelled in a clockwise direction. If more than one opts to attempt the fifth loop, they’ll be required to split up.

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