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The 2021 Barkley Marathons are underway

The cigarette has been lit, and a slew of brave ultra runners are busily gathering book pages in the Tennessee woods as the 2021 Barkley Marathons ultramarathon race officially got underway early this morning. 

The Barkley Marathons is already considering one of the toughest ultramarathons on the planet. Now, racers face the same gruelling event during a pandemic, on a muddy course. Should be interesting.

This year, the Barkley is an all-American event thanks to the ongoing pandemic, but there are some very talented runnes in the field, including the likes of ultrarunning icon Courtney Dauwalter and Maggie Guterl, who won Big's Backyard Ultra in 2019. Both are making their Barkley debuts this year and either one could win. Other confirmed runners include Jamil Coury, Luke Nelson and Jared Campbell.

"Might as well give this a shot! Time to play in the woods and look for some books!," posted Dauwaler on Instaram, as the race got underway. "Race started at 3:04am EDT in a break from heavy rain, though it looks like more storms coming. There is no tracking for this race and Kevin is not here crewing, but he will do his best to keep you posted!"

According to reports via Twitter from Keith Dunn who is on site, there has been quite a bit of rain, which broke for a time and that allowed the runners to get going. It's going to a muddy affair for the next day or two. 

During a recent interview with Tennessee-based race director Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, the long-time running icon explained that although it will look different this year, the plan is moving forward to have a physical event. 

“We vacillate back and forth over whether we do it. And, of course, 50 percent of your field comes from overseas, but we will just have to put half the field on hold for next year.,” Lake said. “We’ve got an all-US Barkley this time.”

The race will follow the now-familiar format with the course snaking through Frozen Head State Park in Wartburg, Tennessee.  It’ll take five loops of the 20-mile course to be declared a Barkley Finisher. Sound easy? It isn’t. The last person to finish the race was John Kelly in 2017. And he’s in the United Kingdom this year. 

Stay tuned for more race updates as things start to get interesting. But as Lake said during our last interview, there are much fewer spectators and media in attendance this year, to keep the numbers down in keeping with safety protocols. 

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