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Two runners left in the Barkley Marathons

Fingers crossed Jared Campbell and Luke Nelson will score Fun Runs; a fourth loop seems unlikely at this point

Super Mini Itsy Bitsy Barkley Photo by: jamesgeeee/Flickr

The Barkley Marathons’ reputation as ‘the race that eats its young’ is being upheld again this year, with only two runners left on the course: three-time finisher Jared Campbell of Salt Lake City and veteran ultrarunner Luke Nelson of Pocatello, Idaho, who returned to camp together after 24 hours and 32 minutes (around 3:45 a.m.), more than two hours ahead of the cutoff, and started Loop 3 shortly after. The rest either quit voluntarily or failed to make the time cutoffs that would allow them to continue. 

RELATED: Multiple runners are on Loop 2 of the Barkley Marathons

Campbell and Nelson must complete Loop 3 and be out on Loop 4 before the 36-hour mark is reached, at 3:04 p.m. ET today. If they fail, they need to be back in camp by 7:04 p.m. to score a Fun Run, and the race will be over. 2017 finisher John Kelly is hoping for a Fun Run finish for them, but says a fourth loop is unlikely at this point, based on their times so far. 

Update: Shortly after 3 p.m. Keith Dunn tweeted that Campbell and Nelson were on their way back down Rat Jaw after nine hours and 35 minutes on Loop 3. Calculating that they probably have three or four hours of running left in Loop 3, there is now no chance that they’ll be allowed to attempt a fourth loop. The best we can hope for is that they score a Fun Run, which means they must arrive back in camp by 7:04 p.m.

Fans hoping to see the race’s first female finisher will be disappointed once again this year: the 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.) Jamil Coury  arrived in camp shortly after and was tapped out. Everyone else still on Loop 2 will be tapped out when they return to camp. (“Tapping out” refers to a runner’s DNF status being announced to the field by a bugler playing Taps.)

Around 4 a.m., Dunn reported that Scott MartinWes Thurman and Nikolay Nachev had decided to call it quits during Loop 2. Pavel Paloncy also dropped on Loop 2.

The race began shortly after 3 a.m. yesterday. There were a couple of early DNFs, but most of the field made it back to camp before the 13:20 cutoff and started Loop 2. 

Fans of the race know that frontrunners often work together, supporting each other along the five gruelling laps of the punishing course. But on Loop 5, if they make it that far, they will be split up and forced to run in opposite directions. The last time this happened was in 2017, when Kelly and Gary Robbins ran together until Loop 5. Kelly ended up finishing, and Robbins did not. (Unfortunately, Campbell and Nelson won’t have to face that this year.)

RELATED: Barkley Marathons book documents race’s 15 finishers

Dunn reports that it has been very foggy on the course, making navigation difficult, and there has been a lot of rain. (The course is not marked and GPS are not allowed. Runners must navigate using a map and compass, so they need strong orienteering skills, not to mention strong ascending and descending, since the race has a ridiculous amount of elevation change. But the biggest challenge of all is probably the sleep deprivation. Runners may rest in camp if they have a cushion of time, but the clock never stops ticking, and the cutoffs are ambitious.) 

The infamous 100-miler in the mountains of Tennessee was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID, and this year’s race is a little different than in the past, with COVID passports and masking and distancing at the start. Participants (capped at 40 even in normal times) must either have been vaccinated or have had the virus and recovered. For obvious reasons, almost all participants are from the U.S., and there are more “Barkley virgins” (i.e first-timers) than usual.

The race, started by Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell 35 years ago, involves completing five repeats of a 20-mile loop on unforgiving and steep terrain in under 60 hours, has seen only 15 finishers in its 35-year history. Kelly, who grew up in the area of Frozen Head, had attempted the Barkley twice before finally finishing the race in 2017. He entered the race a fourth time in 2019, then shocked everyone by dropping out after two loops – and tapping himself out, since he knows how to play the bugle.

Lazarus Lake by a creek runners will pass through

Campbell also ran in 2019, but twisted his ankle badly during Loop 1 and dropped out. 

There has never been a female finisher. The last woman to score a Fun Run was Canadian Bev Anderson-Abbs, who lives in the U.S., in 2013.