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What went on at the 2016 Barkley Marathons? Gary Robbins recaps his race

The notorious Barkley Marathons just wrapped up this year. What’s known as one of the toughest endurance events in the world has a nearly 100 per cent failure rate, with only a handful ever finishing the event since it started in 1986. No Canadian has ever finished.

So when Vancouver’s Gary Robbins showed up on the scene this year, he was ready to take on the five loops of the Barkley course to complete the (approximately) 100 miles through the tough terrain of Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee to make Canadian trail history. The race has a 60-hour time cap.

>> A Grouse Mountain adventure: How Gary Robbins trained for the 2016 Barkley Marathons 

Robbins has been a fixture in the Canadian trail and ultra scene for quite some time so a claim like this held ground. In his training, he took on Grouse Mountain trails for hours on end running through rocks, roots and miserable weather when needed. Talking to him before his race, Robbins was in high spirits with quality training put behind him.

“I’m not freaking out, you’re freaking out.” #NoWords #barkley #barkleymarathons

A photo posted by Gary Robbins (@garyrobbins) on

He didn’t finish but he did make it to the fifth and final loop – farther than any Canadian has ever gone before. So what happened at this year’s running of the Barkley Marathons?

Our top Canadian has recently written a recap and posted it to his blog.

“Close but no cigar. The Barkley is tougher than I ever could have imagined and I’m incredibly proud to have made it almost four and a half loops into what is a notoriously difficult race to close out,” he writes.

As Robbins explains, everything came down to the final loop. He was going on 90 hours without sleep, so in his sleep deprived state and during the final loop (which should have been perfect if he wanted to finish), he made a navigational error which cost him his race. Instead of picking off the final miles, he wandered in circles through the forest. Robbins realized it was over. Others on the course also reported that he seemed to have been hallucinating.

>>Canada’s Gary Robbins gives it his everything at 100-mile Barkley Marathons

In order to make sure participants stayed on course the entire time, a smattering of books are placed throughout the race. When runners reach each checkpoint, they must tear a page from the book and bring it back.

“When I finally located book three I knew that my Barkley dreams were shattered,” writes Robbins. “I would not become the 15th ever finisher of The Barkley Marathons, and I would time out on the fifth and final loop. I decided to at least keep moving for a few more hours and I grabbed the fourth book at the prison and then climbed Rat Jaw for the fifth and final time.”

Quick and dirty Barkley recap posted to GaryRobbins.ca Photo thanks to @trappephoto

A photo posted by Gary Robbins (@garyrobbins) on

Last year, no runner finished the Barkley course. This year, Jared Campbell became the first runner to have ever completed the feat three times. Campbell made it to the finish line with less than an hour left. Robbins and Campbell spent a lot of time running together during this year’s event and Robbins says he’d have struggled to run as far as he did without Campbell.

>> Canada’s Rhonda-Marie Avery becomes first blind athlete to compete at Barkley Marathons

“I would have struggled to complete a single loop without Jared’s hard earned course knowledge and his calm, kind demeanor actually contributed to enjoying quite a bit of the two and a half days I spent thrashing through the Tennessee wilderness,” wrote Robbins on his blog.

Another Canadian on the course made trail running and Barkley history. Experienced trail and ultra runner, Rhonda Marie Avery, has only eight per cent vision and completed the 885-kilometre Bruce Trail on a 20-day trek in 2014. At the course this year, she finished nearly one full loop before tapping out.

Robbins thanks everyone who supported him including his son and his wife, Linda. He’s confident he’ll be back on the Tennessee course to take another stab at becoming the first Canadian to finish the Barkley Marathons.

Now playing on Netflix in Canada: The Barkley Marathons