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The 2020 Barkley Marathons are cancelled

There won't be a 2020 Barkley

Gary Robbins

Predictably, the 2020 Barkley Marathons have been cancelled. The event, which takes place in Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, requires the fitness of endurance ultrarunning, the brain power of orienteering and the resilience of a never-ending scavenger hunt. Runners must complete five 20-mile loops while collecting particular pages from 14 books hidden throughout the course. This is all done in less than 60 hours.

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Canadian Gary Robbins has a long history with the event, including a couple near misses of completing the course before the time cut off. He was hoping to return for the 2020 event to finally finish the Barkley. However, as a race director himself, Robbins understands the need to postpone or cancel races. He wrote on Instagram: “For the first time in 9 years as a race director we’ve had to postpone an event. It’s been a crazy week to say the least. I’m supposed to be out flagging a race course as I type this right now.”

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Is it all for naught? It’s certainly trending that way currently. Bigger issues at stake than a stupid race I guess, but frustrating and disappointing to say the least. Barkley has already lost a large contingent of its field due to the European travel ban. I know Laz is working overtime to attempt to keep the race alive this year, but I just do not see how US State Parks will still be operational come the scheduled race weekend. I have controlled all of the variables that I could. I have absolutely knocked my training block right out of the park, and surprisingly I feel like this might be the fittest I’ve ever been heading into the race. Certainly it’s the best my legs have ever felt at this point in time. Having missed almost two years due to injury, but continuing to train over 500 hours on the bike in 2019, seems to have done nothing but strengthened my body overall. If I can make it to Tennessee, I definitely will, but we’ve already determined that this will likely be without my wife Linda, and will certainly be without my son Reed and my parents (the decision with Reed and my folks was made last week). For the first time in 9 years as a race director we’ve had to postpone an event. It’s been a crazy week to say the least. I’m supposed to be out flagging a race course as I type this right now. For Barkley training, I did my final overnight session from Wednesday night into Thursday morning. I started at 9:30pm and for the next 11 hours I did repeats on our local Elk Mountain. I covered 29 miles and accumulated 21,000ft. My water bottles froze around 2am and it was a bit of a slog, but I stuck with it and got er done, and that’s all you can ever ask of yourself. Just don’t quit on yourself, right? Just don’t quit on a dream. Since my return from the HURT 100 on Jan 22nd I have managed 188,400ft of vert. Over the last 16 days, 85,000ft via just 10 runs (6 days off for travel, recovery & race directing). The body is ready. The mind is ready. The race however just might not happen this year and grand scheme, that’s okay, kinda devastating to be honest, but okay all the same. We shall see what unfolds over the coming days and weeks I guess. Here’s hoping.

A post shared by Gary Robbins (@garyrobbins) on

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Even before the race was officially cancelled, runners were sharing on social media that they’d be unable to attend the event due to travel bans and advisories. Karel Sabbe is European trail runner who was entered in the race. He shared on Instagram on Sunday, “The uphill battle to reach the United States got steeper than the Rat Jaw ascent. It’s with pain in the heart that I won’t be able to run Barkley this year. Although I had the feeling that it would be my year, it’s not going to happen. Taking some time off now and then focus on some really exciting new adventures.”

As for other late spring and early summer ultra races, Western States Endurance Run and the Comrades Marathon have yet to be cancelled, but they’re monitoring the situation closely.