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Who’s who at the Barkley Marathons 2023

Some, but not all, of the usual suspects have returned, and there are some new faces

Barkley Marathons

This year’s Barkley Marathons kicked off just before 10 a.m. E.T. on Tuesday in threatening weather conditions at the beautiful but forbidding Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tenn. Some of the usual suspects have returned for this year’s race, including 2017 finisher John Kelly and “fun runner” Guillaume Calmettes of France; sadly, Jamil Coury is not racing this year, though he is at Frozen Head to support his friends. Here’s a rundown of some of the folks we know are in the race.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Thomas Van Woensel (@thomasvanwoensel)

John Kelly

Kelly was the last person to actually finish the race, back in 2017, when he and Gary Robbins had teamed up and were leading, but were not permitted to race the final loop together, instead being sent off in opposite directions). He was raised in the area, and while living in the U.K. for a couple of years, he won the gruelling Montane Spine Race and set records on the Wainwrights 214 peaks and the Pennine Way, among other accomplishments. This is Kelly’s sixth appearance at Frozen Head.

Kelly’s grandfather was a guard at Brushy Mountain state prison, which is on the course, and which housed inmate James Earl Ray, who killed Martin Luther King, Jr. It was Ray’s 1977 prison escape that gave Laz the idea for the race. (Laz was an ultrarunner in a past life, and speculated that he would have gotten a lot further than Ray did before being recaptured.)

Kelly is the 15th finisher of the Barkley Marathons, which has been going since 1986. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by John Kelly (@randomforestrunner)

Aurélien Sanchez

From what we have gathered, Sanchez, 32, is from France but now lives in the U.S.; he has raced a few U.S. ultras, as well the forbidding Diagonale des Fous 100-miler on Reunion Island in 2022. On his Instagram page he has a story about visiting Frozen Head for the first time in May 2018 and finding a walnut shell on a pillar by the yellow gate, which he has carried with him in every race since, as a talisman. This is his first time racing the Barkley Marathons.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Aurélien Sanchez (@aurelien_sanchez_)

Jared Campbell

Campbell has finished the Barkley successfully three times (in 2012, 2014 and 2016). He came back in 2019, but sprained his ankle badly on the first loop and was “tapped out” when he finally returned to camp. (“Tapping out” refers to a runner’s DNF status being announced to the field by a bugler playing Taps. Kelly is famous for insisting on tapping himself out, since he knows how to play the bugle.)

Campbell returned again in 2021, this time scoring a fun run (three loops in under 40 hours).

Jared Campbell
Jared Campbell. Photo: Brian McCurdy

Nicky Spinks

Spinks, a veteran ultratrail runner from the U.K., first raced the Barkley in 2019, tapping out after the second loop. She was third female at last year’s Tor des Glaciers, a 450-km romp through the Italian Alps, and third at the 330-km Tor des Géants in 2021. She has often crewed her compatriot, Damian Hall, in his races. (Hall is making his Barkley debut this year.)

Damian Hall

Hall, another veteran U.K. ultrarunner, is racing Barkley for the first time. He is the author of the recently published We Can’t Run Away from This: Racing to Improve Running’s Footprint in our Climate Emergency (reviewed in the Trail Special Issue 2023 of Canadian Running magazine, which should be on newsstands any day now). He holds numerous FKT’s in the U.K., won this year’s Montane Spine Race and finished fifth at UTMB in 2018.

In a recent Instagram post, Hall admitted to being “a climate emergency hypocrite,” since his book is focused on the impact on the environment of runners flying to races, and he obviously had to fly to the U.S. to race the Barkley–”But less of one than I used to be,” he says.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by DAMIAN HALL (@ultra_damo)

Harvey Lewis

Lewis is on his second visit to Frozen Head; last year he dropped out on loop two, along with Courtney Dauwalter. In 2021 the Ohio ultrarunner shattered the existing record at Big’s Backyard Ultra (another Laz Lake race), with 55 yards (368 km). He was third at last year’s 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in California’s Death Valley.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Harvey Lewis (@harveylewisultrarunner)

Jasmin Paris

Paris made her Barkley debut in 2022, scoring a fun run (three loops in under 40 hours); she was the first woman fun runner since Bev Anderson-Abbs did it twice (2012 and 2013). Paris shocked the ultra world in 2019 when she smashed the overall course record at Britain’s Montane Spine Race, finishing in 83 hours, 12 minutes, 23 seconds–while also pumping breastmilk for her infant daughter. In 2019, Laz speculated that if any woman could finish the Barkley, Paris might be the one.

jasmin paris
Jasmin Paris. Photo: Twitter

Karel Sabbe

The highly decorated Belgian ultrarunner, who is a dentist in his other life, is making his third appearance at the Barkley; in 2019, he completed three loops (but was not credited with a fun run, since he attempted a fourth loop). In 2022, Sabbe again attempted a fourth loop, but became disoriented from lack of sleep and wandered off the course, only to be returned to Frozen Head by local police. In August 2018, Sabbe broke Joe McConaughy’s speed record on the Appalachian Trail, having previously set a (supported) speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail; McConaughy is racing the Barkley this year for the first time.

Eoin Keith

Keith, who is attempting the Barkley for the second time (his first was in 2018) is a three-time winner and former course record holder of Britain’s Montane Spine Race. The Irish ultrarunner is a veteran of numerous international ultras, including UTMB.

Joe McConaughy

McConaughy, who’s from Seattle, might reasonably be called the King of the FKT. At various times, he’s held the record on the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Arizona Trails, among many others; most recently, he shattered the course record at the Cocodona 250-miler in Arizona, finishing in 59 hours, 28 minutes. He is racing the Barkley for the first time.

Johan Steene

Steene of Sweden is on his fifth try at the Barkley; he is a veteran of numerous ultras around the world. He set a course record at Big’s Backyard Ultra in 2018, and was the runner-up the following year. His best performace at the Barkley was in 2017, when he completed three loops for a fun run in 39 hours, 3 minutes, 26 seconds.

“Frozen Ed” Furtaw

Furtaw, now 75, became the first official finisher back in 1988 (the third year the race was held); the course was 55 miles at the time. This is his 23rd time racing at Frozen Head. Sadly, he was unable to complete the first loop. Furtaw returned to the Barkley in 2022 three years after a prostate cancer diagnosis.

 

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